Lost in translation and adrift in cloud storage

I like to move it, move it / You like to move it, move it

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Who, Me? Welcome to a cautionary Who, Me?, a warning to all those lured by the promises of the cloud storage giants and a language lesson for all.

Our story concerns "Dirk", who at the time of our tale was hard at work in a Netherlands IT department. Dirk himself didn't actually speak much Dutch; his first language was English but that was more than enough to get by with in the land of clogs, windmills and dikes.

Having enjoyed a few relatively peaceful months in the job, Dirk told us he was "getting on with tidying up the systems and dealing with the technical debt that had accumulated since the last Big Cleanup a number of years previously."

"One such system," he said, was "cloud-based storage." The vendor was a well-known giant of the industry, but for the purposes of this story, Dirk called it "Poodle"

The task that day was dealing with obsolete accounts, not just from a security standpoint, but also due to licencing costs and, he said ruefully "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Dirk ploughed through obsolete accounts until he came to one with an odd name: "beheerder". Perhaps an amusing play on "beheader" by some long gone techie? Or something to do with "herding" files? Dirk checked in with his predecessor, who gave the digital equivalent of a shrug. The account had been around since things had been set up back in the day, but nobody had used it in ages.

Indeed, it had been well over a year since anyone had actually logged in using the account. The password was reset and the mailbox scrutinised.

"Perhaps some more notice should have been made of the fact that at one point it was receiving system error messages," sighed Dirk, "but what use is hindsight?"

Anyhow, the messages seemed to have stopped recently and the rest was just junk. To keep things spick and span the account was deleted and, as was standard practice, all files transferred to Dirk.

He thought no more about it until a fortnight later when he decided "to move all those transferred files to the new-fangled Poodle 'Shared Drive'." Heck, everyone else's documents were due to moved there at some point ("with the correct access permission set," he added.)

Dirk clicked "Ignore" on the standard "Files accessed by other users may be affected." This would prove to be a fateful click.

After 20 minutes, one of his colleagues to call to complain that they couldn't access one of their files.

A coincidence, surely. But Dirk began to feel the arse-swooping sensation of dread that something awful might be happening.

Perhaps a little later than he should, Dirk took a closer look at the files being moved. He looked a little closer since some were still in progress. He poked further, down two or three folder levels and saw something that looked familiar.

"Horrifyingly familiar. In fact, it almost looked exactly like the core folder structure that everyone in the office used."

A little more investigation and Dirk realised that he could skip the "almost."

As his stomach sank through the floor, Dirk realised "that over the next few hours file access will disappear for all users."

"It wasn't immediate," he added "because file storage is cloud-based and sometimes it takes its own, undefined, time to do large file moves."

The helpful interface afforded no way to stop the hellish process of borkery. In a panic he called the cloud vendor, observing: "They're rather large and helpful in inversely proportional quantities."

And, of course, they couldn't help. For whatever reason, "there didn't appear to be a way to pause or stop the oncoming slaughter. Everyone was going to lose access to their files."

Having told the increasingly anxious users that there was a "small" problem, Dirk peered at the unfolding carnage he had inadvertently wreaked upon the company's files:

"Some were still in the old location, and some were in the new location."

He tried to move the files again. And again. On the third try he got some response; the system helpfully told him that it was "moving files", but without any kind of countdown of progress bar.

"Empty folders were being created," he told us, "and since the system was still progressing the previous move requests things got very complicated - sometimes files were moving and sometimes not. And sometimes the files were copied before they were moved. On the plus side Poodle Drive would happily create folders before deciding whether or not to copy the files, so that's something isn't it?"

What had happened was that the user "beheerder" had created the root folders back in the day, and other users had created subfolders. A little too late, Dirk discovered that the Move function he had used "only affects folders that you have ownership over. This doesn't include subfolders you didn't create."

"Suddenly," he said "there was a smorgasbord of folders spewn around the system. Some stuff stubbornly in the old location, and some stuff in new locations. Hundreds of gigabytes of data in fact. Smeared everywhere."

The good news was that was a backup, so nothing was actually lost. The only challenge was decide to "Restore" or "Restore with File Permissions." Fearing what would happen to existing files, he restored without those permissions. At least then he'd be able to see all the files and put them back correctly. He could then tidy up the folders and set the correct access levels.

"It took a month," he said.

"Hindsight says that I should have checked out the other option too, but maybe next time(!)"

Our tale ends happily. The users were eventually happy. The storage was tidy. Dirk, while he obviously wasn't paid overtime for his efforts, survived. He also learned to take things a little slower and think a little harder about what those messages were telling him.

Heck, he's even learning Dutch.

Apparently, "beheerder" means "administrator".

Ever been bitten on the behind by cloud storage, or gaily skipped past a message box without fully understanding what it was telling you? Sadly, it is all too common. Share your tale of woe with the sympathetic vultures at Who, Me? ®

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