I'm only going to tell you this once.
If you're one of those people who's bought into this "cloud computing"
business, you're an idiot.
"The Cloud" has been around forever. We used to call them distributed
systems: a bunch of independent computers connected by a network or
networks, which allow programs and data to be stored and/or executed on
remote machines. If the remote machines are working, that is, and if
the network can reach them.
As computer scientist Leslie Lamport said a few decades ago- yes,
this is a very old idea- "A distributed system is one in which the
failure of a computer you didn't even know existed can render your own
If you're one of those trendy types who lives in the Cloud- stores all
of your photos, contacts, e-mails and critical data there- because you
believe it relieves you of the responsibility of backing up and managing
it yourself- wake up and smell the metal oxide being scraped off your
disk drive platters.
You'll endure periods when you won't be able to get to your stuff,
because the provider's website is down or the idiot next door backed his
pick-up truck over the Comcast box.
And you will eventually suffer a critical data loss. I recall an
ad posted by a storage company about 20 years ago that's still valid
today. "There are two types of users in this world: Those who have
lost data and those who will lose data."
Distributed computing is a marvelous convenience. It permits me to work
for my employer in Chicago from my home in the South Hills of
Pittsburgh. Someone in the office on Wacker Drive can dial my four-digit
extension, and- thanks to the wonders of the Internet- four hundred
miles away, the phone in my basement office rings.
But things can, and do, go wrong. Perhaps I'm a bit more paranoid
because it's my livelihood, but I take no chances on data losses or
If a call to my office phone rings more than three times, it's
simultaneously forwarded to three different numbers: my cell phone, home
phone, and the Onstar phone in my car. As long as the phone switch in
the Chicago office is working, and I'm in my home, car, or somewhere
with my cell, I get the call. The last office call I missed that ended
up in voice mail was during the blizzard in February, 2010. And that was
a wrong number.
Every e-mail to and from my office account gets automatically copied to
a special Gmail account. Business e-mail, along with mail from my
personal Gmail, Yahoo, and XO accounts, are downloaded at two-minute
intervals to Microsoft Outlook on my local machine here in Pittsburgh.
They're also available through the web interface to those respective
services as well. If I'm anywhere near a computer or smart phone, I can
get to any of my e-mail accounts. And if my business, Gmail, Yahoo or XO
accounts should somehow become inaccessible or are deleted, I still have
copies of everything locally.
I connect to my workstation in Chicago via GoToMyPC, which is
phenomenally reliable. But when the Internet is inaccessible, I still
need to work. That's why critical directories on my Chicago workstation
are also mirrored on my Pittsburgh machines.
The two computers in my home office are backed up 12 times a day to two
different online backup accounts. Local backup software writes changes
to external hard drives every 10 minutes or so. Twice a week, I do full
image backups to external drives that are identical to the ones in the
machines. If the computer drives fail, I pop out the bad unit, pop in
the one with the latest image backup, do an incremental restore of stuff
that's changed since the last image, and in under an hour or two, it's
like nothing happened.
I hear you saying to yourself, "Now this is a responsible
professional." (Actually, I hear you saying "Is he a frigging lunatic?
Does he have some weird form of OCD or something?" But I'll just pretend
I didn't hear you.)
Yes, I'm a bit over the top when it comes to backups and redundancy, but
then computers are an integral part of my life. I've been using them
every day since 1982 when I fired up my first machine, a 4K Radio Shack
Color Computer. My entire professional and personal lives reside on
them. Literally. Except for special legal documents like deeds, titles
and wills, everything is digital. And yes, I do have scanned
copies of the deeds, etc. Just in case.
True, you probably don't need five copies of all of your Gmail messages
(Gmail interface, Microsoft Outlook, online backup, incremental disk
backup, disk image backup). But you should have at least one.
If you're a Windows user, it's simple. Keep everything under the My
Documents folder. Subscribe to an online backup provider like Mozy or
Carbonite, or a branded service that comes with your computer, like Dell
or HP. Most are free, or relatively low cost. Make the investment.
Most experts recommend keeping both on-site and off-site copies of your
data. If that's too anal for you, just go with the on-line route. Having
a disk backup of critical data three feet away from your laptop isn't
much help when a fire reduces them both to a pool of molten plastic and
Too much trouble? Too much money? Really?
I regard people who don't back up their data with the same contempt as
those who let their dogs run loose or never change the oil in their cars.
You can post photos, videos and your current wardrobe, dinner menu and
GPS coordinates to Twitter and Facebook, master the intricacies of Mafia
Wars and Farmville, but can't take five minutes to go through the
simple, step-by-step process of setting up a backup procedure for your
And the horse you rode in on, pally.
I'm ashamed to say that when someone calls me with a data loss problem
and they admit they haven't backed up since they bought their machine,
I'm tempted to tell them they deserve their fate.
Even more infuriating is when someone has gone to the trouble to set up
a backup procedure for these cretinous oafs, but it's no longer working
because the disk is full or the online account limit was reached.
Invariably, at boot up time there's a prominent warning window the user
blithely clicks and closes without reading. Betcha they also ignore the
"Check Engine Now" lights in their cars, then have the temerity to ask
surprised when the mechanic tells them that instead of an engine they
now have a solid block of goo-infused, petroleum-encrusted junk metal
under the hood.
It's a matter of money and responsibility, pure and simple. The cloud's
popular because it allows companies to shift responsibility to someone
else, generally at a lower cost. But how much have you saved when you
come in one day to find out that you can't get to your programs and
data? How much time have you saved when your computer crashes and you
spend weeks begging relatives to send you copies of family pictures? How
much time and money will it cost you to replace your multi-gigabyte,
3,000-song iTunes library?
I'm a computer professional. I've been in the business 30 years. On six
separate occasions, I've had major system failures and data losses that
completely wiped out everything I had stored on my machines. I learned
quite early that backing up my data is as essential as having auto and
homeowners insurance and paying the mortgage and utilities every month.
Ignore your responsibilities, and you will pay dearly for your
It's time you learn that, too.
A Google search for "cloud failures," limited to the last week, returned 379,000
results. Look at a couple of the articles. Recognize any names?
Don't be fooled. If you examine it closely, the Cloud sounds too good to
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