cloud computingFor nearly an entire day, Joy thought she’d lost her most important files. Fortunately, they were backed up in more than one way, even though she wasn’t aware of it at the time.

The device that led her astray was the “Transporter Sync,” a $99 orb about the size of a hockey puck. It connects any external drive to the web, creating your own private online storage area, your own private cloud, as they call it. Let’s pause here for a moment, because all this talk about things happening in a cloud, is very misleading. There is no cloud, it’s a marketing term that refers to having file storage that’s accessible by going on the Internet. That’s all it is. Big providers of such storage, like Google or Microsoft, have row upon row of large capacity disk drives churning somewhere in an air-conditioned room that can be anywhere.

Back to the Transporter Sync device we were testing: You drag a folder onto an image of the hockey puck which then sends it out to storage somewhere else – i.e. the “cloud” where it is held in a private area reserved for you – sort of like putting your stuff in a locker at the bus station. You can then supposedly get to that stuff from anywhere you can sign onto the Internet.

That’s great in theory, and usually in practice, unless there’s a cloud-burst. Then there’s going to be rain on your digital parade. In testing the Transporter Sync, we started by moving files from Microsoft’s free online storage service, “One Drive,” (which allows you to store 15 gigabytes) to our new “Transporter Library.” This was as easy as drag and drop. Unfortunately, the very next day, the files weren’t there. A message said we either had a slow Internet connection or weren’t connected at all. Not true.

We recovered the files, not from Transporter, but from Microsoft, which had automatically made copies in their recycle bin. We went to their One Drive website, clicked “restore,” and all the files came back. But our Transporter Sync device is still unable to access the files we transferred to their online Transporter Library. Tech support suggested we try a different router. This is absurd; you can’t put out a product that is dependent on a buyer having only a certain kind Internet router.

By the way, this is not the first time this sort of trouble has happened to us. Six years ago, we tried the popular DropBox cloud storage service, shortly after it started up. Up went our files, never to be seen again. Sorry about that, they said.

What does it all come down to? It’s that we, you, or anyone else, should not depend on some outside storage company to save your files from a catastrophic loss. Even if their equipment is sound, what if they go bankrupt? If the files are important, they should be kept in at least two places. One can be a storage drive right there by your desk, the other would be online and with a well-established company. If they’re important files, make that two well-established companies. For the record, we use Microsoft and Google for saving files.

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