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Google Gmail snafu lesson: Backup, backup, backup

Ian Paul | March 4, 2011
Gmail is hard at work restoring service to about 40,000 Gmail users after a software bug deleted their e-mail messages, folders, labels and filters. So, while things are looking good for those users affected by the bug, this episode proves, once again, that while Web-based services may be robust, you still have to take responsibility for your own data.

FRAMINGHAM, 4 MARCH 2011 - Gmail is hard at work restoring service to about 40,000 Gmail users after a software bug deleted their e-mail messages, folders, labels and filters. So, while things are looking good for those users affected by the bug, this episode proves, once again, that while Web-based services may be robust, you still have to take responsibility for your own data.

Google (GOOG) also takes responsibility. Ben Treynor, Google's VP Engineering and Site Reliability Czar, said on Google's Gmail blog that Google backs up all Gmail to tape. "Since the tapes are offline, they're protected from such software bugs," he blogged. "But restoring data from them also takes longer than transferring your requests to another data center, which is why it's taken us hours to get the e-mail back instead of milliseconds."

Treynor said a storage software update introduced the unexpected bug, which caused 0.02% of Gmail users to temporarily lose access to their e-mail.

It's Not Just Google Services You Need to Worry About

However, it's not just Gmail and other Webmail services that are the problem; we're increasingly using cloud-based tools for work and communication such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Docs, Microsoft (MSFT) Office Live, Tumblr, Wordpress, Blogger, Posterous, Flickr, Picasa, and on and on.

But that doesn't mean you should forego a solid back-up plan for all your online data. If the worst ever does happen, and a free Web service dumps your stuff permanently, the only response you can reasonably expect from these companies is: "oops, sorry."

With that in mind here are a few suggestions on how to add an extra layer of security in case the cloud lets you down one day.

Gmail and Friends

The easiest way to create a local back up of your e-mail is to use a basic POP3/IMAP e-mail client such as Mozilla Thunderbird, Apple's Mail app, or Windows Live Mail. If you don't like using an e-mail client for daily use and prefer to use the Web interface instead, just fire up your desktop program on a regular schedule. Even if you launch your desktop client once a month, you will at least have the bulk of your mail stored offline.

Facebook

Facebook recently launched a handy feature that lets you export almost all of your Facebook data into a handy ZIP file. All you have to do is visit Facebook's export tool and click the download button. Then you'll get an e-mail when your file is ready to download to your desktop. This is an ideal task to do once a month or even once every season. You don't want to lose all those mobile uploads should the worst happen, and it makes it much easier to move your data around should you wish to leave Facebook one day.

 

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