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Okay, Skippy... listen up.

Published Thursday, June 23, 2011 @ 9:54 PM EDT
Jun 23 2011

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 computer unusable."

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 communications failures.

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 metal.

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 data?

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 indolence.

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 be true.

It is.

Categories: KGB Opinion, WTF?

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