Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gmail Outage Shows "The Cloud" Still Has a Slightly Tarnished Lining

Don't get me wrong, the idea of "cloud computing" is great. It's just that you're depending on the service, and access to it via the Internet, to be available, 24x7. Based on the outages of late, the current state of the technology seems to point to having to have a backup plan, just in case.

And that's ironic, since one of the uses of the cloud is automated backups of your data.

Yesterday's Gmail outage is just the latest in a series of incidents that don't inspire confidence. In their apology, Google said:
We feel your pain, and we're sorry

Many of you had trouble accessing Gmail for a couple of hours this afternoon, and we're really sorry. The issue was caused by a temporary outage in our contacts system that was preventing Gmail from loading properly. Everything should be back to normal by the time you read this.

We heard loud and clear today how much people care about their Gmail accounts. We followed all the emails to our support team and user group, we fielded phone calls from Google Apps customers and friends, and we saw the many Twitter posts. (We also heard from plenty of Googlers, who use Gmail for company email.) We never take for granted the commitment we've made to running an email service that you can count on.
Other issues of late:
  • Google Apps' downtime last week.
  • Nick Saber's highly publicized downtime (and he was a paying user).
  • MobileMe's fiascoes (MobileMe email went down again yesterday, in fact, after being called stable)
  • Amazon S3's outages (including another in July)
As I said, it's not that I don't love the cloud. In fact, some of the data I access daily exists there, in the form of Google Docs spreadsheets. But this latest stumble does show that if companies as large as Amazon.com and Google can't keep their cloud services up and running, then they'd darn well better add some sort of local redundancy that users can utilize (e.g., some sort of desktop synching).

And one thing people frequently forget: it's not just the service provider you have to worry about. Just last week Comcast had an outage in my area. Sure, I could hop offer to the local coffee shop for some free wi-fi (assuming they were on AT&T DSL and not Comcast), but that's just another weak link in the chain.

Much as I hate to admit it, there's no way I'd trust putting everything in the cloud, not just yet.


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