It was very quick, and Digital Railroad is very dead.
It’s brings up one of the main concerns with ‘cloud’ computing… mainly, what happens when the cloud goes dark.
Cloud computing is sort of the generic term used for using someone else’s storage/processing power over the internet. Hotmail, Google Docs are a couple examples. All your information is stored on their server.
Now it’s a fairly safe bet that Google or Hotmail (microsoft) aren’t going out of business. However, it’s a much different story with smaller companies. Digital Railroad went dark and basically gave their users all of 10 hours notice to download their files. That’s not a whole lot of time. If you didn’t have the originals of the photos you were storing at DR, you were in trouble. They later added a couple days to the deadline, but still… not much time to download critical files (assuming you heard about it, weren’t out of the country, could even connect to their servers, etc., etc.).
Personally I think this is abominable way to treat customers. The guys running it should’ve sent notices out to customers months in advance that this was a possibility. To not do so is almost criminal. It was an entirely preventable situation and Charles Mauzy and co. completely failed the trust of the customers that supported them. It gives a bad name to the entire industry, but provides a look at how some companies are going to be run (going down to the last dollar and then just turning off the lights) and provides an example of worst practices.
Granted, you should never put all your eggs (or photos) in one basket, and always keep the originals tucked away somewhere. But some customers are always going to believe the hype (after all, companies spend a lot of money promoting the hype) and buy into the thought that the ‘cloud’ is a safe, infallible way of storing files. So the industry needs to be much better about notifying customers when, for whatever reason, their data is at risk and remind them in no uncertain terms that they should have copies of their data in multiple places.
For photographers, this means always making sure you have originals. If the hard drive dies that had those originals, it’s your responsibility to download from the backup site and create a new set of originals. Sites that offer these services, like Photo Shelter, can facilitate this by making it easy to download images with tags, catagories, and whatever else you might have done to the photos in the online environment.
This applies to other data as well. You should always personally have copies of such things as your web site, emails you wish to keep, and any other data that is stored online. Even large companies like Google can experience catastrophic problems that would result in you losing data or you could have a malicious employee/co-worker that has access to your online storage.
Cloud computing does offer a great many benefits and the behavior of one company shouldn’t (and won’t) mean that we toss the whole idea. It does make many things easier… backups, remote access, collaboration, and much more. But it’s important to understand the risks involved with any new technology and not just believe the hype.