I thought I Was So Cloud

by Dave Michels
Last Monday, the hard disk on my primary computer failed. A Western Digital 250GB 2.5 SATA drive in a 6 month old Lenovo ThinkPad.

Losing a hard disk is a terribly disruptive event. But I was (rightly) more annoyed about the disruption than potential data loss. The data loss didn’t really concern me. After all, I am so cloud these days. Conversely, losing a primary disk like this just a few years ago would have been far more painful.

But I learned and relearned a few lessons from this ordeal.

Backups are Easy:
First off, one of my favorite lessons I continue to relearn is backups are easy – the hard part is the restore. I had created a system image backup of my drive back in May – but the disks or process or something was bad – could not be restored. It is so easy to run backups, but pay attention to your restore process – test it.

Recovery Disks:
Most laptops come with a recovery partition on its hard drive. I’ve used it before many times on my Toshiba. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to recovery a laptop every once in a while (reload Windows) and then spend a day or two running MS Update because over time Windows becomes unstable.

I did create a system image, but I did not create recovery disks. Computers used to come with recovery disks, now you are expected to burn your own from the hard disk (before it fails). I didn’t. Lenovo sent me a new hard drive and the recovery disks because the system was still under warranty. Otherwise, both would have been chargeable.

Also, I lost a day because the recovery program was not intuitive. They sent me two DVDs, and the recovery process prompted me for a third disk. I assumed they forgot to send it so I waited until morning to call them again (note: Lenovo hides their phone number pretty good). Turns out, I only needed two disks, and the prompt for the third disk was an option – “just it no”. Oh.

Post OS Recovery:
After the system was up and running, it was time to restore my work environment. With no system image, it meant re-installing everything manually. This should not take long, because the only app I install is MS Office (people insist on using revision marks).

  1. MS Office was not trivial , but that is largely my own fault. Took me an hour to find the right CD and right license code.
  2. Turns out, I have a lot more software to install than Office – this really surprised me, but it should not have. More on this below, but first let me share a Google Anecdote.

Earlier this year, in separate presentations, I heard suspiciously similar stories in two Google presentations. The first was David Girouard, President of Google Enterprise, presenting at Google Atmosphere (to CIOs). He shared how he became a cloud convert with a story about how just before an extended trip, his laptop was stolen. He decided to use the opportunity to switch back to an Mac from a PC. The point was how quickly and painless such an event was just before a trip; thanks to the cloud.

Craig Walker, of Google Voice, told a near identical story, also masked as a recent personal experience, in his presentation at eComm. Lost laptop, rebuilt with ease, thanks to the cloud.

Girouard then defined cloud computing as “hosted applications and platforms, built on shared infrastructure, delivered via a web browser.” Google’s idea of an application includes device and facility independence. The notion being, that any device with a browser is all that is needed.

I was ready to add my hard disk failure to this cloud success fable- I use Gmail, Google Apps, Blogger, Twitter, and several other cloud apps. I should be up and running in no time. Most of my data is stored in the cloud or on a network share. So my recovery begins, and bad news… there’s a catch to all these cloud apps – clients. Recovery went something like this:

  1. First 36 MS updates to Windows 7.
  2. MS Office 2007
  3. Flash Upgrade
  4. Browser: I downloaded Chrome as I prefer that over IE.
  5. Then, I start installing my extensions to Chrome – about 6. All needed to be located, downloaded and configured. I had to restore some bookmarks (most are in the cloud) and settings including startup tabs.
  6. I use a Logitech Wave USB keyboard and mouse. I had to locate and install that driver.
  7. I use a Plantronics SAVI headset on my phone and computer – that software had to be located and installed.
  8. I have multiple printers that each had to be installed.
  9. I use DropBox – a cloud utility – that had to be installed.
  10. I use TweetDeck – download and install.
  11. Downloaded and installed Skype
  12. HAI Home automation system uses two programs. Snaplink for control, and PC Access for programming. Both required installation, license keys, and upgrades.
  13. Mozy backup utility. The free service only backs-up 2 GBs of files, but that is more than I need for local storage.
  14. Google Earth, though I don’t use it much.

Why does a USB headset and USB keyboard require drivers? Why does Twitter benefit from a client? All said and done, I installed about 20-25 applets/applications on the PC to become cloud ready again. That was a lot more than I expected. In the old days, when all my programs were on my PC, it didn’t seem like such a long list of things to install. Of course, it was nice having most of my personal data off disk.

Girouard’s cloud vision has a major flaw. Browser based apps is not much of an improvement if the apps all require client apps or browser extensions. I call BS on his recovery story – it was nice not to have to restore a multi GB email/contacts file this time, but all these cloud apps are an equal hurtle to recovery.

Ironically, Microsoft’s roaming profiles do a better job of living up to Girouard’s vision than the cloud does.