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Cloud computing is the big buzz these days and we have more choices available to us now than ever before. How many of us use Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Google Drive on a daily basis? How many big businesses rely on Amazon’s CloudFront for content delivery? Even Google Docs is a marvel with its cloud-based office suite. But despite the usefulness of cloud computing, it does have its drawbacks.

The cloud computing movement suffers from the same issues that all trends suffer: people like to join in on the fun without fully understanding what it is. I know when I first heard about Dropbox, I dove head-first with my “try it now, figure it out later” mentality, but I’m telling you to do as I say, not as I did. Protecting yourself against cloud computing’s issues will save you a lot of time and headache in the future.

Tip #1: Choose the Right Cloud

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There are a lot of cloud services out there and the number of choices will only continue to grow in the coming years. This means that you owe it to yourself to carefully research and consider all available alternatives before committing to any particular service. For example, if you need a cloud storage solution, it’s in your best interest to thoroughly check out Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, etc. The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More

Due to the nature of cloud computing, data migration between clouds can be a huge timesink and pain in the neck. First you have to download all of it off the first cloud and then upload it all to the second. Even if there’s an import option, you’ll lose a ton of time depending on how much data needs to move. Do hard research and make sure you start off on the cloud that best fits your needs.

Also, watch for compatibilities. Some clouds won’t interface well with certain software, whether because the developers didn’t implement enough support or the cloud itself is dependent on conflicting software. Make sure you know about these limitations or else you may be pigeonholed into using specific tools that you don’t like.

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Tip #2: Keep Multiple Copies of Data

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One of the biggest risks of using a cloud is that the cloud’s longevity is entirely outside of your control. It could be there one morning and gone the next. Therefore, you should NEVER use a cloud as your sole location for data storage.

Yes, cloud storage is hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough when it comes to backups. I don’t disagree here as long as the cloud’s copy of your data is actually a backup (i.e., not the original copy) because if the cloud goes down, your data goes down with it in the blink of an eye. Use other backup solutions What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In] What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In] Ten years ago an external hard drive – or even a physical disc such as a CD-ROM – was the only practical way to back up files. Consumer-grade network storage solutions were primitive, expensive and... Read More in tandem with cloud storage.

Another reason to keep local copies of data: temporary cloud outages. What happens when you find three hours to work on that project of yours, sit down, log into your cloud… and it’s down? Suddenly you’re impatiently waiting for the cloud to come back up so you can make use of your time well. With local copies, you’re never at the mercy of your cloud’s uptime.

Tip #3: Secure Your Data

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Cloud computing has many upsides, the chief advantage being that all of the data management is done by the cloud provider. It relieves you, the user, from having to worry about overhead and administration. However, this comes with the potential sacrifice of security and privacy.

Since all of your data is being held by someone else, cloud services are inherently risky. We already discussed the possibility of losing all of your data when a cloud provider goes belly up overnight, but there’s also the issue of data confidentiality. What happens if the cloud provider is hacked? What if their data – which is actually your data – gets leaked by a rogue employee? What if they give up your data in light of a government subpoena?

It comes down to this: don’t put data on a cloud if you wouldn’t be comfortable with that data being exposed at some time in the future. You just can’t know beforehand that your data will remain secret forever. Encryption for the cloud 5 Ways To Securely Encrypt Your Files In The Cloud 5 Ways To Securely Encrypt Your Files In The Cloud Your files may be encrypted in transit and on the cloud provider’s servers, but the cloud storage company can decrypt them -- and anyone that gets access to your account can view the files. Client-side... Read More may help, but it’s not a guarantee by any means.

Conclusion

One last tip for you: don’t use cloud computing just because it’s there. What would you think of someone who ate their cereal with a hammer? Similarly, cloud computing is a tool and it fulfills a certain number of functions. If you can make use of those functions, then go for it! But don’t use a cloud service unless you know why you’re using it.

What say you, readers? What other cloud computing dangers can you think of? Have you ever been burned by a cloud? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

Image Credits: Clouds Via Shutterstock, Files & Folders Via Shutterstock, Secure Cloud Via Shutterstock

  1. Monitance
    December 30, 2013 at 7:58 am

    The cloud definitely has it's perks, particularly for sharing documents, but I am old school and will always vote for hard copy kept on site. Data control and security is essential.

  2. Jack
    September 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I'm surprised to find no mention of Zoolz? Especially with their unlimited plan, I can backup all of my company's data for only 30$ / year. I was sold right then and there, but upon further research I was relieved to find they were both secure as well as affordable. So yeah that would be my recommendation as far as " Choosing the right solution" goes.

  3. Sonwabile H
    August 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    fianally......

  4. Lisa O
    August 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Is there anyone with experience with Shared -featured in this week's MUO cool services- and can tell about the limitations of its 100GB offering? Is the interface sluggish?

  5. Eli M
    August 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    1. Choose the right cloud - 2 comments. A. Backup & syncing are not the same. B. There are clouds that provide far larger storage (e.g. Mega.nz: 50 GB free)
    2. With so many cloud option one can use more than one for the same data
    3.In addition buy an external disk - very cheap

  6. bben
    August 10, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Cloud storage is not under your control. So don't think it is a safe place to keep confidential stuff. NSA has shown that it can and will look at anything on line. If they can do it, so can the bad guys - maybe not today, but eventually.

    • Joel Lee
      August 16, 2013 at 6:05 am

      Indeed. Cloud storage is convenient but it would be foolish to think it's private.

  7. ReadandShare
    August 10, 2013 at 5:53 am

    My simple but effective data management process:

    1. My data all reside on Drive C.

    2. I use FreeFileSync to maintain a duplicate set on an external USB drive.

    3. I use SkyDrive to maintain a third set in 'the cloud'.

    My data is safe regardless of a mishap at home (e.g. fire, theft) or offsite. The chance of both occurring at the same time is essentially nil.

    • ReadandShare
      August 10, 2013 at 6:07 am

      Reading the above posts...

      @Dragonmouth - In my case, all sensitive/confidential data are encrypted and protected by passwords -- such as my Excel spreadsheets and Word docs. Yeah, a determined NSA can crack those open, but I feel adequately protected against opportunistic hackers.

      @Artem - is your RAID controller onsite? If so, then you have no offsite protection -- which is one major selling point of 'the cloud'.

  8. Arthur McKenzie
    August 10, 2013 at 5:42 am

    I've been a Google Docs (now Drive) user for 3 years and uploaded over 300 docs to their online cloud storage. A lot of these docs have links and the documents themselves have been publicly shared with more people than I can count.

    Out of the blue, somewhere around May this year, all of those links (document hyperlinks pointing to external educational & business sites) stopped working, rendering the documents read-only.

    Till date, this problem hasn't been fixed by Google and I doubt they're going to do so. I have seen others complaining about this issue on their forums but Google continues to ignore them.

    It is irritants like these that make me skeptical of relying too much on cloud storage and sharing.

  9. Artem
    August 9, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I know one more variant: create your own cloud with RAID controller. It is much safer, just because not so many people know about it, it is hardly to hack (if you have all the settings correct), you may control all the software and hardware, as decide what is the RAID array, how many drives and what is the functionality of your server.
    Probably, don't want to post any ads here, but I have Synology product in use - work great for me

    • Joel Lee
      August 10, 2013 at 2:24 am

      That's one way to go about it! Never heard of creating your own personal cloud like that, but it sounds interesting. Then again, most people use clouds because they can't be bothered to do all of the configuring and managing, so it probably won't be a viable alternative for most!

    • nonsipuo
      August 13, 2013 at 9:31 am

      The cloud is still in its infancy to gauge whether it is the future or the past. I use most of the free services and as Mr. Lee rightly said, each offers a slightly different experience with different tools. Unluckily apart from the personal use I have never found a stable longer term business use for cloud storage. Have you ever tried keeping 50TB (and growing by the day) of images that have to be available for three different sites / programs? Apart from costing a hell of a lot of money (50TBb sounds little but have you ever tried buying premium drives and a good rack server), it costs me much more in time to keep them myself. And it's not just hardware, you need an above average connection that comes at an above average price etc. etc. Ok so enter the cloud and all my problems are solved. Wrong. Technically it might make sense for me to have the ‘original’ offline copy hosted in my servers and the ‘used’ copy on cloud storage. Unluckily I cannot use cloud services for the storage I require as the cheaper solutions (the ones everyone uses) offer teeny space while the larger solutions (the ones that are relatively reliable) would cost me more than my current IT budget. Thus my inability to have any opinion of the cloud from a work perspective.

  10. dragonmouth
    August 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    As far as I am concerned, the biggest argument against the Cloud is that you relinquish control over your data to someone else. The storage provider can go belly up, corporate policy can change, storage security can be breached, data can be held hostage, company/employee(s) can sell the data, a natural disaster can befall the storage facility.

    • Joel Lee
      August 10, 2013 at 2:22 am

      Yeah, that's the big risk-vs-reward. You gain synchronization, anywhere accessibility, and lots of space without buying new hardware. It's too bad all of that can disappear in the blink of an eye.

    • Lisa O
      August 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      That's why I only upload data I think not so important.

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