Hello

Head in the Clouds

One phrase in nearly every cloud storage provider’s copy goes something like this: treat the sync folder like any other folder on your hard drive.

I’ve taken them at their word…and the result is a constantly evolving file ecosystem. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Move Over, My Documents!
Folders With Benefits

Background

The story before the story: I lost a week’s worth of police work back in the day. Luckily, it was not any official mainframe data, just some case files on our Unit’s personal computer. Still, we had come to rely on that computer and the loss taught me a valuable lesson about backing up data.

The lesson was this: more frequent, more data, more places. We went from weekly to daily backups and I made sure to include more files to enable us to recover work in progress (not just completed reports.) Finally, I went crazy with writable CDs, going from what I had thought was a sufficient three-disk rotation (Grandfather-Father-Son) to a monster eight-disk rotation based on the Tower of Hanoi Puzzle.

Freelancing

When I began freelancing, I adapted the Hanoi scheme to backup client websites. I was using a lot of CDs and often worried about their physical security. I had read about online file backups and checked them out.

Back then, Mozy was the only viable cloud service and I didn’t care for it. Once Dropbox came along, I finally jumped onboard the cloud bandwagon. Now, my only concern was whether unauthorized access to the files would breach client confidentiality. I solved that with TrueCrypt, a program that let me store all files inside an encrypted container.

Actually, I found out later that TrueCrypt was defeating the best features of Dropbox. Apparently, normal files only change slightly. Dropbox uploads just those changed bits, making the whole upload much faster. With a TrueCrypt file, the whole thing changed! So Dropbox always had to upload the whole file.

Take Responsibility For Security

Naturally, I was not pleased with this news. I hunted around until I found CryptSync, a nifty open-source utility that syncs two folders in such a way that one of those folders is always encrypted. During my research, the main use cases involved placing the encrypted half of this pair into Dropbox!

That was great. In fact, the developer recognized the need for multiple such folder pairs and designed CryptSync so that any number of pairs could be synchronized. I duplicated my Dropbox model onto each new service that I’ve joined.

1,281.38 GB: Now What?

In keeping with the lesson learned from the Police Department Fiasco, I finally embraced the “more places” philosophy. Take a look at my System Tray:

Head in the Clouds
The Immortal Brain?

In addition to the visible folders shown at the beginning of this post, my main backup schedule is managed by a program called Duplicati. Though not strictly file storage, services like RoboForm and Evernote (not shown) are part of my overall cloud strategy. In fact, I use RoboForm to save the passwords to the desktop apps that connect to their respective cloud servers.

I have several, often competing, ideas on how to make use of these services. Here’s a brief description of each:

  • Virtual Raid: Like the hardware version of disk striping, I think about spreading multiple copies of files over two or more services. It’s too much work to keep track of files, so this is just in the idea stage.
  • Big Files on Big Servers: I have some ISO image files that would choke the smaller account limits. By moving them, videos and MP3s to MediaFire, I’ll have plenty of room for the smaller files.
  • Task Oriented: this is being pushed aside as irrelevant. I used to reserve Box.com for archived client folders. The trouble with this strategy is that I have more space than clients! What a waste, right?

Some services are strictly optimized for backups. Duplicati is one. I think it is fine for what it does, but I really prefer to use folders on a day-to-day basis. It’s hard to describe what I mean but, I basically do not want to think about Folder A as a working folder, with its backup being sliced, diced and scattered in some hard-to-recover scheme. If these services remain robust, then all I need to know is that if my copy of Folder A disappears from my laptop, I can log onto service X and pull it back down.

Having said that, I suppose I will still appreciate Duplicati if my machine ever melted down. I’m just not sure how much work would be involved. Sadly, I treat the testing phase of file recovery like I treat those legal things one has to click before getting to the good stuff. I’m always optimistic that I can upgrade my computer on my own terms. Until then, I just enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having my data backed up on other people’s hardware.