Be Prepared — Don’t Be Caught Out When the Cloud Fails


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.

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