There Is No Plan B

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really trust that “cloud” thing. I like to have my computer stuff stored on something that I can kick. Not that I would, you understand. I mean just something physical that I can look after myself.

server farmAnd it’s not really because I’m sceptical about the systems that companies use. I used to work in the industry myself, and have been inside the “server farms”, full of hundreds of computers and their storage systems. They use RAID, (an acronym for “Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks”), which are designed to allow for a general incidence of hardware failure. There was a certain kind of nerdy entertainment value in watching a technician take out a dead disk and slot in a new one, without the server even noticing.

The “inexpensive disks” are the same type as found in ordinary desktop computers because their ubiquity makes them cheap, but they aren’t all that robust. In a server farm with hundreds of them, a glitch in the power supply would often kill off a handful. Those are the odds you’re playing with at home, with your unfiltered mains and no backup.

When I designed large computer systems, it wasn’t enough to have a server with a RAID array for storage. After all, the server could fail. Or the entire set of disks. So I’d have two servers, sometimes both sharing the load, but each able to handle it all; or sometimes with a standby which did nothing other than wait for its partner to die. And each would have at least two separate RAID systems, with all the data being copied constantly among them. Power supplies and network links would be double-duplicated as well.

nuclear diskBut, of course, there was always the possibility that an aircraft would crash into the server farm. Or a nearby nuclear accident might happen. Or an earthquake. That was why I always specified an entire duplicate installation at a different location. Or several. I remember one that was installed in San Jose, Atlanta, London and Amsterdam.

Therefore, I’m pretty sure that the “cloud” companies will be doing something similar, if not better. I really shouldn’t worry. But I do.

So I DIY. The most important things I have are my photographs and my writing, and, I suppose, my e-mail archive (for the legal angle). Then there’s the music which I’ve bought, although almost all of it is relatively safe on the original CDs. You can’t erase them. I like that.

Unlike most of you, I suppose, I have a “server” in the attic: an old low-power PC with a couple of sizeable disks. That allows me to have everything stored in at least two places, (although in the same house, so not resilient against that plane crash or nuclear accident). For the photographs, I make CD or DVD copies too, but beware — those disks only last ten years or so.

If my everyday PC was to die utterly without hope of resuscitation I could probably get a new one fully restored in about a day. I’ll bet you couldn’t. With all your data in the “cloud”.


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