Laptops

Personal chronicle of cloud technologies: A failure

In an attempt to eat his own dog food, IT pro Rick Vanover shares a less than successful experience in using cloud technologies for a specific situation.

Over the last year or so, I have written a number of pieces on cloud computing. I recently had an opportunity to do a task using 100% cloud technologies, and the experiment failed. To be fair, I’ve had a number of demonstrations and evaluations work. I recently came across an opportunity to use cloud services where other solutions may have seemed more practical.

How many of us provide some form of technical support to friends or family? Well, I don’t know about you, but I have never been able to fully shake this burden. What I do now is simply explain my limits. I’m not an expert in gaming or high-end multimedia on computers, so my answers there usually filter people away as I simply tell people not to use those technologies. They usually go away with those questions, but what can still come up are various levels of recovery when things go wrong.

My specific situation was a good friend who destroyed his laptop’s internal power distribution system by plugging the wrong type of AC adapter into the unit. I suspected that the data on disk was still good, so I had the friend ship me the laptop. My plan was fairly simple:

  • Remove hard drive from failed laptop
  • Place it in a known working laptop with the same type of interface
  • Boot using a Windows PE recovery environment and copy the entire disk via command line to a network resource
  • Make the relevant data available via download via my cloud storage account with Amazon Web Services (AWS)

I had considered converting the entire hard drive to a virtual machine via a cold-clone mechanism, but decided on the command line copy. When the laptop arrived, all steps went as planned to recover the data. Once I had all of the data of interest -- the My Documents area of the laptop -- I created a 7-zip archive of the data of interest. The total was around 4 GB. At that point, I was ready to upload the file to the AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) cloud.

Once the file was uploaded, I did myself a think-ahead favor and downloaded the file from a different Internet connection to make sure the file’s integrity was maintained. I used the CloudBerry Explorer to upload the file and the download was performed via HTTP. To check the integrity of the file, I used the Hashtab tool to perform a before and after MD5 checksum on the file on different computers.

The file checked out for me, and I instructed my friend to download the file via AWS over HTTP. No matter what, the file could not be downloaded correctly. I even walked the friend through installing Hashtab to see if maybe the default program to open the ZIP file was not handling the format correctly. The Hashtab result was inconsistent with the source each time.

I did have to buckle and burn the My Documents data to a DVD and mail it to my friend. The good news is that the costs were not insignificant for each solution; I spent around $5.00 to purchase a DVD disc and mail it to my friend. I incurred $2.82 on AWS for the transfers and S3 storage costs for the failed endeavor.

Sure, the problem was on the receiving end of the file. I verified that I was able to download it, and even went through the hassle of doing it on another Internet connection. But the issue with cloud services is, we don’t always know what the other end looks like. Of course, this isn’t enough of an experience for me to stop advocating cloud services. But, it is a lesson learned on what you can’t control with building a solution of any type on a cloud service.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

21 comments
vermanshul
vermanshul

I believe that with this experience we can call it as shortcomings and not a complete failure. Today Cloud is just not about storage, it has become more, with computing, applications, meshups etc. its a whole lot of different system. I understand that Cloud has some shortcomings, but its just matter of time that these would be addressed. It took years to come up to TCP/IP or HTTP, so would cloud do. Look at where we are with Google, Yahoo, Amazon, Salesforce, we have entered a whole new platform.

kirk.reed
kirk.reed

My Father is 88 years old, and recently I installed Mozy backup on his desktop. It backs up his hard drive (up to 2 gigs free) everyday and I can download some or all of his files whenever I want from Mozy's recovery service. Since he is losing his short term memory, and all he does is type documents about his past, he sometimes changes or deletes files. This way I can get files on a periodic basis without travelling to his home. So far this cloud service is working for me.

rajatvm
rajatvm

A little bit risky..And worry about the data security..

cristi
cristi

Could actually be something more trivial than cloud technology. You mentioned that the file was in the region of 4G in size... if your friend tried to download the file on a FAT32 system, and the file was 'slightly' above the 4G (FAT32 file size limit) that could cause the hash to be different.

Dr. Frumious Bandersnatch
Dr. Frumious Bandersnatch

Robin Williams used to say "Reality? Wow! What a concept!" and so it goes with so called "cloud computing" The cloud does not exist except in the minds of those that praise it as the greatest, next best thing in computing. Why is it that otherwise sensible IT professionals are so eager to give their sensitive data to unknown entites and so supprised when something goes wrong? Sorry, servers, SANs and drive space are cheap compared to loosing data or having it compromised by some third party or, an employee of the storage vender. Wake up, if you store your data or even transfer it outside your organization, you have lost control of it. One advantage I suppose, if you loose it in the cloud, you can always have a Chinese hacker find it for you, for a fee of course...

al
al

It is amazing to me that just "yesterday" we were (and in most cases still are) trying to lock down every "bit" at the workstation and at the data center level. We have built multi-layer security at the local level, at "the edge" of our controllable space, and even built secure tunnels for exchange of data from outside "secured and approved" workstations to our internal systems. Now we are sending this very same data (personal and corporate) into an unknown environment ("the cloud") with unknown security and unknown opportunities for someone to get hold of it (transmission and storage-along-the-way intercepts) with the opportunity for someone to take their time to break any encryption schemes we may have employed and then use this data for who-knows-what purposes, with no knowledge on our end that this intercept was even accomplished. (At least in house you have logs of breakin attempts, etc.) Oh how things are changing. The question is it for the better or worse?

dkuber
dkuber

Did you check the friend's laptop for malware? That would be my first suspicion, based on your description. Debi Ubernosky Network Administrator Kiewit Offshore Services (aka IT Boot Camp)

jim.mantle
jim.mantle

Interesting how "an Internet-based FTP site" has managed to get rebranded as "Cloud Technology". This reminds me of the late 90's, when everyone scrambled to make their products look like eSomething so they could all become millionaires. Bursting the bubble, most of this "Cloud Computing" stuff is (forgive the pun) technological vaporware. It is a little bit different technically (more network and more geography are involved), but very different from the perspectives of: - Security - my data and processing are "out there somewhere", and I don't have control over the security, my vendor does, - Data control - The Patriot Act should shut down a US-based vendor wrt to offering services to the rest of the world, - Revenue Models - With a per-month fee for services and minimal up-front capital acquisition costs, the cloud vendor, and all the vendors to the cloud provider, will need to expect revenue on a subscription basis rather than an initial-charge (capital purchase) basis. I know of organizations where the sales reps, used to big commission cheques from large up-front sales, are having an allergic reaction to moving to a subscription basis, - Customer Service - When expenses change from up-front capital to monthly subscription, the exit cost to changing providers becomes much smaller. Without handcuffed customers, customer service and competitive offerings become absolute requirements for montly customer retention, - Cost competitiveness - The "cloud" spans the globe, and shipping data is easier than shipping hard goods. Therefore, expect greater geographical mobility, to locations where communications infrastructure is strong, and land, labour and energy are more affordable.

byron
byron

I know and work with organizations doing multi-TB storage and backup in the cloud, including AWS's EC2/S3 cloud. It's actually one of the most fundamental use cases. Granted, it is not plug and play, but that is an opportunity for continued innovation. http://www.linkedin.com/in/byronkennedy

Just Watching Now
Just Watching Now

If this is one of your "failures." you are blessed. Maybe we are just too accustomed to having everything go right on the first attempt. In the end, the user walked away with his data. It went right. When you think about how these systems are assembled with hardware and software from who knows where, operated by someone of indeterminate knowledge and skills, and exposed to a hostile environment, if the user walks away with the data intact, all is well in his world.

cutedeedle
cutedeedle

Either "costs were insignificant" or "costs were not significant." In any case, backups/restores to/from the cloud aren't ready for prime time, at least not in the current environment of IPv4. Maybe next gen.

b4real
b4real

I'm just frustrated that I couldn't use the end-to-end solution. In this example, 'my world' wasn't ready for the cloud.

b4real
b4real

File was an encrypted .zip file (I know that is not much). Obfuscated URL Enabled only when he downloaded

b4real
b4real

The file system on the receiving end was NTFS.

jmbrasfield
jmbrasfield

I would also be suspect of the 4G file size, but for a different reason. I would wonder if the receivers ISP had some sort of file size limit on upload/download that may have interfered with the data transmission. I am assuming that the receiver just used a straight file download and not through some fashion of a torrent. I generally try to use bittorrent (inherent hashing) for large files (2G and up) to get around ISP rules, at least for now, or break the data into 1G+/- files sizes. The cloud is not quite ready for prime time. My personnel concern is security, or I should say the lack there of. I can have control of the data and its security at my end, but I only have their word that they will be as vigilant. Time has taught me not to put that amount of trust in others, SAD.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

I agree. Maybe the file system give him problems. Anyway he can send the file via DROPBOX.com, YOUSENDIT.com or Transferbigfiles.com I used it and works like a charm.

b4real
b4real

Surely the problem was there, I don't want to get into the support of the PC. I know the file was there. But it could have been malware or possibly an inferior DSL/cable connnection.

b4real
b4real

I like it! Turns out we can point cloud out way before what we call cloud today. I especially like how VMforce has Cloud 2.0 now...

b4real
b4real

For cloud solutions, to the consumer/SMB, they have to be able to function at standard cable/DSL speeds.

b4real
b4real

The silver lining here is that there is always another way out. In my case it was the DVD, but as I architect in general I always bake-in contingencies.

b4real
b4real

The costs are fine, but if I can't fully manage the process - we're stuck. The other end just couldn't get the download of the very very big file to work.