How to Prepare for the Next Time the Cloud Goes Down

How to Prepare for the Next Time the Cloud Goes Down

Internet access is pretty essential to get anything done these days, whether it’s chatting with working-from-home colleagues in Slack, binge-watching the latest hit Netflix show, or writing up reports in Google Docs. Most of the apps we rely on run from the cloud, and it’s all too easy to just assume the cloud will always be there. However, that’s not quite true.

Cloud outages happen on a pretty regular basis, and while it’s rare for multiple web platforms to be knocked out all at once, that happens too. And even if the cloud is working, your connection to it might not be. With that in mind, here’s a quick guide to help you get ready for a cloud outage — just in case.

Keep your email close

Email is still a must-have for most of us when it comes to getting through the work day, and this medium relies on the cloud. While sending and receiving emails obviously isn’t going to be possible if your email provider of choice goes down, you can at least make sure that you’ve got copies of your emails so you can still do some inbox sorting and draft some new messages.

Gmail is good at this. You can enable offline Gmail in Chrome by clicking Settings (the cog icon on the right) then See all settings, Offline, and Enable offline mail (you can choose how many days of email get cached). Gmail for Android and iOS actually syncs email for offline access automatically, though you might not realise it — head to the settings for your Gmail address from the main app menu then use the Sync Gmail and Days of emails to sync options (Android) or the Sync settings option (iOS) to manage this.

Gmail will sync emails to your phone. (Screenshot: Gmail)
Gmail will sync emails to your phone. (Screenshot: Gmail)

Have you heard of desktop clients? Trust us, they were big in the ‘90s. Even if you spend most of your time managing your email inside a web browser, it’s still worth keeping your messages in sync with a desktop program as well, just in case — both Windows and macOS have basic, built-in Mail apps that will sync your messages locally, or you can use something like Thunderbird.

Adding new email accounts is typically just a question of entering your login credentials — the email program you’ve chosen will take care of the rest. You might need to enable third-party access from inside your email service on the web first, and maybe generate a specific password if you’re using two-factor authentication. If your email is synced locally, you’ll at least be able to browse through it and refer back to it while you’re waiting for the cloud servers to get back on their feet.

Sync your cloud files

Most cloud storage services now make at least some effort to free up space on your computer by keeping certain files exclusively on the web and only downloading local copies when you actually need them. That’s great for freeing up gigabytes of space on your hard drive, not so great when your cloud storage provider starts having problems.

At the very least make sure your important files are always being synced locally as well as being stored in the cloud. With Dropbox, for example, you can do this by opening up the Dropbox file browser interface from the notification area or system tray, right-clicking on a file or folder, and choosing Smart Sync then Local. Files and folders that are fully synced have a solid green tick next to them.

Tell Dropbox which files you want to keep locally. (Screenshot: Dropbox)
Tell Dropbox which files you want to keep locally. (Screenshot: Dropbox)

In the case of OneDrive on Windows, if you right-click on the OneDrive entry in File Explorer then choose Settings and open the Settings tab, you’ll see a Save space and download files as you use them option — turn this off to store all your files locally. You can also right-click on individual files and folders inside File Explorer and then choose Always keep on this device to make sure important data is always kept locally.

If you’re a macOS user, iCloud will start moving older, lesser-used files online — but only if you start running out of room on your hard drive. Open up the Apple menu then choose System Preferences, Apple ID and iCloud, then untick Optimise Mac Storage to stop this from happening. Alternatively, just make sure there’s always plenty of room left on your local drive so iCloud doesn’t attempt any housekeeping.

Keep your work offline

After following the cloud storage tips above, make sure you’ve got your work accessible offline wherever possible. This might mean keeping copies of important files on an external disk drive or a NAS drive, for example — we’ve written before about how useful NAS drives can be, because they as your own personal cloud on your home network.

If you’re a Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides user, you can get files created in these apps to cache locally in Chrome, just in case something happens to the cloud servers (or your internet connection). From the main Google Drive interface, click the cog icon (top right), then Settings and General: Tick the box labelled Create, open and edit your recent Google Docs, Sheets and Slides files on this device while offline and the sync begins.

Google Drive can work offline, up to a point. (Screenshot: Google Drive)
Google Drive can work offline, up to a point. (Screenshot: Google Drive)

Saving to the cloud is of course very useful for backing up your work, sharing it with other people, and collaborating on documents, but taking a few moments to save a local copy could save you a lot of trouble if the cloud suddenly becomes unavailable. The most recent versions of the Microsoft Office apps will encourage you to save to OneDrive for syncing purposes, so make sure your local files are actually stored, or save them in a separate folder as well.

Part of surviving a cloud outage or a network fail is just a little bit of planning. You should make sure everyone on your team knows what they need to switch to if Slack or Google Drive or iCloud should collapse, otherwise you’ll spend the first hour or so of any downtime trying to work out what your alternatives are.

Don’t forget your entertainment

We’re not built to be ultra-productive workhorses every minute of every day, and there are times when you’re going to want to kick back and enjoy some music or a movie or two — which can be tricky in the midst of a Spotify or Netflix outage. Aside from digging out DVDs, your best bet here is to make sure your favourite films and tunes are synced ready for offline viewing or listening.

You’ll find the feature in just about every music-streaming app, provided you’re a paying subscriber — it’s the little blue cloud download icons in the Apple Music desktop app, or the Download toggle switches at the top of every playlist in the Spotify desktop app, for example. It may seem pointless to sync playlists for offline listening on a computer, but it won’t seem so pointless when these services go down. Offline syncing is available inside the mobile apps, too, of course.

Keep your Spotify stored locally. (Screenshot: Spotify)
Keep your Spotify stored locally. (Screenshot: Spotify)

The offline playback option is less common in video streaming apps on the desktop, so you’re probably going to have to rely on phones and tablets to sync movies and shows for watching if streaming isn’t available — it’s a good idea to have at least a few hours of entertainment available offline, just in case. Remember Chromebooks can install the Android versions of apps like Netflix and YouTube, complete with download options, as well as access the web apps.

Your best option here is actually the TV app on macOS, which is still iTunes on Windows for the time being: If this is where all your media is stored, you can click the download button (the cloud and arrow symbol) next to any show episode or film to store it locally. This works for both digital content you’ve bought from Apple and anything on Apple TV+.

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