I’ve talked about cloud computing before in these pages. It’s a model of networking that in some ways brings us back to the monolithic data center, but in other ways makes that data center distributed, rather than central. A data cloud, an application cloud, a services cloud. An everything cloud, and, indeed, when one reads about cloud computing one sees a load of “[X]aaS” acronyms, the “aaS” part meaning “as a service”: Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and so on.

I use email in the cloud. I keep my blog in the cloud. I post photos in the cloud. I have my own hosted domain, and I could have my email there, my blog, there, my photos there... but who would maintain the software? I could pay my hosting service extra for that, perhaps, but, well, the cloud works for me.

It works for many small to medium businesses, as well. Companies pay for cloud-based services, and, in return, the services promise things. There are service-level agreements, just as we’ve always had, and companies that use cloud-based services get reliability and availability guarantees, security guarantees, redundancy, backups in the cloud, and so on. Their data is out there, and their data is protected.

But what happens when they want to move? Suppose there’s a better deal from another cloud service. Suppose I, as a user, want to move my photos from Flickr to Picasa, or from one of those to a new service. Suppose a company has 2.5 terabytes of stuff out there, in a complex file-system-like hierarchy, all backed up and encrypted and safe and secure... and they want to move it to another provider.

In the worst case, suppose they have to, because their current service provider is going out of business.

Recently, Google Video announced that they would take their content down, after having shut the uploads down (in favour of YouTube) some time ago. This week, Friendster announced that they would revamp their service, removing most of their data in the process.

Of course, you understand that when I say “their data”, here, I really mean your data”, yes? Because those Google Video things were uploaded by their users, and the Friendster stuff is... well, here’s what they say:

An e-mail sent Tuesday to registered users told them to expect “a new and improved Friendster site in the coming weeks.” It also warned them that their existing account profile, photos, messages, blog posts and more will be deleted on May 31. A basic profile and friends list will be preserved for each user.

Now, that sort of thing can happen: when you rely on a company for services, the company might, at some point, go away, terminate the service, or whatnot. But what’s the backup plan? Where’s the migration path? In short...

...how do you save your data?

Friendster has, it seems, provided a “exporter app” that will let people grab their stuff before it goes away. Google Video did no such thing, and there’s a crowd-sourced effort to save the content. But in the general case, this is an issue: if your provider goes away — or becomes abusive or hostile — how easy will it be for you to get hold of what you have stored there, and to move it somewhere else?

Be sure you consider that when you make your plans.

[Just for completeness: I have copies on my own local disks of everything I’ve put online... including archives of the content of these pages. If things should go away, it might be a nuisance, but I’ll have no data loss.]