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Cloud computing has become an integral part of my everyday life, both personally and professionally. However, I wanted to share a couple true-life examples of how the cloud is not entirely stable, and how it should not be the only way you back up your files.
Case #1: Apple iCloud
While I have shared in the past of how I use Numbers back and forth between all of my devices for grading, and how convenient iCloud has been for me this past year, iCloud is not perfect. Case in point: a colleague at my school who has relied on Apple's Numbers even more heavily than myself with regards to assessment and evaluation for all his classes.
He has had major difficulties with his iWork documents. After updating to the second to last update, he lost the ability to back up to iCloud; all of his files would only save locally to his iPad. He made an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar, but they had no solution after attempting multiple fixes. After backing up to the latest version of Numbers, Keynote, and Pages, he has completely lost all of his iWork documents. Poof. They have disappeared. Sometimes the documents would show up on his iPhone, but on his iPad, where he actually calculates all the marks (the bulk of the time during class), documents would vanish. Like the blue screen of death on an old PC, a dreaded spinning wheel appeared, and the iPad froze. Sadly, recovering lost data on iCloud seems unlikely, as it appears to be a common problem on Apple's forums. Hopefully, Apple will soon resolve this issue. This clearly is unacceptable.
Although I have not experienced any lost documents (yet!), I will be carefully be backing up important documents onto other sources.
Temporary solution to ensuring you don't lose your iWork files::
Although not the most practical and new fix for this, email yourself all important iWork documents. This will be cumbersome if they are documents that you are constantly editing, but if it is a “finalized” version, this will be your easiest fix. Better yet: Set up a SENDTODROPBOX account so that you can email it straight there. Files will automatically upload into a folder of your choice within your Dropbox.
A more complicated way would be using a WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) service. I tried this a while ago, and while it worked fine, the service I used (OTIXO) is now charging a fee. Read more about WebDAV here if you're interested. Check out OTIXO here. Frankly, SENDTODROPBOX will be much easier and hassle-free to send your iWork documents to Dropbox.
Bottom line: Back up your files, especially the important ones. Go old school and back up onto an external hard drive or just on your computer. iCloud documents, once deleted or mistakenly removed, are essentially gone for good.
Case #2: Dropbox
Oh, my beloved Dropbox. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love Dropbox and that I use it literally every day, multiple times per day. But one year ago, Dropbox failed me, and, more recently, failed yet another (different) colleague of mine. It turns out it wasn't Dropbox the service who let us down, but instead our computer setting at work.
My work laptop was having some networking issues with regards to its daily synchronization tasks. It was something that the IT guy had set up. One day, I had surprisingly discovered these tasks had deleted almost 3400 files on my Dropbox. I'm not sure if there was a permission that I had clicked “Accept” on in the morning on the laptop without looking, but they were gone. Not only that, once a shared file gets deleted, it will be deleted from every computer of every person that the folder is shared with. This was a huge problem: I am part of a network of teachers, probably numbering around 200, sharing teaching files. These files were missing on all their computers. The Twitter feed of this network was going berserk: “Whoever is deleting these files, please stop and replace them“. I felt horrible. Were the files retrievable? Luckily enough for me, I was able to contact Dropbox directly and have them fully restore the files. I was greatly relieved. With regards to the laptop, I quickly removed Dropbox synchronization on it and it hasn't happened since (I have since been given a newer laptop to use at work).
To show you the some of the deletions, I was able to refer back to that day on Events from over one year ago:
Do not get me wrong: I rely on the cloud every single day. I would not be able to function without it. Whether it's work files on Dropbox, songs on iTunes Match, or photos with Photostream, the cloud is an essential part of my day. I do hope however that cloud computing will become more reliable and stable in the near future. These examples I have outlined might seem out of left field and you may say: “That would never happen to me!”, but you never know. Take the precautions and back up your files. Then back them up once again.