Workshop Journal #2: The cloud that turned into a storm

You go to your bank to withdraw cash. When you get there, you discover a huge chunk of it has vanished from your account. What’s going on?

You ask the Bank Teller: “What’s happened to all my money? Where is it? It was in my account only a few days ago when I checked…”

Bank Teller: “Hi there valued customer, as you had only a standard account with the bank, and due to your ever increasing balance, this account was at maximum capacity for the amount deposited. As a result, the bank has taken action to bring the account back to within acceptable capacity and has therefore transferred your money to a special, temporary holding account.

We require that you sign up for our large balance account for depositing your money from now on. If you do not act within 30 days and sign up to the larger capacity account, the bank will have no choice but to liquidate the balance from the special, temporary holding account. 

We sent you an email regarding this, did you not get it?”

You: “But, by my estimation, 75% of my money has gone. Including funds in a term deposit. Most of that has gone as well…

I need it transferred it back now!”

Bank Teller: “You can only transfer it back once you have signed up for the large balance account sir.”

You: “Ok, I’ll sign up for the big account, just transfer it all back!! And put the money from the term deposit back as well!”

Bank Teller: “Funds from the term deposit cannot be transferred back once put into the special temporary holding account.”

You: “You mean to tell me that the money from the term deposit, the most critical account I have, is all gone?”

Bank Teller: “Yes that is correct dear valued customer, funds from the term deposit are gone and cannot be recovered. 

We sent you all this information in an email, did you not get it?”

Intro

This is an unrealistic scenario that will never happen at your bank. However, something similar happened to me recently, except replace the bank that has lost my money with a cloud service that has lost my files, including import personal, business files, medical records, educational material and copies of licences and certificates. Some of which can never be recovered.

The official reason given was because of automatic backups from my iPhone. Because the cloud storage was near or at its 500GB capacity, to free up space for the iPhone backups, files would be automatically removed “at random” and put in the trash. Part of this “random” deletion also included files from a special end to end encrypted directory. 

Damage Report

While I was able to recover some files from the trash, anything trashed from the encrypted directory was deleted forever. Of all files that did exist on the cloud, only 150GB of the original 500GB could be recovered, everything else was gone. As you could Imagine, I was pissed to say the least. 

The cloud service provider, who shall remain unnamed, was less than helpful. The only solution offered was to “buy more storage”, and for the encrypted files it was simply a case of “sorry they’re gone forever”.

For five years I had been paying money for a premium service that could no longer guarantee the safety of my data. But now the feeling of security has been replaced by one of a betrayal of trust, in that such a business could have shattered my confidence in these types of file hosting services so abruptly and cause a massive amount of strain and worry in the process.

To have lost almost everything of digital value was a huge blow and came as a shock to say the least. This along with the less than reassuring or helpful customer support dropped my confidence for the service through the floor and into the basement. How I wish to go back in time and pull my files from their servers before shit hit the fan.  

At rock bottom, the only way is up

I had essentially been digitally wiped out with nothing left worth a mention. GCodes for 3D printing, gone. Machine configurations, gone. CAD drawing sets, gone. Bespoke 3D part designs, gone. Not to mention written drafts, images and digital art for this blog, along with other websites. All gone.

From here on, it was going to be a ground up rebuilding process. And this time I wasn’t going to risk the same thing happening again.

To start with, I pulled all remaining files off the cloud and onto a local hard drive. However, keeping my data on a local hard drive was never the long-term solution as it has its inherent drawbacks. The most obvious being I couldn’t access it remotely.

For an interim solution, I was forced back onto the cloud. Albeit, using my iCloud. This served its purpose. But after having been stabbed in the back by the original cloud service, even using Apple’s cloud service didn’t sit right with me. 

After my experience with unnamed cloud service, I am once bitten, twice shy when it comes to ensuring no loss of data. I wanted to be off the cloud entirely.

A NAS, a NAS, My kingdom for a NAS!

WD Mycloud EX2 Ultra with 2x 2TB WD Red drives, in place of a monthly cloud subscription service
WD Mycloud EX2 Ultra with 2x 2TB WD Red drives

The route I ended up going down was a Network Attached Storage device (NAS). This NAS from Western Digital is the My Cloud EX2 ultra. As this device was sold diskless (ie no hard drives installed), I fitted it out with two WD red 2TB drives, giving it four times as much capacity as I had available on the cloud. 

The hard drives could have been configured in a variety of different ways. If maximum storage was the aim, it could be set up in a spanning configuration and utilise the full 4TB of potential storage. But because the primary function of this NAS is to secure and back up files, the drives were set up in a RAID 1 configuration. One hard drive backs up to the other, this configuration should be the safest for the preservation of files. While there is still no certainty that this won’t happen again, by having duplicate hard drives always available the risk is greatly reduced.

And then there is the cost consideration of a NAS versus a cloud subscription. For the amount of money I have spent each and every month over the past five plus years on the cloud service I could have bought a NAS with decent capacity hard drives. Obviously, there are more expensive NAS drives, but when compared to the EX2 ultra which I ended up with (it’s much cheaper) they would only pay-off as a long-term investment. Even though the intention is to run this for many many years the EX2 will pay for itself very quickly.

While the WD Ex2 is a worthy alternative for cloud-based data storage and claims to be an ‘easy to install’ device, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

The experience of setting it up has been tricky as there is no real instruction manual included, simply a pamphlet with a few illustrated images. It was a considerably more frustrating experience than it should have been. At the time of writing there are still issues, relating to the initial setup, that need to be resolved.

When it is working, this new NAS functions at almost the same level as the cloud. I can access it from anywhere via the app, just like the cloud; I can do automatic backups of my devices, just like the cloud; but unlike the cloud, if the drives fill up there’s no slash-and-burn cull of files to free up space. This time I’m in total control of the file management and feel safer in the knowledge that if I put something onto this device, it’s not going to be deleted.

Conclusion

I’m always willing to give businesses the benefit of the doubt, and to give second chances where possible. Unfortunately, the whole experience of having lost my files because of some automatic procedure of a cloud hosting service has resulted in a massive breach in my confidence. A breach towards that particular hosting company and towards the idea of hosting files in the cloud in general. The lesson I’ve learnt is that while files exist on their servers, my files are never truly safe.

It’s an expensive lesson and one I have had to learn the hard way, not just financially but also with the loss of data. I cannot have a repeat of what has happened as I cannot afford the loss of data and having to start from scratch once more. In the end, this is a lesson that will result in some positive outcomes.

If you have enjoyed reading this article please share with your friends and followers on social media! while you’re there don’t forget to follow me, RB42, on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest for updates and new releases. 

Baden Jones
Baden Jones

Automation electrician by day, blogger at night – Captivated by technology and always busy tinkering away on something in the workshop.

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