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Stability and Security in the Cloud

Here at ProfHacker, we write often about various Web services that “live in the cloud.” It’s no secret, for example, that we’re big fans of “All Things Google,” and we don’t even try to hide the fact that we love Dropbox, even in the face of recent news about their privacy policy. We’ve discussed other services like Microsoft Office Live, Remember the Milk, and online backup services Cloudberry, BackBlaze, and Amazon Cloud Drive.

The thing is, whenever we write about one of these topics, someone in the comments always brings up the possible drawbacks of having your work–especially student-related work–in the cloud. So let this be our blanket statement advising you about using commercial cloud computing services.

Stability

Your data is not backed up unless it’s stored in at least two different places simultaneously. If all of your photos are stored in Flickr and nowhere else, if all of your documents are kept in your GoogleDocs account and nowhere else, if all of your home movies have been uploaded to YouTube but not saved anywhere else. . . then your data is extremely vulnerable. If one of those services goes down–as unlikely as it might seem right now–then you might lose everything.

We’ve published many posts about various ways to maintain backups. Please pick one and stick to it.

Security

Last June, Ethan wrote a very good post about FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that higher ed institutions must abide by here in the United States). If you are going to use commercial cloud computing services in your teaching, check with the person on your campus who is responsible for making sure your institution complies with FERPA. Talk with them about what you plan to do, and ask them their opinion about your plans. If you live and work in another country, familiarize yourself with the relevant laws and regulations.

Furthermore, before using a commercial cloud service, be sure to read their terms of service: How much privacy do they pledge to provide? What, exactly, do they do with the information you store on their servers? When you delete your information from their servers, is it really gone or do they hold on to it? These are the kinds of questions you will want answered.

How about you?

If you use commercial cloud computing services, what are your concerns about stability and security? What strategies have you used? Let us hear from you in the comments!

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Georgio]

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