Monday, February 28, 2011

Gmail outage highlights cloud risks

I started highlighting some of the concerns about cloud computing in July 2010. I fully expected 2010 to be the year of the first big cloud computing problem, but not the last.

Yesterday news broke that a tiny minority of Google Gmail users have had their accounts re-set with the result that they've lost access to years of email history and, in some cases, they've lost access to YouTube, Blogger and other accounts also. The problem affects a tiny percentage of Google users, but it still amounts to 150k people and they probably find it more than merely inconvenient to be without their email history for a period.

It's the latest in a series of hiccups for Google, but the company is responding with a commitment to restore access for those affected.

What can users do?

  • Consider using software from to keep a local backup copy of your Google account.
  • Consider automatically forwarding all of your incoming and outgoing Gmail email to another online email service, such as Hotmail, in the hope that neither will fail simultaneously in future.
  • Consider using the 'POP3' protocol rather than 'IMAP' on your email service (check their Help files). This will download all of your emails from the Internet to a mail reader program like Thunderbird or Outlook on your computer. Then you have to make sure that you make backup copies of your local computer files, though!
  • The disadvantage of POP over IMAP is, of course, that you can't access your email history from a web browser on any computer you happen to be near, and you'll lose access to email history from your iPhone, Android or similar... That's why it's useful to consider forwarding emails to Hotmail as well as Gmail: keep Gmail running in IMAP mode so that you've got access from smart phones and web browers; run Hotmail in POP mode and download copies to Thunderbird or Outlook on your desktop; put a backup strategy in place for your local PC files and you should be pretty much covered!
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