On cloud computing

It seems everyone is blaming a general failure of cloud computing for the massive data loss that hit Danger, Microsoft and T-Mobile over the weekend.

From what I've read, a failed storage upgrade occurred without a good, solid backup in place. That sounds a lot more like a failure in backup, planning and design than a failure of cloud computing to me. Had the storage folks at my office made the same mistakes, that's what would have been said -- right before the human resources folks came to "have a talk" with the team.

It just so happens that T-Mobile's sidekick phones rely on a lot of back-end storage, so there's the whole "cloud" element to things. I'm not familiar enough with the Danger platform to know how easy it is to back up your own data, but I'd hope it's possible.

I think it goes for any service where you've entrusted storage of your data to someone else: make sure you back it up yourself, if you think it's important. The difference with the Danger/T-Mo disaster, I think, is that it was a lot less obvious to end-users that the data wasn't all stored permanently on the phone. Clearly, "cloud computing" was collateral damage in the wake of a much more mundane failure. The fact that it was completely avoidable offers little comfort for those affected.

Shifting gears: Along comes this piece on how e-mail is becoming less and less relevant.
The thing that separates e-mail as we know it from other messaging platforms is the fact that e-mail is decentralized. Using information stored in DNS, all Internet-facing e-mail servers can properly send mail to the correct server for a given address. IRC is another decentralized communication protocol. The days of decentralized infrastructure are fading fast, though, being replaced by walled gardens that want your constant attention, and many of them requiring a separate account and password. These walled gardens are supposed to be "the new way" of communicating.

You can't easily backup everything you've received through Twitter or Facebook, and the people who communicate with you there have to have accounts. Sure, anyone can get an account. What about Google Wave? Very few of the people I REALLY want to collaborate with have an account. So, while I do see a lot of value in these services for certain things, I don't think that any of them are quite ready to fill the roll that e-mail currently provides. Chiefly: if I have a local e-mail client running on my system, I don't need to suckle at the teat of the Interwebs in order to rifle through my data. It's right there, on my computer. Web mail has indeed blurred the line, but the good web-mail providers still offer mechanisms to back-up your data or use an offline mail client such as Thunderbird.

OpenID somewhat fixes the need to have multiple accounts and passwords scattered all over the web, but shifting authentication "into the cloud" just means that each OpenID account we have will be more catastrophic if compromised. OpenID is tantamount to using the same username and password everywhere, and we know how well that works for security.

How do you backup your cloud data? Well, for starters, you can try a native-client RSS aggregator such as Liferea. One thing that "Cloud" is doing is making syndication possible through ubiquitous RSS feeds. Backups won't work perfectly on every site, for example: you won't actually download all of the photos from Flickr with RSS, you'll only get links to them. It will nicely archive text content, though. This is good for things such as blog posts, twitter conversations and the like.