Saturday, October 11, 2008

Trust, But Verify, and Be Sure to Backup

President Ronald Reagan often used the phrase, "Trust but verify." In a world where so much of our information is held digitally, we must be able to trust the systems which hold that information. What do we do when a system goes down?

A recent article in Information Week addressed this issue. The "cloud" is wonderful, but it can put our ability to operate in the hands of people who are far too removed from us.

For 25 years, I have been a proponent of backing up my data. Even when that data was held on one of those 5.25 floppy disks, there was always a second disk holding that exact same data. When the hard drive became the standard means for saving data, backing up to a set of 3.5 floppy disks began a ritual for me.

Now, an external hard drive houses a copy of every document, spreadsheet, photo, etc. on my office, home, and laptop computers. My precious Outlook data is housed not on a server maintained by someone else, but on my hard drive. Every week, that one pst file which holds all of my data is copied to a flash drive.

What about the information that lives in the cloud? The Information Week article mentioned Google's g-mail experiencing an outage twice in two weeks. This example is a warning of the reality that can touch each of us. How can we be assured that what we store in the cloud will be there when we need it?

Somewhere in the distance, I can hear the voice of that great communicator: "Trust, but verify." For me, that phrase means making a backup of everything of value that I have stored in the cloud. Here are some examples:
  1. Every three months, I backup the blog posts for this blog and the two blogs I administer for my school system. When I say "backup," I am simply using a click-and-drag to highlight all of my text. I copy and paste to a Word document. All of my text along with clickable links and pictures are saved. Who knows when a catastrophe at Blogger could wipe out years of blog posts.
  2. Every picture that is posted to a service such as flickr or Photobucket is also stored on my computer's hard drive.
  3. Every three months, I backup my Del.icio.us bookmarks. I choose to see 100 on the page, click-and-drag to highlight, copy, and paste in a Word document. The result is not pretty, but it does retain the list of bookmarks along with their clickable links.
  4. Every time I post to the SharePoint site at the office, I also save a copy of that same document on my hard drive. As just one example, every Course of Study for every subject we teach is posted to our SharePoint site. If the worst happens and the whole thing comes crashing down with no usable backup, I still have all of it somewhere else.
  5. Everything I post to GoogleDocs is also saved to my hard drive.
  6. Every time I read about a service offered through the cloud, I examine whether or not it is better than what I currently have. I could use an online calendar, yet Outlook synced to the BlackBerry gives me the data I need no matter where I am. Moreover, it does so without me relying on someone else to keep up with my data.
These practices take very little time, and hopefully there will never come a time when I really have to rely on them. I have the peace of mind knowing that if the worst happens, my data is still secure. The few minutes I spend backingup my data is time well invested.
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