The Risks vs. Rewards of Cloud Computing


I was listening to a story on NPR by Laura Sydell called Computing in the Cloud: Who Owns Your Files? The story brought back all of the fears I’ve had about working in the clouds but have suppressed because:

A. I want the convenience that cloud computing offers;

B. I recently experienced the Computer Crash of Doom and want to know I have reliable backups;

C. I want to get more work use out of my iPod Touch and cloud work is the way.

So what was the bottom line of the NPR piece?

Read the User Agreement. Yes, the gist of the story was that none of us are reading the user agreement with Google or Yahoo or any other company that is housing our emails, documents and files. We actually covered that subject last month, but hey, I’m one of those who never, ever reads the user agreement. Who has the time? Who has the brain capacity? Who likes sifting through pages and pages of legalese?

This is a problem, according to Harry Lewis, a computer science professor at Harvard. All someone has to do is accuse you of something – unproven – and the company hosting your files can simply cut you off, close your account, no questions asked, rather than entering into a legal battle.

There are no rules and more importantly – no laws – when it comes to hosting your files.

Ever since I went to Gmail in the clouds from Apple’s Mail on my computer, I’ve wondered “what would happen if Gmail went down…forever?” The entire record of my work over the last three years would be gone. I tried backing up all of my historical Gmails onto my computer once but it was a major undertaking and never became a habit.

If we aren’t reading the user agreements, how can we protect ourselves from major loss in the clouds?

1. Backups of backups? Does it make sense to have the copy on your harddrive along with the copy online? Lately, I’ve been composing my documents in Google Docs and only saving them back on my harddrive as needed. Should I do it as a rule?

2. Backups of backups of backups? Once I save my docs on my computer, my Time Capsule captures them every hour on the hour. But is there a way to get my Time Capsule to pull my cloud work into a backup drive? Or is that an app that is on the way because it is a critical process that is missing from cloud computing?

3. Distributed files. Does it make sense not to have all of your work and files on one system? Sure it seems convenient and integrated to use all of Google’s cloud working solutions, but should we put some of our work – or back up some of our work – on other sites? Like using Dropbox file storage as a repository for anything and everything from everywhere?

4. Being selective. Do we need to be more selective about what we are willing to put online, keep online, and work on in the clouds? Are we getting a little too careless and thoughtless about the ease of cloud computing or rushing to it without a security plan in place because it seems like the place we need to be?

No technology is failsafe or foolproof. When we are using technology for “convenience,” but have to back up that technology “just in case,” are we losing some of that convenience that we are craving? It seems that, as usual, nothing is ultimately free and everything comes with a price.

How much are you willing to spend – and risk – on cloud computing and how are you backing up your work?

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