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Thursday, June 30th, 2005, 3:14 pm

Remote Data

Server room
Will you trust these for storing your mail?

Much information is migrating from our hard-drives to on-line servers: files (e.g. FTP), bookmarks (Deli.ci.us or portals), (Web-based) mail, feeds (analysis and statistics by Feedburner), photos (notably Flickr) and newsgroups (e.g. Google Groups) are merely a few more major examples.

Storage of personal data remotely has its powers:

  • Data can be accessed from anywhere regardless of the computer used
  • Backup is often handled by the service providers
  • Liability shifts to service providers
  • Inferences, e.g. spam filtering in GMail that adapts in accordance to users’ purging behaviour, social bookmarks, tagging…

Some people, myself included, have learned the hard way why the dependency upon third parties is risky. Hard-core users have their todo lists on-line, their mail on third-party servers and often files or address books stored remotely. The dangers:

  • On-line servers may disappear due to bankruptcy, takeovers or corruption
  • Import (and especially export) facilities are intentionally limited to suppress user mobility
  • Servers fail or periodically go down; timescale for recovery is unknown
  • Limited space and ‘premium’ packages that later emerge
  • Pricing and policies which change, e.g. Yahoo stopped free POP3 support around 2001 (I too was a victim)

It is easier to blame somebody else but yourself as in the case of third-party dependencies. Yet, things are different when you control your own — shall we say — destiny. Ownership of your own domain is the first step towards an easier life in which the system administrator is yourself.

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