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Summary:

Over the weekend, Google apparently accidentally deleted some 150,000 Gmail accounts. We’re all growing increasingly reliant on the cloud. If a cloud vendor accidentally deleted your data, locked you out of your account, or shuttered one of your favorite services, what would you do?

prepared

Over the weekend, Google apparently accidentally deleted some 150,000 Gmail accounts. While Google says it’s now working to restore the data in the accounts of those users unlucky enough to suffer a surprise inbox zero, it brings home just how much we all now rely on cloud services, and how catastrophic the loss of access to the data in those services could be. If Google, Microsoft or some other cloud vendor accidentally deleted your data, locked you out of your account, or shuttered one of your favorite services, what would you do?

Of course, cloud services are generally pretty reliable, and responsible vendors will have systems in place to ensure the safety of your data, but this Gmail deletion isn’t the first example of people losing data in the cloud, and almost certainly won’t be the last. If you rely on cloud services to do your work, you should have a two-pronged strategy to ensure that a the failure of one service doesn’t bring you to a crashing halt.

1. Make local backups of critical data

You should keep local backups of important data. You should certainly make sure you have a local backup of the documents and email in Google Apps accounts, for example, but personal data, like email and photos, shouldn’t be ignored, either — how would you feel if you lost it all?

Making local backups of the data in cloud-based email services is pretty easy; most of them support IMAP or POP for exporting emails and contacts to a desktop client. There are some great instructions for exporting Gmail to use in Apple Mail or Outlook here, and Kevin has also written about various ways to back up Gmail.

Making useful backups of other services like LinkedIn, Yammer or Basecamp can be more tricky, however. Even if you can export your data from the service (either through an expert function or using its API) services, if there’s no commonly agreed-upon format for the data exported, it will be hard to get up and running with it in an alternative. However, you will at least have the data, even if it takes some work to import it into an alternative app.  If the service in question has multiple export options, pick a commonly used format, such as vCard export for contacts, for example. Alternatively, pick a very simple format, like CSV, which may take a little fiddling but is more likely to be able to be imported into an alternative app than a specialized proprietary format.

There are also apps that can automatically backup data from various cloud services. Backupify, for example,  is a cloud service (based on Amazon S3) that can back up data from Google Docs, Gmail, Zoho and Twitter. (In the wake of the Gmail deletions, Backupify is currently offering a year’s free subscription to anyone who asks for it).

2. Have a “Plan B”

While we all have our favorite cloud services that we rely upon heavily, it’s a good idea to have alternatives lined up. That way, if one of your heavily relied-upon tools or services is unavailable for whatever reason, you’ll be able to smoothly transition to an alternative with minimum fuss.

The ideal alternative is a desktop application that can work with a local copy of your data — such as a desktop email client. But if that’s either not possible or unrealistic — not many folks will want to shell out for a copy of MS Project to have ready to use just in case their Basecamp account stops working, for example — then looking for online apps that are compatible with data exported from your existing apps is the way to go.

Be Prepared

I don’t agree with WWD writer Nancy, who doesn’t trust the cloud; I think the convenience of being able to access apps and data anywhere far outweighs the risks of trusting cloud services, most of which are very reliable. But being prepared and having a backup plan and alternative tools in place ahead of time can ensure that an outage, data loss or shuttering a service is just a major inconvenience, rather than being a being total catastrophe.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):

  1. I used to work as a sysadmin – and because of that, I don’t trust the cloud. I’ve seen junior admins do silly, silly things (like plugging 220v power into a 110v power supply on a disk array, blowing it up, and then doing the *same thing* to the redundant/backup supply 2 minutes later). Cloud services? Lots of junior admins working behind the scenes to keep all that stuff running.

    The latest cloud trend towards hiring “DevOps”, or developers who also perform sysadmin duties, also has me worried. While there is some overlap between developers and system administrators, it’s been my experience that a good developer is usually not a good sysadmin and vice-versa.

    The Cloud? No thanks. I’d rather be responsible for my own data and use cloud services to provide supplementary features. For instance, I do all my document writing in a local wordprocessor. My machine is backed up to a local system on my network, and then remotely to Amazon S3 via the awesome Arq backup tool. If Amazon S3 disappears overnight, it doesn’t affect me. If however my house burns down, I can still get at my backups on Amazon. If both cases occur simultaneously, I’ll likely have other things to worry about.

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    1. Appreciate you sharing your perspective, Mike. I agree the lack of control is a concern. however, I think the convenience the cloud offers outweighs the risks, for me.

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  2. Wouldn’t simply using Gmail Offline, and saving all of your messages and attachments to your local hard drive from time to time, take care of this issue?

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    1. For Gmail, yes. But what about the other cloud services you use, too?

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      1. Good point, Simon.

        Since your article was keyed to the Google outage, I’d limited my consideration to that service. But you’re right.

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  3. “Is there a simple way to backup my gmail.com info? And can this be scheduled and run automatically?”

    Its there

    http://www.thegmailbackup.com is the perfect solution for GMAIL BACKUP

    http://www.thegmailbackup.com
    You can simply schedule backup and forget it, come after few hours and download your full gmail messages just by one single click.
    Its that easy. I tried it and i downloaded some 400,000 emails of my gmail as one single zip file in one click.
    U can see at http://www.thegmailbackup.com/#listcustomers

    Regards

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    1. Nice suggestion.

      But if Google does loose everything, does this allow you to “re-upload” the lost, backed up, content to the cloud?

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  4. Keep in mind it’s not just email that’s vulnerable. Spanning Backup (http://spanningbackup.com) continually backs up Google Calendar, Contacts, and Docs and integrates directly with Google Apps so domain admins can back up all their user accounts without their users having to do anything.

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  5. Very timely post! And hits the main points that the rest of us need to consider when designing a cloud-based solution.

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  6. [...] mentioned in my post earlier this week that its a good idea to have a local backup of any critical data that resides on cloud services. [...]

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  7. I trust cloud computing and we are working on moving everything over to clouds.

    I trust two companies in the web world now. Rackspace and Google. If Google has a hick up, what guarantee is there that no one else will fail. Even RackSpace had a hick up once where their data center lost power for a period of 7 hours. It’s just the way things are. You can’t control EVERYTHING.

    I’m sure Google didn’t want this to happened, but it did. It could happen to any company. Heck, if you have your own servers, your own building can burn down… THEN WHAT?

    Cloud is the way to go. Of course, you should always backup backup backup.

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  8. [...] cloud, such as the emails in your webmail account, or documents stored in Google Docs? I recently outlined some techniques you can use to keep that data secure, [...]

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