Cloud Reliability

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The web is all abuzz with angst and handwringing over yesterday’s two hour Gmail outage. Opinion pieces are cautioning people against relying on the cloud too much—after all if you stick all your data in the cloud and the provider goes down, you’re without access to your data. (For the record, I use Google Apps for two different domains and didn’t notice an issue.)

For most uses, however, cloud computing is not only more reliable, but safer than the alternatives. This outage primarily highlights the issue with large numbers of users flocking to a single service. When that service goes down, many people are affected.

Email servers go down all the time. Ask any employee of a small to medium company about the last time the "network" went down. Whether it’s the corporate Exchange server, a login server, or the actual network gear, brief issues and outages are not uncommon. You don’t hear about them simply because there are only dozens of users affected, not millions.

Most email systems don’t operate at web scale. They are localized (even in global, Fortune 500 companies mail servers are often geography specific) and can easily be brought down for maintenance during off periods. Gmail is a global app and likely doesn’t have any periods that can be considered off-peak. Considering that, Gmail’s uptime record is quite impressive.

Amazon’s nine hour outage from a few weeks ago and Gmail’s two hour outage yesterday aren’t ideal, of course. You’d rather have perfect reliability. But perfect reliability is a pipe dream. Google and Amazon have fearsome infrastructures and crack teams managing their services. They can afford the best of the best of everything and can recruit the best talent in the world. If they can have an outage, how much more likely is it that your in house IT staff and data center will have an issue? And which group would you trust more to recover quickly and ensure the issue doesn’t arise again?

On that same thread, what are the backup and disaster recovery practices like at your company or local email provider? Would you like to take bets as to whether Amazon or Google have better ones? Is your data more safe simply because it’s on your local network?

Companies and individuals relying on the cloud would be advised to back up their data and have plans for what to do in the event they lose their data or services. You shouldn’t rely on a third party to safeguard your critical data—after all, it’s your business that suffers if your data disappears. But using a solid cloud provider reduces the likelihood that you’ll ever actually need your backups.

Mary
August 18, 2008 9:50 PM

Not putting all your eggs in one basket should be the lessoned learned here.

stevenbshaffer
August 26, 2008 8:53 PM

Funny, I never noticed a problem. Believe me I would know. Gmail has become a life archive for me, it's not just email. Even still, I'm not worried. It has worked so well, for so long, and its free.

Jerry Loggins
September 1, 2008 11:22 AM

So many people have become hooked on their email that they would freak out if they couldn't access it for a while. The big problem is that they don't know how long it will be "down", and it is the unknown that freaks them out. If they KNEW it was only going to be down a couple of hours, they wouldn't get so upset. As for backing up files, you should always back up locally even if you do back up on the web somehow too. Backup your backup plan with another backup plan!

Donna
October 28, 2008 8:45 AM

I've always been uncomfortable trusting very important (business or personal) data to a service that is free. I'm not sure if it is because I am old school or just paranoid, but if a free service goes down for hours or just flat disappears, what recourse do you have? I've used Yahoo email since the 1980's and have had good service although there have been some bumps and bruises, including hacked accounts that are gone forever. Even with 20 years of service, I still don't trust Yahoo 100% and I can't imagine trusting Google for anything vital, either.

Dave
December 2, 2008 11:57 AM

I am a long time gmail user, and pretty much swear by it. I actually use it more than my corporate email, and I must say that the outage did not affect me at all. Actually it was somewhat of a blessing not having to think of emails for a couple of hours. Maybe the bigger issue here is that people are too consumed with these types of things, and should actually relish in the freedom of an outage. Just a though. Dave

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