The Social Networker

by Chris Miller at 10:03:40 AM on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
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After visting my local Costco and watching people buying terabyte drives by the basketload recently, I began to question the disaster recovery planning the we, as individuals and not companies, have put into place.  In the speed as which technology is becoming cheap for home usage, I think too many of us are becoming comfortable in either cloud, SaaS or local computing to make the right choices.  I am going to attempt to break down each of these and give a summary of my best practices.

The most common form of cloud computing that individuals consume is free web based email and online storage.  In this mode you have limited information kept locally on your computers at home, but have the flexibility to reach this data from anywhere.  Some of it is ad driven, which you learn to ignore for the value of the service itself.  Email systems like Gmail and Hotmail have become a commodity that you consume with no regard for worrying about your data, which is the first mistake.

Let's take Yahoo Photos for example.  When Yahoo bought Flickr they ran both for some time and then sent the announcements that you will migrate to Flickr.  Soon after they shut down Yahoo photos and many people were still left stunned as their pictures were just gone (if they did not know about Flickr).  Recently Yahoo did it again with Briefcase, but there was no exit plan in place for that one.  You had to make sure you had your data and they closed the site.  No migration.  I am not saying millions were impacted, but simply using it as a cloud example.  There is plenty of other recent ones that are closed or closing.

The idea is that we do not plan for contingency in the closing of these cloud sites, that have never relied on your for funding, unless you wanted additional storage or services.  Often called Premium accounts.  Many of you have never made a local backup of your cloud hosted email and some even don't keep their photographs locally anymore.  What you leave yourself open to is total loss of accumulated data from it ONLY sitting in the cloud.  Gmail for example offers the ability to access email by POP/IMAP.  This allows you to bring a copy locally onto your own machiens for archiving or storage purposes.  Now Gmail may not be one to close given the state of Google, but take your pick between the public free email systems.   (**please see tip at end of article**)

This isn't really inclusive in any DR plan since you rely entirely on the Software As a Service provider to have redundancy.  I know of many that start on one or two servers only, nothing more.  People stand a high chance of losing data if you do not know how your SaaS provider operates.  Think Magnolia for social bookmarking when they lost databases and recently the whole registration beta list at Imindi,  Most of these do not offer ways to sync or get copies of the data stored there and you are at their mercy on how often they back up and how long they retain those backups.  They may or may not have multiple servers in multiple geographic areas to keep them operational.

You also pay for this service, so understanding what they offer in terms of data retention and your ability to retrieve that data and move at any time is important.  Remember SaaS may be in the cloud for some providers and not others.  Additionally, many SaaS providers offer no escape, meaning no way to move and take your data with you easily.  What happens if they are down for 3 days?  While you may not be able to act on everything, you could at least see your data if you had local copies.   (**please see tip at end of article**)

This is where the majority of people maintain their family photos and even the only place they keep copies of their Quicken and other stored data.  Now the technical person in the house may go out to Costco or Best Buy and track down a large USB drive to start making copies of laptops and home computers.  The more advanced might even go so far as a home media/storage server.  A couple will burn DVD's for safe keeping and put them on the shelf.  What is wrong with each and every one of these?  They sit in the same house!

Now a few have moved to webdrives, This is where you back up your data to web based archival systems.  This falls into the SaaS category on some of the smaller startups offering the service.  While others like MIcrosoft have a built architecture.  But how long do they keep that data in rentention is a question you have to ask.

The idea of disaster recovery is not only for the physical machine, but for the physical location too.  If something happens to a home, such as water damage, fire, tornado, whatever, the backups are gone too.  Having 40 copies of the same data on DVD, USB drive and multiple machines won't save anything. (**please see tip at end of article**)

So what do I propose?  A combination of all of these. It may take some time to organize a flow that makes sense, so map it out before you start moving files around.

Use your local systems and provide not only a quick local backup, but also find web storage.  Provide yourself with a low cost and flexible alternative.  Feel free to keep downloading those family photos, videos and such to that terabyte USB drive, but invest in a remote web drive to move the very important files, like financial, for long term safety.  Grow it as needed from there.

Feel free to use SaaS services, but make sure you can offload, download and keep copies of the data that then follow the same local rules as before.  You are trusting your data to another provider fully in most SaaS scenarios.  Make sure you are a step ahead in case they don't have their own good procedures.  Remember offline access and copies are better than no access

Look into cloud services.  Gmail has grown so incredibly large and offers so many ways to access your data, take advantage.  But also pull that local copy for longevity and safe keeping. This also allows you to access data if Gmail (or whatever) goes offline.  You then get the benefit of being able to work from anywhere most of the time with the peace of mind in knowing you have that data offline.  Shipping that monthly to a web drive is not a bad idea either.  As long as you think about combining each of the tools, you are on your way to personal disaster recovery.

*****  If I can leave you with one more tip before I hit publish, I would like you to take the time to also map out your plan.  This means not sitting in the corner with coffee, laptop, USB drive and online access.  But actually drawing it out, listing what files are important and where they all reside.  Then take this file and place it in each of the locations so no matter what happens, you know exactly where you stored and kept that data and backup.

  • 1) What is your personal Disaster Recovery (DR) plan?
    Created by Keith Brooks at 06/02/2009 11:37:07 AM email | website

    Was just doing this myself before our trip to London for the summer.

    DVD, external and some web backups all part of it.

  • 2) What is your personal Disaster Recovery (DR) plan?
    Created by Dragon Cotterill at 06/02/2009 11:43:38 AM email |

    Which is the reason why all my essential data is stored in Notes databases.

    All my photos are in one database. My Journal database contains all my documents, files, as well as passwords for various sites, and of course all my essential .id files. And yes they are encrypted. My email and various applications are already Notes databases of one sort or another.

    And the backup plan? Well they are all replicated between my home machine, my home server, my webserver, and a client's work server. Oh, and he replicates his data back to me.

    In case of fire/theft/asteroid strike etc., simply download a Notes Client, grab an ID from wherever (either local USB drive or by logging onto my web server with http) and re-replicate from otehr locations. "Cloud" computing but all personal.

  • 3) What is your personal Disaster Recovery (DR) plan?
    Created by Art at 06/02/2009 11:51:02 AM email |

    funny you should mention this........ I just had a 1/2 tb drive die on me, with a good amount of data on it, fortunately backups, on dvd,tape, in the cloud, and on two other drives allowed me to recover pretty quickly, good article!

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Yes this is a blatant theft of the outline that Jess uses on her page, but I asked permission. Why?? Because I am a hardcore admin and can make ugly tables to make you developers frustrated, but this was too nice to pass up.

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