Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, March 4, 2016

5 Reason NOT to depend entirely on Cloud Storage

I do end up reading some of the local news, mainly because it is so unpredictable and sometimes borders on the bizarre. But a local broadcast station article did catch my eye entitled, "5 reasons to convert to cloud storage." As a genealogist, a professional photographer and a long time computer users with a huge collection of digital images, I was interested in this short article but was immediately appalled at its one-sided and almost inaccurate conclusions. The five reasons given for "converting to cloud storage" were listed as follows:
  1. Anywhere access
  2. Peace of mind
  3. Ease of use
  4. Lots of space
  5. Tight security
I realized that I would give exactly the same reasons for NOT relying entirely on cloud or online storage. So here are my own conclusions.

1. Anywhere access to online storage is an illusion. 

In the first sentence of the article we have the qualifier, "as long as you have internet access." There are two issues here; first, you must continue pay for Internet access and second, you have to pay for online cloud storage. If you stop paying, i.e. you become incapacitated or die, you lose contact with the service and your storage. Many of us have been accumulating files for a number of years and the issues of storage per se and backup of that storage becomes a major issue. Currently, it would take me about three to five full days of 24 hour file transfer to backup all my files. Anywhere access is not even an issue. I have to have a constant and reliable, high speed Internet connection just to make one copy of my files. Right now, I am reviewing my files for duplicates and moving a copy to an 8 TB external hard drive. This process has taken me a couple of months so far and is not complete. I cannot access all my files online from the tiny storage capacity in my iPad or iPhone. Plus I do not have all of the same programs on my mobile devices I have on my desktop computer.

For example, I have huge database of photos and document scans in Adobe Lightroom. Unless I have that program available and on my computer, I cannot use the program. Lightroom does not run on a mobile device.

But you say, I only have a small number of files and it only takes me a few minutes to back them up. Why not use one of the "free" online storage systems? Google move from Picasa, its photo editing and storage program, to Google Photos is a good example. An online storage system is maintained by a company and the policies of that company may change at any time. There are limits to all online file backup systems' reliability.

2. I never have peace of mind about storage and backups.

Online or cloud storage is just one more way to back up my data. Yes, it is important to have storage in more than one location. Yes, it is important to back up your files periodically. But there are also other important factors such as migration that are involved. Technology changes and programs are updated and abandoned. We have seen sell off its Family Tree Maker program as an example. There is a constant need to move data from old formats to newer ones. Cloud storage does not solve that problem, it merely adds another layer of migration concern. If I relied entirely on cloud storage, I would have to add the worry that my cloud storage company would go out of business, raise prices or change the conditions of my contract. I am still helping people transfer their old Personal Ancestral Files (PAF) off of 3.5 inch floppy disks. Think about it. Cloud storage is not a magic wand that makes migration due to technological obsolescence go away. Here is a redacted statement form one of the major backup companies with the name of the company removed. Read this carefully and consider whether this gives you peace of mind.
The website is provided by *** on an "as is" and "as available" basis. *** may make changes or improvements to the Content and functionality of the website at any time, without prior notice to you. *** does not warrant that the website or content will be available at any particular time or location or that the website is free of viruses or other harmful components. *** makes no representations about the technical accuracy or functionality of the website or that the content is accurate, error-free or up-to-date. *** makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, including, but not limited to, fitness for a particular purpose, title, or non-infringement of third party rights or intellectual property

*** makes no warranties that your use of the content will not infringe on the rights of others and assumes no liability or responsibility for errors or omissions in such content. You expressly agree that your use of this website is at your sole risk. You, and not ***, assume the entire cost of all necessary servicing, repair or correction in the event of any loss or damage arising out of your use of this website or the content. Additional terms and conditions applicable to *** services are available upon purchase of such services, or upon request.
Careful reading of the additional terms of service reveal that my Mac computers could not be covered by this company's full protection programs. Read the fine print and you will not have "peace of mind" solely from using cloud storage.

3. Ease of use is another bugaboo.

I have an automatic backup system for my computer's main hard drive. It is called Apple's Time Machine. I have used it to restore a crashed hard drive and move from one computer to another newer one at least two times. The key to proper back up and storage is to use a variety of venues; hard drives, online storage, flash drives etc. and to keep moving the data to newer technology as it develops. If you are using a smart phone as shown in a photo in the article, then your "storage" needs are trivial. As genealogists, we are dealing with far more data than can be contained on one smartphone. This may change in the future and I may be carrying around an 8 TB smartphone before I die, but I doubt it. I have investigated a number of online storage companies and carefully considered their terms and conditions and the "ease of use" of their systems. All of them are just as complicated and just as in need of constant attention as any other backup system. The term "ease of use" and computers should not be used in the same context or in the same sentence.

4. Lots of space is a very relative term.

One very popular online storage company would charge me at least $60 a year for backing up one of my computers. I happen to have four of them at this time and four more mobile devices. Looking carefully at the terms of service, I would be spending about $200 to $300 a year for this one service. I can buy a new, larger external hard drive every year for less than the cost of the services. Despite their constant use of the word "unlimited," I have yet to find a service that really was unlimited. They all start out by backing up one computer and some include the attached hard drives. But as I wrote above, read the fine print carefully.

5. Tight Security? What is tight?

The article says "Most cloud services guarantee tight security." So what? How good is their "guarantee?" This is another very complicated and challenging issue. My solution? I am moving as much of my genealogical data, photos, documents and etc. to's Family Tree program. That way all my data is preserved in another venue. I also keep all my paper copies just in case the whole electronic world collapses. What do you really know about your cloud storage company? How "secure" are their files?


Do I use online storage? Yes, it is just one more way to back up some of my data. Do I rely on it? Yes, but no more than I rely on hard drives and flash drives. A sensible back up system would never rely on one type of storage or one storage device.


  1. If you do not mind losing your data for a couple of hours, a week or even as with the current Ancestry problem nearly a month then rely on the cloud.

    If your data is important to you and you want to be able to access it 24 hours a day 365/6 days a year keep it on your own computer.

    When it is on your computer you are responsible for keeping it safe and providing yourself with duplicates or back ups. Don’t be lazy and rely on other people if the data was important enough to compile then surely it is important enough to look after it yourself?


  2. The other problem is transfer speeds. Backing up to an external hard drive with USB Is quick.

    But uploading a lot of files to the cloud even with huh speed internet is very slow. With wifi, it's a crawl.

  3. This is of concern since Ron Tanner reported that FamilySearch has contracted with Amazon (I think it was) to house all their gen data, and supply needed servers at busy times, like rush hour on the freeway. I would surely like to know what back up they have. I know they have multiple copies of the tree, etc. But still ...

  4. It was Amazon servers' in Virginia shutdowns due to a fire a few years ago that knocked FS off the internet for -- I've forgotten now, but wasn't it a couple of weeks?

    FS has constant problems with certain servers, possibly "cloud" contractors. Those advocating cloud storage as a general rule should not limit their recommendations to these companies, which may change their T&C without notice (as did Microsoft, and see Google's dropping Picasa) or just fail due to accident or weather events (remember the vast ice storm that precipitated power outages all over the eastern US?). No one has a very reliable crystal ball.

  5. This discussion is very timely for me and I am grateful for your experience and observations.