The Cloud Is Fine - You Are Just Using It The Wrong Way

This week I have read another article that Google terminated an account without notice and without reason. It described the horrible life without GMail, Picasa, gdrive and all the other services Google offers. The conclusion and the comments were the same I always read when something like this happens: "The cloud is bad!". Well… This is just not true.

The first thing everyone should understand is that it is possible to enjoy all the features cloud providers offer and still access your data if one of them thinks it would be funny to check what happens if you just disable swapping on a production server or "just doing a quick fix without testing because it is just one line of code and what could possible go wrong?"

Use a client, not the webinterface

The trick is to not use webinterfaces for everything. I am not exactly sure why people do this in the first place since I have never seen anything with less usability than webinterfaces, but this is stuff for a different post. Want to read EMails? Open your mail application. Want to edit documents? There are Office suites, some of them are even free and kind of work. I could go on but I think you have an idea where I am going with this.

What happens if file synchronization service terminates an account? Nothing. All my files are stored locally. What happens if a mail service terminates an account? You guessed right, nothing.

The problem with cloud providers locking accounts is not that you cannot access your files anymore, the problem is that most people do not have a local copy of the files.

Just because you have a local application synchronizing your files, emails and photos does not mean you cannot check your mails with a browser while visiting your parents. A webinterface can be handy sometimes and I also use them from time to time.

First rule using the cloud: "Nothing is better than a file on your hard drive."


You have backups of all your files stored in the cloud, right? Software fails. Hardware fails. Humans fail. Just because not many people lost data stored in the cloud does not mean it is not possible. Still people, smart people who know that backups are important, have no copy of their mails or photos.

Having everything on your local system gives you some room for errors in the cloud. Of course, bad syncs can still happen and kill both datasets. This is no replacement for a real backup, but it can make data corruption on the server less dramatic and it makes real backups easier.

Second rule using the cloud: "The cloud does not replace backups."

But my provider does not offer…

"native clients", "local synchronization", "pink unicorns",… It doesn't matter. For every provider which does not there are five which do. You have the choice what you are using. Maybe you do not get "shiny feature x" but what is more important: Accessing your files whenever you need them or having a certain feature you use once a year?

I understand the fascination of "everything runs in the browser". You trade some usability for the fact that everything you need to work is a browser. Only being able to work if you have a Internet connection and another company does a good job is a big disadvantage if you look at the history of nearly all cloud providers.

Third rule using the cloud: "You have the choice what service you are using."

Use the cloud for everything!

This is no rant against cloud services. I use iCloud, Dropbox and other services on a regular basis but if one of them goes down, if one of them terminates my account I can continue working like nothing happened. My projects are still on my HD, my contacts are still on my phone and if everything fails at the same time I have a backup.

Using the cloud is a good idea. Using it brainlessly, especially for your business, is not.

>> posted on May 5, 2013, midnight in software engineering