I’m a huge fan of Dropbox. I’m slowly moving all of my documents over to it so I can be less tethered to my laptop and keep all my devices in sync. I’m trying to get this done before Apple forces me to dump MobileMe and switch to iCloud.
I’ve talked with a few people that are doing the same thing, but I got a little nervous as they started talking about Dropbox as being their backup strategy. Or just the idea of moving to the Cloud for backups. I want to share a quick story as to why I think this is a bad idea.
While working on the Art of Flight at Brain Farm, we used Dropbox quite a bit to collaborate with out-of-house producers, especially our GFX crew at Helio Collective, based in Bozeman, MT. They would typically set our shared Dropbox folder as their target for After Effects renders, so we could access the graphics very shortly after they were complete. Pretty cool.
Dropbox has a feature where if you accidentally delete something, it still remains accessible in the Dropbox web interface so you can restore the file. They retain snapshots for the previous 30 days. So you get incremental backups for the last month, which is super handy and similar to how Apple’s Time Machine works. But, we ran into an instance where this didn’t work.
The guys had rendered something to Dropbox and a week later it was gone. I thought, no big deal, must have been deleted accidentally, I’ll check the Dropbox web interface. But it wasn’t there. A whole bunch of files were gone. I got on with Dropbox support and they were dumbfounded. The files should have been on their system, but they weren’t. They were just, gone.
Dropbox’s greatest feature is that it can leave copies of the files on your computer. All of our edit systems were set to copy all files to local drives and not just access them remotely from Dropbox’s servers (you can set the preferences for all your devices to sync what you want). Of course, when they’re deleted from Dropbox by one user, they get deleted everywhere. But, we have CrashPlan Pro running on all the computers at Brain Farm, so the Dropbox files get backed up to our local CrashPlan server. I jumped onto CrashPlan, found the missing files, restored them on one Edit system, which Dropbox then copied automatically to all computers and back onto Dropbox’s servers.
Our local CrashPlan backup server saved our ass.
Since that time, Dropbox has added new features to prevent this issue, such as “Pack-Rat”, or restoring files from Dropbox’s cache. But this made me trust the Cloud a lot less. Actually, I’ve never trusted it. It’s not the holy grail. Even Google has gone down a few times and lost member’s data. But this hasn’t stopped me from using Dropbox. In fact, I use it more. But here’s my strategy:
I have my laptop set to sync everything in Dropbox locally. So if I add something from my iPhone or other Macs, my laptop will eventually get a local copy of it. I then have my laptop set to backup to a Time Machine drive at my house. Since the files in Dropbox are local on my laptop, Time Machine will back them up all the same. If Dropbox ever loses something again, I know they’ll be safely backed up at my house.
Remember, the Cloud is not a backup strategy in and of itself. It can at most be a single pillar. You still need to have multiple backups in multiple locations.
What has your cloud experience been like? Have you had a moment where you lost everything? Could we become too reliant on the cloud? Join in the conversation in the comments.