Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Cloud storage is convenient but dangerous

Once again, a story in the media reminds us all that while cloud storage and shared servers and services are great when they work, placing your valuable data in the hands of a third party is dangerous. Not just when working on web projects, but also for your personal data.

Dropbox user Jan Čurn used the service, which synchronizes files between your computer/s and the Dropbox servers, as a means of storing files remotely when his own computer hard drive became full. During a synchronization process, the computer encountered a problem and had to be re-started; after which, the Dropbox service could no longer ascertain which files to keep on the server and which to delete. It chose to delete the files it wasn’t sure about and Jan lost 8,343 of his photos.

There has been a surge towards cloud hosting for web projects over the past few years and the same danger applies: run a website on cloud services and you can lose everything if the service crashes or closes down unexpectedly.

Cloud storage is also not a reliable replacement for a proper backup strategy. It offers a convenient way to backup your files but there is no better way to back up the files than by making a copy from your computer to a separate hard drive: either manually or automatically. Use Dropbox, by all means. (I do.) But make sure that you also backup the data yourself at home or in the office regularly.

Storage in the form of fast, reliable external hard drives is cheap: a 3 terabyte drive from Western Digital is big enough to contain the equivalent of around 750 DVDs of raw data and currently costs Fr. 160.- at Swiss store Interdiscount. That’s the equivalent of 150,000 digital photos from my Nikon in their highest volume RAW format: around 30 years’ worth at my current rate of photography. I currently use four such drives, with different types of data stored on each one. If the hard drive containing movies expires, then I don’t lose any photos. I also have two backup drives for photos, so that if my main computer and one backup drive fails – which is unlikely – then all of my photos are still recoverable on the second one.

Placing the second backup in a separate location (in my case, in my work office) creates an additional level of data security, should anything happen to the house where I live.

I wrote about Time Machine a short while back, and that’s a great solution: make intelligent, automatic and recoverable backups on an hourly, daily and weekly basis, without thinking about it. Or use alternative backup software – a piece of software for this purpose is often provided with new hard drives, or consider one of these recommendations – to manually synchronize or “clone” your hard drive at regular intervals.

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