In the Cloud, you can’t choose your neighbors
Jun 23rd, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

Some recent, high-profile security-related events are adding another wrinkle of complexity for those who are trusting the cloud for their data storage and content delivery: who your neighbors are, and what they might be doing.

On June 21, the FBI raided a Reston, Virginia based server farm for Swiss hosting provider Digital One.  While the agency isn’t commenting, the speculation is that they were looking for data related to a single hacker group - LulzSec – responsible for recent numberous high-profile security breaches waged against Sony Corporation and several law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, that raid entailed the physical removal of multiple pieces of server hardware that, among other things, served as the virtual, cloud-based home for dozens of other websites.  Most of these affected parties are presumed to be legitimate customers that were storing data or serving web content… conducting real business that wasn’t running afoul of any laws.

As a result, several high profile corporate content developers, including Instapaper, Curbed Network, and Digital One’s own website and support system, were either suffering degraded service or were taken completely offline for more than a day.  Without a backup, the data could have been lost indefinitely while the FBI conducts whatever investigation on whatever client captured their interest.

The ramifications of this event are clear: Cloud services are shared services.  One of the big advantages of the Cloud is the notion that multiple entities can share the same large datacenter and resources without necessarily having to buy it all themselves.  Unfortunately, it’s rare in a public Cloud setting that you are allowed to choose who you’re sharing your resources with.  Often, this isn’t a big deal, but if your “neighbor” happens to be attracting a lot of attention (from hackers or law enforcement agencies), then your data and operations may also be affected as a result.

This is yet another reason to consider having a backup plan, and not totally entrusting all of your data to a single Cloud vendor.

Japan’s Crises, and its ramifications on digital preservation
Mar 23rd, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

A Sony HVR-Z1U camera. This device is a digital video workhorse at the SCC, and relies heavily on digital video tape... something which could be rather hard to come by in the near future.

My heart, thoughts, and a donation goes to those affected by the Earthquake, Tsunami, and now radiological crisis that Japan must grapple with.  It’s not exaggeration to say this turn of events is truly unprecedented.  Sitting thousands of miles away, and only observing the events through websites and television screens, I’m aware that I cannot possibly grasp the ordeal that survivors now face.

With that preface, it’s difficult to even think at this point of how the disaster will inconvenience those of us far removed.  However, there will be a rather significant impact for quite some time, given our technological dependencies in a digital world, the number of electronic components and supplies that are produced in Japan, and how we use those components to capture our current history and cultural heritage.

Our first hints of trouble began with an advisory issued to consumers of magnetic tape media. Sony, a major manufacturer of various varieties of tape media as well as semiconductors, optical discs such as DVD and Blu-ray, and electronic components, has been hit hard.  Sony was forced to shut down a number of factories in the region while recovery efforts continue. The earthquake has forced a halt to production in various manufacturing facilities in Japan, including those of magnetic media manufacturers, and suppliers are now warning of an impending shortage and possible price spikes:

“Our industry has already been affected by a halt in media manufacturing operations – professional media supply shortages are evident, namely HDCam SR,” explained a post on the Comtel Pro Media web site. “Worldwide stock shortages present a realistic threat to our industry and the immediate needs of the television and motion picture production.”

Of particular note is a shutdown of the Sony Corporation Sendai Technology Center, currently the only facility in the world producing HDCAM-SR tapes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lessons Learned from Google’s temporary Gmail loss
Mar 1st, 2011 by Isaiah Beard

GMail kept users notified through a status page of their ongoing recovery efforts.

This past week offered up a little dose of panic to an estimated tens of thousands of users to Google’s free Gmail service, when they logged in to discover that all of their e-mail was missing.  According to Google:

We released a storage software update that introduced the unexpected bug, which caused 0.02% of Gmail users to temporarily lose access to their email. When we discovered the problem, we immediately stopped the deployment of the new software and reverted to the old version.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Scientist article on “Digital Doomsday”
Feb 3rd, 2010 by Isaiah Beard

One of the topics I like to bring up in the discussion of preserving digital data is the idea of a Digital Dark Age… the notion of a period in our historic knowledge that ends up getting lost due to a failure to plan and preserve our early digital content.

The New Scientist, however, recently published an article (Feb 2, 2010) on something a bit more cataclismic: the concept of  Digital Doomsday.  From the article:

Suppose, for instance, that the global financial system collapses, or a new virus kills most of the world’s population, or a solar storm destroys the power grid in North America. Or suppose there is a slow decline as soaring energy costs and worsening environmental disasters take their toll. The increasing complexity and interdependency of society is making civilisation ever morevulnerable to such events (New Scientist, 5 April 2008, p 28 and p 32).

Whatever the cause, if the power was cut off to the banks of computers that now store much of humanity’s knowledge, and people stopped looking after them and the buildings housing them, and factories ceased to churn out new chips and drives, how long would all our knowledge survive? How much would the survivors of such a disaster be able to retrieve decades or centuries hence?

The article is a compelling read, and offers an intellectual exercise on how much of our “stuff” will survive such a castastrophe.  Ironically, the logic is that the digital content with the most copies oin existence may win out.  So, while scholarly works, theses, research and other important scientific data would be at risk, pop music may surive just fine.

The pitfalls of large hard drives – and national security
May 20th, 2009 by Isaiah Beard

Well, here’s an example of how putting all your data eggs in one basket can be quite dangerous.  The National Archives and Records Administration has reported the loss of an external hard drive containing a massive amount of data, the information being personal data at best, and items potentially related to national security matters at worst:

The Inspector General of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) told congressional committee staffers Tuesday that a hard drive containing over a terabyte of information – the equivalent of millions of books-went missing from the NARA facility in College Park, Md., sometime between October 2008 and March 2009.

The Department of Justice and the Secret Service are conducting an investigation, but it’s so far unclear whether the drive was lost as the result of a crime or an accident.

Of course, the technologist in me finds it really interesting that over 8 years ago, the federal government apparently had access to 1 terabyte hard drives!  Those have only become mainstream technology over the past three years or so.  But I digress…

NARA clearly takes the issue seriously, and has posted a FAQ (pdf) about the disappearance.  The document highlights something else of note – how long the drive was “missing” as opposed to “last seen.”


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