The Cloud Storage Service

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The Cloud Storage Service

The Cloud Storage Service, first released with version 3.75 of DONATION, is sort of a combination of the techniques in the Help topics Transfer your Data between Computers, Making Internet Backups, and Restoring Internet Backups. Please read each of those topics before continuing with this topic, to understand the background.

 

There are also several other options for multiple users accessing DONATION, detailed on the Multiple User Options page, including the multi-user Network versions, which we recommend for users all of whose computers running DONATION are on the same local network (for instance, in the same offices).

 

For paid users of the Standalone version, no additional payment is required for using the Cloud Storage Service - you do not have to pay for additional users. (Of course, no payment is required at all if you are still evaluating the program, or using the free Lite version.)

 

A quick explanation of the Cloud Storage Service is that it is for cases when two or more users install the Standalone version of DONATION on their computers, and want to share the same database across the Internet. The official copy of the database is always an encrypted Internet backup stored on the Software4Nonprofits server. When you start DONATION with the Cloud Storage Service turned on, you are prompted for the encryption password, then the program "takes control" of the database, downloads the latest Internet backup to their computer, and restores it. You do the work on your computer, then when you exit DONATION, the program uploads a backup of the database back to the Internet storage, and "releases control".

When any one user has control, no other user can get control. This prevents the sort of problems that can come up with the manual methods for transferring backups back and forth in "Transfer your Data between Computers", if the users don't keep track of who has control of the database.

If you were the last user to upload the database to the server, when you next run DONATION it doesn't waste time downloading it again, it just takes control and uses your existing database. And if you don't make any real changes to data during your run of DONATION, it doesn't waste time uploading a backup to the server again.

We should note that "take control" and "release control" are sort of metaphors - an easy way to understand what is going on. Other metaphors that might be helpful are the concept of having a reservation to use the database, and releasing that reservation. Or, for anyone with computer programming experience, checking out the database and then checking it back in.

This service is not available with the free Lite version of DONATION. It is also not available with the Network versions of DONATION, because they use a completely different way of sharing just one database file.

It is only recommended that you use this service if every computer running DONATION and sharing the same database has extremely reliable high-speed Internet. If your Internet goes down a lot on one or more of your computers, you could easily lose work when using this service.

This service has some of the advantages of traditional web-based (also called cloud-based) software run through web browsers. Namely, all users are accessing essentially the same copy of the database, which is stored on a server. However, it does not share a significant disadvantage of web-based software, which is that every access to the program's data has to be transmitted through the Internet, slowing them down significantly. We see that as a real issue for web-based programs doing things similar to what DONATION does, which more than anything else are used to do data entry. Of course, unlike most web-based software, only one computer can access the database at a time when you use this service.

The only delays with the Cloud Storage Service are the downloading and uploading of your backup when you start and exit the program. The encrypted backup databases that are transferred are also compressed, to make them significantly smaller and faster to transmit over the Internet.

The security of this system is basically the same as that for Internet backups. (See Internet Backup Security for details.). For someone to access your data, they would have to either know your Unique ID for Internet backups, or have a copy of your database or one of its backups, and they would also have to know the strong password that you choose to use for the encryption of those backups. We have no ability to access your data unless you choose to give us both that Unique ID and the encryption password, or intentionally email us a database backup as part of a difficult to fix support problem.

Turning the Service On

This is turned on for your first computer by setting up Internet Backups in the Backup/Restore ⇒ Backup Frequency and Options window, and then checking the Use the Cloud Storage System checkbox. See the Help on that window for details.

If you have already been transferring copies of your database between multiple installations of DONATION, be sure that you have the most up to date database first on the computer on which you first turn this service on, because it will then become the "official" copy when you exit the program.

Once you save that change, the service is turned on. To get the same change to the other computers running DONATION, after you exit DONATION (which uploads the first backup file), they can do one of several things:

1) Set up Internet Backups in that same window, using the same Unique ID for Internet Backups, and turn on Cloud Storage with the same checkbox, or

2) Restore any backup made from the first computer after Cloud Storage was turned on.

Potential Problems and Situations

Of course because this service is Internet based, and at times the Internet is not completely reliable, things can go wrong. It's very important to carefully read any error messages that come up in the use of this service, and respond appropriately. If you have read the messages carefully and still cannot understand what is going on, please contact us for assistance, telling us the exact text of the messages you are seeing.

You should also make other backups periodically, beyond the ones being made automatically by the service, by using other Backup/Restore menu options. Only the last 3 manual Internet or automated Cloud Storage Service backups are retained on the Software4Nonprofits server.

The following table covers some of the other issues you might run into.

Problem or Situation

Solution

Another user has control of the database when you go to start DONATION:

The program will allow you to run read-only in that case, so that you can still view data and run reports, but you cannot enter new data, edit existing data, create receipts, or do anything else that alters the database in any way. You will also be given an option at that point of bringing down the latest backup from the server before you start running read-only.

Another user has had control for over 18 hours:

This will most likely indicate that something went wrong and the other user was unable to upload their database and release their control. If you are sure that is the case, you can accept the option that the program gives you to take over control from them, and continue with whatever was the latest backup on the server. This will mean that the other user's work from that session that was not exited properly will probably be lost. The other user will also receive an email about this if you do break their control.

You want to change your encryption password:

Use the new Maintenance ⇒ Change Password ⇒ Internet Backup Encryption Password menu option to change it.

You use a Program Entry Password, and don't want to have to enter both it and the Encryption Password whenever you start DONATION:

You can make them both the same, in which case only the Program Entry Password will be prompted for. However, this means they will both have to be strong passwords as required for Internet Encryption passwords (at least 8 characters, at 3 of the four types: small letters, capital letters, numbers, and symbols).

In addition, if you also set up a Read-Only or Limited User password, it doesn't make sense for the Program Entry and Encryption passwords to be the same, because then your read-only or limited users, who still need to use the Encryption password when they start the program, will actually know the Program Entry Password, because it's the same! (The program may stop you from making them the same in that case, but whether it notices and stops you depends on what order you set the passwords up.)

Everyone forgets the Encryption Password:

On the computer on which you believe the most current copy of the database is present, just type in a different encryption password when you are prompted for it. The program will give you an option to change to that new password, and other options after that including one to have your current database become the new official one that is then uploaded when you exit. (Since you don't know the old password, there is no way you could download the current one from the server.)

You use the same Program Entry and Encryption password, and everyone forgets both:

You are stuck. You will have to send a database backup to Software4Nonprofits, where we can reset the passwords for you.

Someone else has changed the Encryption password and failed to tell you:

When you start up with the old Encryption password, it will fail, and give you some options. The best reaction for you is to find out what the new password is from the other user, and use it! If that is impossible, one of the options the program gives you is to continue using the password you enter, and your current database, without downloading anything. Your current database then becomes the official one when you exit.

The program is telling you that you are using a different Encryption password from the last time.

This can be because of what's in the previous row of this table (someone else changed the password) or because you accidentally changed it the last time you used it, and are now using an older password (which may or may not be the correct one). Just decide whether what you entered is correct, or whether you need to change to a different one (for instance if another user changed it, and you want to stick with their change) and answer the questions the program asks appropriately. Answer Yes to the messagebox that comes up to stick with what you entered, No to try again with a different password.

All computers running DONATION die, and you don't know how to regain access to your data:

When you first set up Internet Backups (required prior to turning on the Cloud Storage Solution) you were prompted to both print off and email to Software4Nonprofits the Unique ID for Internet Backups. If you have done one or both of those things, you can resume using those backups by re-installing DONATION on new computers, and restoring the latest backup using that Unique ID and your Encryption password. (We can tell you the Unique ID if you don't have the printout, but did email it to us.)

You want to stop using the Cloud Storage Service:

Just turn it off, on all computers running DONATION, through the Backup/Restore ⇒ Backup Frequency and Options window, and then go back to some other method of sharing your database, if you still need DONATION on multiple computers.

The Internet is down when you want to start DONATION:

You will be given three options: to get the Internet backup and and try again, to exit the program, or to run read-only.

The Internet is down when you go to exit DONATION:

You will not be able to upload the backup or release the control. Get the Internet backup up, then restart DONATION and exit it again, in order to do the upload and release the control.

You enter the program with a Limited User password:

The Cloud Storage Service works normally, and you have the normal limitations of such users.

You enter the program with Read Only password:

The Cloud Storage Service gives you an option to download the latest backup for you when you start, but it doesn't bother uploading when you exit, since you could not have changed anything. Also, you do not take control of the server database, so other users can run at the same time.

You use multiple databases with the Database Switch Databases menu option:

Each database can have its own Cloud Storage. When you switch from a database that has the service turned on to another one, the program first behaves as if you were exiting, by uploading the backup and releasing the control. The it starts up on the new database, as if you were entering the program, taking control and downloading the backup (assuming that database also has Cloud Storage turned on, of course).