Storm Clouds: Gmail Failure Reinforces Danger Of Becoming Too Cloud-Dependent

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Surely by now you’ve heard of the problems people have been having with their Gmail accounts. E-mails have been deleted, accounts have been disabled, and while Google has been hard at work trying to make everything right, it’s just another example of why moving your entire life to the cloud may not always be the best idea.

Google says that the glitch, which first popped up at the weekend, has only affected a small percentage of the Gmail userbase. Initial estimates hovered around less than 0.29 percent of all Gmail users, but that number has since been revised down to less than 0.08 percent of all Gmail users.

It’s fair to say that calling the glitch “widespread” probably wouldn’t be entirely accurate.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t use this episode as a “teachable moment,” a time to reflect on the wisdom of moving so much of our data to the cloud.

The cloud, Conan? Odds are you use the cloud several times per day. Do you use an e-mail service like Gmail? That’s the cloud. Ever stream music from Spotify or Rdio? That’s the cloud. Watch Netflix streams before going to bed? Yup, that’s the cloud.

Any time you’re tapping into data that’s hosted somewhere else you’re tapping into the cloud.

Contrast these examples with your giant collection of MP3s or Blu-ray discs. If, for whatever reason, Spotify’s servers go down you won’t be able to listen to “I Need A Doctor.” Good thing you have a MP3 stored locally, right? And what happens when one of Netflix’s servers keels over? Guess you can’t watch whatever. But wait! That’s why you have a collection of shiny plastic discs, either of the Blu-ray or DVD variety.

The cloud extends beyond mere entertainment. Online stores like Steam and the new Mac App Store are all on the cloud. Steam sales are great until you try to download Fallout: New Vegas during one of them. At the point it’s probably quicker to hop in the car, drive over to the only store in the county that still stocks PC games, then come home and install it the old fashioned way.

That, of course, is provided the Steam servers can stay online. Same thing with the Mac App Store. Apple can’t well “kill” the shiny plastic disc if it can’t figure out how to hand out a few download codes.

That such a small number of people have experienced glitches with their Gmail accounts doesn’t mean everybody should panic. That would be silly. But it does mean that perhaps people should think twice before they trash their Blu-ray collection in favor of something like Netflix, or before they entrust all of their personal data to a anonymous server stored in North Carolina that you have zero control over.

Be careful, is all.

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