Do You Trust the Cloud?

If you walk the Web 2.0 walk, there’s a strong attraction to the notion of keeping your data “in the cloud” – that is, using web-based applications to manage everything. From e-mail to appointments to project management to time-tracking to invoicing to document management to party invitations, there’s really no need to use any application on your own computer other than a browser these days. But there’s a hidden danger to this lifestyle: who’s backing the data up in case something goes wrong?

That recently became an important question for a bunch of users of Google’s Personalized Home Page service, who logged on to discover their personalizations (in some cases rather extensive) had vanished. Sure, maybe losing a portal isn’t the biggest deal in the world – but what if it was your time-tracking application that went out on you? Or your online accounting?

If you work on your local PC, you get to take responsibility for backing up your own data. If you’re using applications on the corporate network, then it’s the job of the IT department. But for web applications, the situation is less clear. If a web app lets you export your own data, does that make it your problem? Do you check the terms of service to see whether the supplier has an acceptable backup policy? Or are you the sort to just trust the cloud and assume that everything is all right?

Ultimately, this may be one of the key issues to be tackled by the still-nascent web OS projects. Until then, the wise web worker is the one who assesses the risk of using hosted applications to store critical data, and who has made plans to weather any disasters.

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