When clouds break the sun doesn’t shine

The last week has been a bad one for cloud services. Many users have been affected by problems with Apple’s iCloud which have caused sync failure around the world, and Microsoft OneDrive users coming to terms with its changes seem more than unimpressed.


For some time now, since late last year, there have been intermittent but copious reports of iCloud failing to sync properly. Typically, what should have synced up to iCloud in a very few minutes just sits there going nowhere for several hours or even days.

In this context it’s worth considering iCloud to be three related services:

  • iCloud Drive for users, in which you decide what you want to store;
  • iCloud Drive for apps, in which apps store their documents in iCloud Drive so you can access them using that app on different platforms;
  • iCloud databases, which include Calendar, Contacts, Mail and Reminders, which don’t store files as such but share data using iCloud.

The distinction is important here, because greatest impact has generally been seen in the second of those services, with third-party app developers inundated with users who’ve been unable to use the sharing features of their apps. In other words, those usually independent developers have borne the brunt of the problems in Apple’s iCloud.

Like so many cloud and other services, there’s nothing that those developers or users can do when the problem lies in the service itself. Yet Apple’s System Status page hasn’t informed users of the fact that it has been the service which is at fault, not the third-party apps. I’m sure that the iCloud engineers would respond that, as users have been mostly complaining to the third-party developers, they’ve largely been unaware of the problems, which demonstrates one of the weaknesses in iCloud when used in that second role. Surely the service should have metrics which detect such problems.

iCloud provides users with one real control: the on-off switch, which isn’t in the least helpful when the problem is failure to sync. My free utility Cirrus can perform a basic test of the first of the three services, and gives access to iCloud entries in your Mac’s log. But those only help in diagnosis, not in treatment.

Cirrus does enable you to download files in the first service category (and you could also use this with shared files used by third-party apps). That enables you to ensure that you keep a local copy, which will also be backed up by Time Machine and other means of local backup. But it does nothing to help you sync those documents with or through iCloud when the service is faulty.

There’s also a better on-off switch than that in the Apple ID pane. It’s quicker and simpler to log out from your Mac than it is to sign out of your Apple ID, and less disruptive. On the rare occasions when I experience glitches with iCloud, all I do is save all open documents, log out, and go for a walk. More often than not, when I return iCloud seems to have sorted itself out again. Your walking and cloud mileage may vary.

I have long cautioned that cloud storage should be used as an adjunct rather than a replacement for local storage. The most dangerous situation to be in now is with your Desktop & Documents in iCloud, containing so much that you couldn’t download it all to local storage. That means you’re reliant on iCloud for access to many of your working documents, and most of all that those which have been evicted to free up space on your local disks aren’t being backed up either. That’s the cloud paradox in action.


Last week I passed on news that Microsoft’s OneDrive was in the process of changing. As I don’t use OneDrive, I have no personal experience, but several who have come to rely heavily on it have reacted vociferously to the consequences of the change in service. If you use OneDrive at all, or are contemplating using it, I recommend that you read more from Nick Heer and from John C. Welch.

It seems that the moral is that clouds are fleeting; local physical storage is at least in your control.