Gmail's Downtime Does Not Mean the End of Cloud Computing

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4 September 2009
Gmail, Google's online e-mail service, was down for a couple of hours this week, and it sparked a seemingly endless number of articles about the new concerns raised for users of cloud computing. I have a number of problems with this reaction. 1) How, before Gmail's two-hour downtime was even fixed, did all these different media outlets determine that businesses were now raising questions about cloud computing? Most of these articles should probably have been about how media outlets are now assuming that businesses are concerned about cloud computing, or, rather, about how media outlets are now concerned about cloud computing. I suppose that media outlets are, in fact, businesses, so perhaps this first point is invalid. 2) At least in the insurance industry, everybody is already wary about cloud computing for exactly these reliability reasons. And I've yet to talk to an insurer who uses Gmail for their means of business communication (if you are such an insurer, please get in touch with me -- I'd love to hear your story). So since everybody already has concerns about cloud computing and since no one uses (or very few use) Gmail for business purposes, I doubt that Gmail's downtime really changed any insurer's perspective on cloud computing. 3) Based on various surveys I've seen, corporate e-mail servers tend to be down for over an hour a month. Whether or not you believe the surveys, you can judge this against your own company's track record. This means that Gmail's reliability is HIGHER than most corporate e-mail. The reason everyone is so shocked by Gmail's downtime is because it appears to be an unusual event. I am not intending to say that the lack of corporate e-mail for two hours is not a very big deal and doesn't come at a huge cost. I also realize that Gmail or other online services going down has a different kind of impact than a local business server: Gmail is used by millions of people so the reach is much wider. The real issue here is one of perception and control. There is a perception that our local servers are more reliable, even if, in reality, they are less reliable (as in the case of Gmail). More importantly, there is a feeling of control we have when the server is in our own data center. Even if that server goes down four times a month, we can shout down the hall and find out what's wrong. When something on the cloud goes down twice a year there's nothing we can do but wait. I won't even start on the fact that refering to Gmail as cloud computing is confusing the issue of actual cloud computing. That would require more space than I have here. But, at the very least, I can say with confidence that -- despite Gmail's two-hour outage -- it is not yet time to give up on the cloud.

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