Tuesday, March 1, 2011

GMail, Google, Backup, and the Lizard People

"Google Gmail Snafu Lesson: Backup, Backup, Backup"
Ian Paul, PCWorld (March 1, 2011)

"Gmail is hard at work restoring service to about 40,000 Gmail users after a software bug deleted their e-mail messages, folders, labels and filters. So, while things are looking good for those users affected by the bug, this episode proves, once again, that while Web-based services may be robust, you still have to take responsibility for your own data.

"Google also takes responsibility. Ben Treynor, Google's VP Engineering and Site Reliability Czar, said on Google's Gmail blog that Google backs up all Gmail to tape. 'Since the tapes are offline, they're protected from such software bugs,' he blogged. 'But restoring data from them also takes longer than transferring your requests to another data center, which is why it's taken us hours to get the e-mail back instead of milliseconds.'

"Treynor said a storage software update introduced the unexpected bug, which caused 0.02% of Gmail users to temporarily lose access to their e-mail.

"It's Not Just Google Services You Need to Worry About

"However, it's not just Gmail and other Webmail services that are the problem; we're increasingly using cloud-based tools for work and communication such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Docs, Microsoft Office Live, Tumblr, Wordpress, Blogger, Posterous, Flickr, Picasa, and on and on.

"But that doesn't mean you should forego a solid back-up plan for all your online data. If the worst ever does happen, and a free Web service dumps your stuff permanently, the only response you can reasonably expect from these companies is: "oops, sorry."..."

There are quite a few lessons one could learn from the recent GMail SNAFU. Among them are:
  1. Google can't be trusted
  2. Microsoft is evil
  3. All of the above
  4. Space-alien, shape-shifting lizard people are behind it all
  5. Trust, but do backup anyway
Answers A. B, and C have, in the Lemming's experience, some earnest and enthusiastic proponents. Still, 'if three hundred million people really believe in a stupid idea: it's still a stupid idea.' The Lemming suspects that one reason that Google and Microsoft are so roundly reviled is that both are highly successful outfits. And that's another topic.

Answer D, weird as it is, reflects a minority opinion (the Lemming trusts) that lizard people from outer space are the 'real' rulers of Earth. (Another War-on-Terror Blog, footnote 1, (January 14, 2009)) And that's not quite another topic.

Answer E reflects the Lemming's approach to email services, cloud computing, and municipal sewage plants.

Trust, in the Lemming's opinion, is necessary when dealing with other folks.

Warning! Old Coot Reminiscing

When the Lemming was getting a weekly paycheck, the Lemming trusted the boss to sign checks.

The boss trusted the Lemming to get things done.

Sometimes the boss didn't sign the check. Sometimes the Lemming didn't get things done. That's because there were weeks, now and again when cash flow in the company simply wouldn't cover paychecks; and some weeks, now and again, the Lemming simply couldn't keep up with the tasks. We both caught up, but there were a few awkward moments.

Big Companies Never Make Mistakes, Right?

The Lemming suspects that there's a tacit assumption that big companies, like Google, never make mistakes: That when something goes wrong with one of their services: THEY DID IT ON PURPOSE!!!

Frustrating as finding one's account deleted is: That's not likely.

It's not that the Lemming thinks Google, Microsoft, Big Cheese, and all the rest are run by paragons of virtue. The Lemming's assumption is that, occasional debacles like the big three automakers meltdown notwithstanding, the folks who run large companies are:
  • Not particularly stupid
  • Moderately selfish
  • Aware of where their money comes from
The 'moderately selfish' part of that list is a whole different set of topics: probably for another blog.

The point is that, again with notable and spectacular exceptions, the Lemming has noticed that the folks in charge of outfits like Google - and GMail - act as if they know that if they fail to provide the services the rest of us depend on them for: we'll find someone else who will.

And there goes their job, their pension, their house in Hyannis Port, and all.

Golden parachutes, corporate greed, and mind-boggling stupidity are yet more topics.

Backing Up Data: Good Idea

Back to the PCWorld article. Op-ed, actually.

Ian Paul has, in the Lemming's opinion, pretty good observations and advice about how to be sensible with personal data and:
  • Gmail and Friends
  • Facebook
  • Blogging
  • Twitter
The Lemming doesn't follow all of Mr. Paul's advice: but the Lemming doesn't have the same needs and preferences.

It's like so many other things: The specific advice is pretty good; but the best part is the set of principles involved.

Principles For Backups

For the Lemming, there's a whole lot of data that can go away and not be missed. For that, backups are a waste of time. What the Lemming thinks is important, and what you do, won't be quite the same.

But the Lemming thinks that it's a good idea to decide what's important, what's not: and then set up a routine, preferably automated, for backing up the important data.

And storing it someplace that's a good distance from where the primary servers are.

Which reminds the Lemming: This nifty new computer doesn't have backup routines established yet.

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