The Danger Of Living In the Cloud: No Backups

Yesterday about 4:30 I tried to check my email, but got nothing more than a string of 502 errors from the server. My mail server is a Google Domain Apps account, which means my MX record points to Google, and they handle the rest. I was about to leave the office, so I figured I would just check later when I got home. I checked from my iPhone a few times on the way, but it was still borked. About two hours after the problem began, it cleared up again, and is still working fine.

During the outage, I started thinking about this situation. I have 916 megabytes of email stored in my Gmail account. That’s a lot, though it is only 12% of my quota. That’s three years of email that I don’t want to lose. And I’m completely at the mercy of “the cloud” with respect to my email. There is no way for me to back that email up and Google makes no guarantees about data retention. They give us 7G+ of space, but they don’t claim to do any backups or that they can get your email back if it goes away. Is this just a cost of living in the cloud? I wouldn’t trade my Gmail account for anything, so I guess I just have to live with the danger, right? Is there anything a Gmail user can do to ensure their email has some sort of protection? I know that I could open another gmail account and have every incoming email forward to that other account, but is that really the only choice? Google does offer a plan that is $50/email address/year, and while it does have a 99.9% uptime guarantee, it doesn’t say anything about backups.

What would be nice is an interface from Gmail to Mozy or Carbonite or some other online backup service. Each Gmail user could then decide if he wanted to contract with one of those third-party services for backups, or just take his chances.

My Google Apps Migration Is Complete

I mentioned [cref i-just-switched-to-google-apps-for-my-domain the other day] that I’d switched over to Google Apps, and had initiated a POP3 transfer of all my mail from my previous Gmail account to the new one. I’m happy to report that it finally finished. I started it POPing on Tuesday evening, 09/16/2008, and it finished some time this morning. It was pulling mail every twenty minutes or so for ten days. In case you’re interested, it pulled just under 30,000 emails over, which was just under 1 GB in size.

As I said the other day, I’d be happy to pay Google for a quick and easy migration tool. But, at least it finally finished.

I Just Switched To Google Apps For My Domain

I’ve been using Gmail for a few years now, just having it send mail as, and not using the actual address at all. Or so I thought. Most email clients displayed email from me the way I wanted, but Outlook showed it like this

From: (on behalf of

I knew about this back in 2006, but I thought it had been “fixed.” I put the word fixed in quotes, because spoofing headers isn’t really a correct thing to do. The thing was that most email clients showed the spoofed address, but Outlook showed the “correct” one. Anyway, it bugged me, knowing that people might be seeing my Gmail address instead of my proper address.

Enter Google Apps. I had heard about this before, but never really investigated it. I looked into it last week, and switched over on Tuesday. It’s free, and it means my Outlook problem is solved. For those who don’t know about Google Apps, you change your MX records on your DNS server to set a Google machine as your mail server. After making this change Gmail no longer need to spoof your domain in outgoing emails, since they effectively are your domain. (Don’t worry; they don’t become your web host, just your mail server.) I changed my MX records Tuesday night and then began migrating email from my old Gmail account to my new one.

Migration is one area where the experience is not so great, and I’d actually be willing to pay a bit for a better way to migrate. You’d think that migrating from one Gmail account to another would be a painless, quick and easy affair. And you would be wrong. The only way to get your mail moved is to have the new account make enough POP3 calls against your old account, pulling 200 messages at a time. I started POPing last Tuesday night (09/16/2008) and as of this moment, it’s still running. Granted, I had over 29,000 emails, which was about 900 MB of space, but still! Google ought to be able to come up with a better way to do this. Oh well, it will finish one of these days.

One thing I’d like to point out is that you need to add one more record to your DNS in order to make your Google mail SPF-compliant. I discovered this when I sent a test email from my new Gmail account to my work account. We have an Exchange server at work, and while the email did come through, the subject line had [spf] appended to it. After some checking, I saw in the headers that our mail gateway had marked it as failing an SPF check. I did some googling and found this article that explains how to set things up specifically for GoDaddy, but the general concepts should work for wherever your DNS lives. I setup the new TXT record, ran the test recommended in the article and things are good now. I just sent a test email to my work account, and the gateway must now be happy since there was no [spf] appended to the subject. There might have been a recommendation on the Google Apps setup screens about the SPF stuff, but I don’t remember seeing it.

Anyway, so far I’m happy with my choice to move to Google Apps. Besides the migration issue, the only other complaint I have is that I can’t use my id with Google Reader. I still have to use a “real” Gmail account for that. That’s essentially a minor annoyance, but it would still be nice to just jettison the old account altogether.