Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Both sides now: How I look at the cloud after a computer crash

I tweeted last week that I had a shiny new laptop, and a reader asked whether I'd be blogging about it. My first response: I'd rather blog instead about the cloud and what I'm storing in it, because that has made the new laptop transition easy.

I've liked the idea of cloud computing from the first I heard of it. Over time, I've put more and more of my activity "in the cloud" -- that is, based on the web rather than my hard drive. And I've found it pays to look at clouds from both sides, keeping eye on events that throw the reliability of cloud storage into doubt. TechCrunch points out that the cloud gives rise to a lot of unintended consequences. Amazon gave a lengthy explanation for why its cloud crashed. And Dropbox turned out to have more security issues than previously thought, although PC World decided the Dropbox privacy policy is "OK--just proceed carefully."

I've been migrating files to the cloud slowly and with care, and then my Dell crashed again, fatally this time. It's had 5 hard drive replacements, and was likely one of the nearly 12 million faulty computers Dell knowingly shipped (although that hardly explains the six weeks it took them last year to provide "overnight" system replacement I pay for).  So I'm now writing to you on a new HP, and thanks to the cloud storage, the transition has been nearly seamless--just what I was hoping for.

Of all the clouds-in-transition coverage, Louis Gray's thoughtful post on tackling my biggest impediments to cloud-centricity best describes where I am: Still translating my work into the cloud and with a long to-do list, one sharpened by my recent experiences. Because, as Gray points out, the cloud and its uses are still developing, I'm opting for lots of redundant systems and backups in the interim. Here's where I stand:
  • External hard drive:Everything on my hard drive gets backed up to an external Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Desk unit with 2TB of storage. But I'm keeping less on that hard drive. 
  • Music: I've uploaded almost all of my music to Amazon Cloud and I have to say that, unlike iTunes, it made the transition during this crash seamless. I use the desktop and mobile versions of Amazon Cloud (love that Android app), and any new purchase of music through Amazon comes with free storage. I'll need to upload more music here, but the core collection is in place.
  • Photos: I'm storing photos in Dropbox in a divide-and-conquer strategy (music here, photos there) that will likely change over time. If you use this link to start a free 2GB Dropbox account, we both will get an additional 250 MB of bonus space free (up to a total of 8GB).
  • Receipts: I send receipts to Shoeboxed, where they are scanned into a cloud storage that can be downloaded into Quicken (or other services like Evernote), and I keep them in Shoeboxed as a backup.
  • Documents: I'm migrating more to Google Docs, but due to clients' specifications, still have the majority of my documents on my hard drive. That's changing next. I'll be experimenting with a mix of Dropbox and Amazon Cloud for existing docs, and doing more in Google Docs for new ones. I'm also storing many core documents in Evernote--it's easy to simply email docs into Evernote, with the benefit that they are then entirely searchable, and can be emailed to or shared with others straight from that app. Evernote makes it easy to clip web pages and I scan almost every hardcopy document into it already.
  • Social networking archives: These are in the cloud to begin with, but not easy to archive. I subscribed to an RSS feed of my own Twitter feed in Google Reader, which is still working although Twitter and Facebook have both turned off RSS subscriptions to feeds on their sites. [UPDATE: Facebook has added new options to get RSS feeds from FB pages.]  For almost everything, I use Backupify, which covers Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and Gmail for free, with paid plans to cover all your Google Apps. And I've set my "favorites" in Twitter to go straight to an Evernote notebook, where they are saved in searchable notes I can use to put together future blog posts. (Click on the "clip" button to start a free or premium Evernote account, below.)
Not perfect, but then, neither is the cloud.

I'll probably follow Gray's lead and get a Chrome notebook for travel--it's so light, has great battery life and is an inexpensive option. The cloud's what really helps me in travel and in transitional situations, like this week's migration to a new laptop. If you're a content producer, you might think about optimizing your content for the cloud. I'd sure appreciate it.

How are you using cloud storage and what are your concerns? I'd love to hear any tools you recommend, or concerns you have.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Being the reader who asked: thank you very much for this post! Dropbox was among the first things I installed on my new laptop. I started using it several months ago, after years of carrying around usb flash drives with documents I was working on (and every now and then discovering that I accidentally left the flash drive I needed at home, of course). I don't share any Dropbox-folders, since I'm still a bit apprehensive about inadvertently sharing documents that I didn't mean to share. For storing files I do want to share, on my weblog for example, I use Box.net (docs) and Slideshare (presentations). Since my laptop came with Evernote pre-installed I started checking out Evernote earlier today. Your tips on how to blog or tweet more without working too hard have something to do with that: Evernote looks like a great tool to jot down ideas, start drafts, store webclips I want to blog about etcetera. Your post made me add Backupify to my list of applications to check out, it would be nice to automatically archive tweets and blogposts. Thanks again!