Why you should supplement your cloud data storage

Why expecting disaster is a smart way to live -- at least when it comes to data stored in the cloud

As I mentioned in my last post, the recent T-Mobile Sidekick data outage has caused many of us who rely on cloud computing to stop and ask, "Should I back up data stored in the cloud?" The question, then, that logically follows: How do I do that? There was a lot of debate over this in the comments in my personal data-outage story, so I went looking for some answers.

I asked Chris Bross, senior enterprise recovery engineer of DriveSavers Data Recovery what he thought of trusting important data to the cloud. DriveSavers specializes in recovering data when disaster hits, and Bross has seen all manner of data loss, from the large corporate server mishaps to the smaller -- but still tragic -- reformatting of a video camera drive that held pictures of a newborn baby. "People put their data in the cloud and are willing to accept that it will always be there: They can touch it and see it when they go online. It seems permanent. But I live in a crisis world where we believe that prevention is the best medicine."

[ Also on InfoWorld: "Should I back up data stored in the cloud?" and "Microsoft learns the hard way: Back up our data!" | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

Not only does he believe everyone should keep a copy of the data they have in the cloud on their computer, he thinks they should keep a removable copy and an off-site copy -- just as with all data they don't want to lose. "You can buy a hard drive for $100," he says. "You can't buy another copy of that data."

But how do you back up cloud data? As many of you pointed out in my post about my Sidekick data outage, it's not clear if you need to back up that data or how to back it up. There is no big "backup" button on most cloud computing services.

The folks at Google insist that the data you store on their servers is safe. It is backed up in multiple places all over the world. Bross agrees: "They are a unique company. They have a globally distributed file system that they have developed from scratch."

But that is still no reason to skip the backup. "Google services have gone offline, so while they probably have a good handle on the data, your access to that data might be interrupted -- perhaps just when you need it."

Google does not disagree. "Google's datacenters back up data live across multiple secure locations," says Jason Freidenfelds of Google's Global Communications amd Public Affairs, "whereas physical devices -- like laptops and thumb drives -- don't have such a good track record."

He offers some proof:

  • According to LoJack, more than 2 million laptops are stolen every year.
  • The top category reported for data loss through a security breach in the second half of 2008 continued to be stolen equipment such as laptop computers (33.5 percent of all data-loss incidents reported). Together with lost equipment, these two categories account for 50 percent of all incidents reported (according to a Microsoft report).

"That said," notes Freidenfelds, "we're all for making it easy for users to export their e-mail, docs, calendar entries, photos, etc. from Google at any time. We never want to hold users' data hostage and believe it should be easy to switch from service to service. We have a team of engineers based out of Chicago who focus entirely on making sure users can export their data from Apps -- they're called the Data Liberation Front." There are some great backup solutions, advice, and reviews of third-party products on the Data Liberation Front site.

I have to admit that I am in Bross's "worst case scenario" camp, which is why I was never in any danger of losing data in that Sidekick outage. Not only do I keep a copy of all that mobile data on at least two computers -- in addition to Danger's servers -- but I have a copy of most of my phone data at Gmail and Google Calendar. In fact, even when I don't plan to leave Google, I export or sync that data to another service for the sake of redundancy.

How about you? Have you developed a brilliant "cloud" backup habit you would like to share?

Got gripes? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Why you should supplement your cloud data storage," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing on InfoWorld.com.

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