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The dangers of living in the cloud, some advice.

A couple of months ago we were having a discussion in the office about the ability for people to work totally in the cloud. When I say “the cloud” I don’t mean the fluffy white things in the sky but the ability for us to use servers hosted on the internet to store our emails, photos, documents and diaries etc., elsewhere. Whilst using cloud services can be very beneficial, there are a number of dangers as people have discovered recently, when using the services Google offer.

Living in the cloud

As part of our discussions, I concluded, I can quite easily live in the cloud for both work and personal use. In fact at Ayrmer Software we are already using the technology to work on-line as the Business Management System we have developed to run all aspects of our business from Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to invoicing, from project management to time-sheets is in fact hosted on our remote servers and can be accessed any where via an internet connection and a web browser.  In fact this has enabled us to expand into Europe and is extremely helpful for me as I have access to all the business intelligence when on the  road or working from home.

There are aspects that the rest of the team have to do locally, such as some of the tools they use to develop software, but in essence we can be a cloud based business and therefore have a degree of flexibility and resilience in the way we work.  In fact we back everything up each night (on to remote servers) as part of our business continuity, which means that we can replace any hardware in the office with minimal impact on our capacity (even our laptops)!

We also have control of our data which is an important factor when deciding wether to use private cloud or public cloud services such as Google. I don’t use the public cloud services for work but I do for some (not all) of my private information.

Free clouds

I was tempted to put cloud free here, but that would be wrong within the current context :-)

Google is going all out to enable you to use their services. They are currently using an email campaign to encourage users to get their friends signed up to their services to entice them away from the competition like Hotmail and Yahoo.

Google not only has the ability to store your emails you can also store your photos (PicasaWeb), your diaries (calendar),your address book (contacts) your videos (YouTube), your documents (Google Docs) in fact virtually every part of your life can be stored on-line for free by Google (and other providers as well).

A bargain you say! But what is the real price as nothing in this world is free?

You pay by giving them access to your information, so they can sell targeted advertising to their advertisers. Generally we are happy with this deal and in the main every thing is acceptable, so long as everyone play by their rules.

Protecting your data in the cloud

So what happens if you cannot access the services; you can lose everything! Recently there have been some high profile cases where users accounts have been blocked or deleted resulting in a lot of grief on behalf of the user. There seemed to be no recourse and they couldn’t find out why they were blocked.  Their access was only restored following a high profile Twitter campaign but this may not work for every one.

So what can you do to ensure that you can be secure in the knowledge that your data is safe?

  1. You can pay for your own hosted solution with service level agreements in place to ensure uptime and data security.
  2. If you are going to use free hosted services like Google and other then download local copies of the data at regular intervals. You can also use free hosted services like Backupify to backup other hosted services such as Google, Twitter and Facebook.
  3. Think about what data you want to store and whether you are happy to share the information with Google or whoever you are storing it with. It maybe a good idea to actually read the terms of service before you click the button to accept!

Conclusion

Life in the cloud can be very beneficial just make sure your head isn’t up there too. Have a back up plan for the data and consider paying for a service if the loss of the data can bee too much.

I have focused on Google here as this was the result of the recent case but the advice goes across the board whether you are using services from Apple (iCloud), Facebook , Microsoft or the plethora of other service providers vying for your custom (and data).

I use Google, Facebook and Twitter for personal use but I utilise services like Backupify and DropBox for peace of mind to spread the risk by not having all my data in one place, in he same way you might spread your savings across a number of banks and building societies.

Date: 28/07/2011

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