Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Argument Against Global Cloud Storage

Cloud storage providers' data retention policies and limited Internet access overseas could provide a headache for those with data not stored onsite.

The idea of storing data in the cloud is really nothing new. Lately though, it seems as though cloud data storage has been taken to an almost ridiculous level.

To give you a more concrete example of what I'm talking about, consider this: About a week ago I returned home after doing a zero-gravity flight on the Vomit Comet (an aircraft that NASA uses for astronaut training). Upon my return I naturally wanted to edit some of the video that I had shot during the flight. When I opened up my video editor, I received a prompt to upgrade to the latest version. When I went to the company's Web site to see what new features were in the new version, there really wasn't anything new aside from cloud storage capabilities.

This wasn't an isolated incident either. Another application that I use for document management also recently prompted me to upgrade to a new version. Once again, the big new feature in the new version was cloud storage.

I personally don't have anything against cloud storage. I use it myself for certain types of data. Even so, the notion of storing any and all data in the cloud seems to be gaining popularity. There are some definite downsides to doing so, however. One of the biggest downsides has to do with data retention policies. Let me explain.

Back in 1998 I needed to take an Exchange Server certification exam. In an effort to help me prepare for the exam, I set up my own Exchange Server in my home. I have continually hosted my own Exchange Server for many years and I am proud of the fact that I have not lost any data since 2001.

In 2012, a situation occurred that more or less forced me to switch to using Office 365. I was in London giving a speech and while I was gone my Exchange Server failed. Because I was out of the country I had no way of fixing the problem until I returned home. Being out of touch for a few days caused some problems, so I made the decision to move all of my mail to Office 365 in an effort to avoid future outages. Everything went well up until a couple of weeks ago.

Back around the beginning of the year I needed to retrieve a message that was several years old. Much to my horror, the message was gone. Office 365 has retention policies in place that automatically delete messages that are older than a certain age. I had kept that particular message for a reason, but now it was gone. Thankfully, I still had a backup saved locally. Even so, the incident got me thinking about the perils of cloud storage.

When my data was stored locally, I was in control of it. I never would have put in place a retention policy that would have purged data that I was likely to need again. However, that clearly was not the case when it came to storing my messaging data in the cloud.

I also began to wonder whether retention policies could someday be applied to other types of data as well. For example, if I were to move all of the data off of my on-premise file server to a cloud storage service, it is at least conceivable that the service provider might use retention policies to purge old data. This might not be a problem if the old data consisted solely of outdated corporate documents, but consider the types of data that I have on my file server. I have everything from photos of my travels to my music collection. Never mind the fact that I also have a copy of everything that I have ever written. I cannot even begin to tell you how upset I would be if some cloud storage provider in their infinite wisdom decided to delete aging family photos simply because it considered the data to be old.

Of course some might argue that retention policies are easy enough to avoid if you take the time to read the fine print. I take full responsibility for losing messaging data because I admittedly did not bother to check to find out whether or not any retention policies were enabled by default on Office 365. Even so, there is at least one other downside to storing data solely in the cloud.

When I am not busy writing about technology, I do a lot of adventure travel with my wife. Often times we travel by ship. Although you can access the Internet from most of the ships that I have been on, access is satellite-based which means that it tends to be very slow, and there is usually a per-minute charge. For example, I was on a cruise ship two weeks ago and the cruise line billed Internet access at a rate of 75 cents a minute. Imagine how expensive it would be to use a laptop if all of my data and all of my applications were hosted in the cloud. There is definitely something to be said for local storage.

Again, I don't want to create the impression that no good can come from using cloud storage. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for storing data in the cloud. Even so, I think that it is important to consider both the advantages and the disadvantages of moving data offsite.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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