Google Docs

I’m usually pretty leery of using online services that I don’t administer for things that matter to me. For example, I’ve resisted a number of times using Google’s calendar for work purposes because there’s potentially sensitive information being posted to the calendar. So not only do I not have control over leaks of the data, but I don’t have control over backups, uptime of the service, etc., and this seems a lot of liability for something I need to make sure I’ve got access to. (Honestly, though, I think the smart folk over at Google are probably generally more competent than I am to guarantee uptime, backups, etc. — comparative benefits packages would suggest as much, at least.)

I’m very satisfied with one aspect of Google’s online service, however, and I’m consistently able to put aside my paranoia to use Google Docs for collaboration. Now I’d never store an important sensitive prose/text document there, but for planning server maintenance, the spreadsheet application is hard to beat. You share a document with everybody who’s involved, and everybody can view and edit the document at the same time. This past weekend, I was tasked with taking another shot at setting up replication between some mysql servers. We’ve set this up in the past but have lost confidence in the validity of the replication. So a coworker and I made another go of it this weekend. In preparation, I made a punch list of our steps, from putting up downtime pages and blocking access to the database at the firewall to pasting in commands for dumping data and resetting meta-data. I was able to color-code the steps by server so that it was easy to tell at a glance on what hardware to perform a step. And then as we went through the steps, we could update columns describing who performed a step and when. Of course, we’re coordinating this in a chat window as we’re doing the work, but it’s neat to watch the spreadsheet being updated interactively as we go, and this method provides a really simple, nice way to collaborate and keep a record of the process. Since the data’s not terribly sensitive (provided you don’t put passwords in), hosting it elsewhere doesn’t give me the heebie jeebies, and it’s nice to have a centralized repository of past maintenance events to build on for future maintenance. If there were a version you could download and install on your own hardware, I’d do it in a heartbeat and even use the apps for sensitive data, but then how would Google watch your every move and deliver search results based on the documents you create?

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