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Technology hasn’t changed the eggs and baskets problem

Backups, file synchronisation and The Cloud

This is a topic which comes up time and again. I’ve been prompted to write about it this time after getting an email from Novastor, and reading about the code hosting service Code Spaces.

Let’s start with a few definitions.

Backups = copies of your data (and possibly programs, system files etc.) which are stored somewhere away from your live data.

File synchronisation = a method of sharing files with yourself across multiple devices or with other people.

The Cloud = pretty much anything which is accessed via the internet and which isn’t your local IT kit.

Some might argue with specifics, but broadly these definitions give us a working and common understanding of the terms.

Bold Statement No. 1 – file sync services (e.g. Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive) are NOT backups … they are just another instance of your live data.

File synchronisation

We use Dropbox to share large or many files with our clients. We copy a file into the correct folder, and a short while later, it arrives with the client. Later, we can un-share and delete those files so the client no longer has them in their Dropbox. If a file is changed (either a change you intended or some form of data corruption), every copy of that file will be sync’d with it. And after 30 days, you won’t be able to revert to the previous version – tough.


With backups, if a file is changed, another version of it is stored – you don’t lose the previous version. This is one of the key differences – others include being able to decide where and for how long you keep your backups. We have some on CD and DVD from before 2006 when we started WORD-right – long before Dropbox et al, and certainly longer than 30 days.

Novastor is a provider of backup software for PCs, servers, networks and datacentres. For PCs, servers etc., it’s a Windows platform – if you have a Mac or Linux system. you’ll have to look elsewhere. There are lots of companies selling backup software, so you can find an equivalent for any platform. Keeping it simple, Novastor will back up the data on your PC and store it somewhere else, such as another hard drive (internal or external), or a DVD. Take regular backups (and store them away from your PC/office), and you’ll always have copies of your data to restore from.

The Cloud

If you use a cloud backup service, you’ll start to lose control of your data. You don’t know how or where it is stored (perhaps you don’t need to know?), you rely on someone else to look after it (back it up and keep it secure), and you don’t always have control of the versioning (how long old versions are kept).

There is a trade-off when using the cloud: it’s easy, convenient and cheap, but you lose security and control.

Bold Statement No. 2 – cloud services are not under your (full) control.

Code Spaces was a cloud-based service for programmers to share and store code and project management tools, utilising Amazon’s cloud storage services. Code Spaces boasted “Rock Solid, Secure and Affordable Svn Hosting” with a “full recovery plan”. Their Amazon admin account was hacked on 17th June 2014, and they lost control of everything stored on Amazon. By the time they’d managed to get control back again, the hacker had deleted virtually all the data they were hosting, and all the backups … which were also stored in Amazon’s cloud. They can’t recover the data without backups, so they have ceased trading. And every programmer who had data stored with Cloud Spaces has lost everything, unless they kept copies elsewhere.

Many people, especially the cloud providers, will tell you your data is safe in the cloud. No it isn’t. It’s all a question of eggs and baskets, and the technology doesn’t change that.

Bold Statement No. 3 – unless you use multiple backup solutions, your data isn’t safe.

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