A Dark Cloud on the Horizon

Cloud computing is convenient and ubiquitous, but can be just as etherial as real clouds.
Cloud computing is convenient and ubiquitous, but can be just as etherial as real clouds.

The third night of my Intro to Digital Photography class could be called our “what to do with our pictures” class. The first night coveres the nuts and bolts of cameras, and the second night touches on the basics of exposure, lighting, lenses and composition. With that done, the third night’s “what to do” is a perfect fit.

In addition to the basics of printing and web sharing of images, I talk about how to store and archive them. Despite a huge uptick in recent years in the popularity of “cloud storage,” the practice of keeping your digital files on a computer provided by a remote service accessed via the internet, I still don’t recommend it as your primary digital storage method. The reason is pretty straightforward: I have seen cloud storage disappear, crash, get sold to bad companies, have legal issues, and change terms of service for the worse.

A sloppily-labeled spindle of CDs or DVDs is almost worse that no archiving at all, since it makes finding a file or folder of your images nearly impossible. The task of archiving requires getting organized and being thorough.
A sloppily-labeled spindle of CDs or DVDs is almost worse that no archiving at all, since it makes finding a file or folder of your images nearly impossible. The task of archiving requires getting organized and being thorough.

I’m sorry to see that optical media drives, CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray, are beginning to disappear from new laptop and desktop computers. It’s tempting to say that this is because optical media isn’t keeping pace with the volume of data being stored, which is true, but the real reason is that Microsoft, HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo – everyone – wants to sell you cloud storage. Google’s Chromebook brand is the worst of the pack because its whole strategy is to sell you a computer with little storage and have you keep your data in their cloud.

This isn’t just supposition on my part. My office is presently dealing with just such a cloud issue: CableOne, our internet service provider, is apparently going through an ugly divorce from Google, and all the Google Drive accounts we used by logging into CableOne are gone. CableOne, a company I use and like, pitched this to us as an “upgrade” to our email service, but this weasel language isn’t fooling anyone.

So what, if not the cloud, is the best way to manage our data as the 21st century moves forward? The answer is not as easy as the typical semi-literate consumer would like: learn about computers and how they work. Sure, it would be nice, as the Chromebook site says, to, “just log in with your Google account. No long load times, just flip it open and get busy doing anything other than waiting.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? And surely Google is too big to fail. But remember your Geocities site? Your Lycos blog? Your AOL home page? AOL was as giant in 1995 as Google is today.

If this sounds a bit preachy, keep in mind that this is advice for those of you whose data is important to them. If you are satisfied with the possibility that Instagram could be sold to Yahoo next week and discontinued as easily as Google discontinued Google Reader, this entry might not be for you. Their bottom line, after all, isn’t you and your data, it’s their profits.

Self-reliance is the key to protecting your data. My choice would be a combination of solid state drives, optical media, and even a little cloud storage just for convenience. In any case, data doesn’t stand still, nor does its storage options. Punch cards. Magnetic tape. 5.25-inch floppies. 3.5-inch floppies. Zip disks. They’re all in the trash now, and if you didn’t find a way to migrate your date, it’s in the trash too. I recommend you keep up with current technology, and move your data from old storage to new often and diligently.

There are two kinds of hard drives: the ones that have failed, and the ones that will fail. Migration of data to new storage is one of the pillars of data archiving.
There are two kinds of hard drives: the ones that have failed, and the ones that will fail. Migration of data to new storage is one of the pillars of data archiving.
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5 Comments

  1. Amen.

    “Their bottom line, after all, isn’t you and your data, it’s their profits.”

    This line caught my eye since “your data”, after all, is how many of the companies make their profits, including Facebook, Google, and Flickr. But I know what you meant…

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  2. Nicole: “What are your thoughts on just printing stuff?”

    I assume Richard will say this (only more concisely):

    Archival printing is yet another way to save images. However, in digital photography, the print is never as precise as the digital file it was based upon; it has far less data.

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  3. Properly migrated data remains exactly the same year after year, but prints, even stored in the best of conditions, degrade. (Think about the faded prints from the attic in Florida.) Also, there may be ways to print our digital files years from now that are much better than today’s techniques, allowing another avenue of archiving that would be lost if we discarded our data files.

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  4. I wasn’t suggesting that we discard our digital files — only that by printing out, we’d at least have *something* — albeit something that makes me look like swarthy and hirsute.

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