Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gmail Fails, Cloud Computing Fails

While I don't go to the MotleyFool for my tech news, they ran an article this week about the Gmail Fail (or #gfail on Twitter). The Fool was in praise of Gmail because even though the service was down for a few hours some interfaces such as IMAP for the iPhone kept working (though this wasn't true for me). To me the fact that Gmail went down and affected people in Europe and the US was a big blow for the cloud exuberance we're currently experiencing. One of the benefits around cloud computing is being able to scale and utilise redundant machines if other machines fail. In this instance we had millions of users across continents lose email. What's worse it wasn't just the free Gmail service that failed but also their premium service. This means that the premium Google Apps service missed their SLA and Google have had to compensate (we got an email from them yesterday).

One can't help but see this as a blow for the Cloud since it shows how vulnerable we can be when we lose service. It also tells us that the one company who showed the world how to scale is not immune to severe outages. This incident didn't cost Google much, but most mission critical architectures that I have worked on would have suffered a 3 hour outage in a crippling fashion.

Does SalesForce go down all at once too? What assurances do we have in the cloud other than SLAs that can be easily broken? It is going to take a long time before companies will trust public SaaS services for anything remotely mission critical, they may never overcome that hurdle.


Filip said...

Hi Ross,

I work for, which offers easy and secure file sharing, wherever you are. I read your post on the failure of cloud computing with great interest and just wanted to add NomaDesk to the mix. We created an architecture which deals with outages!

NomaDesk, trusted by mobile (“nomadic”) businesses for several years now both in Europe and the U.S., is a hybrid of client and cloud based services.
NomaDesk works with a local client and allows access to your files from anywhere on the web. It includes an encrypted virtual drive that keeps your files securely available off-line and remote file shredding and IP-tracking with TheftGuard. Of course, we impose no limits on storage and bandwidth. A Mac version is on its way.

We have very good reasons to work with a local client that taps into the cloud:

(1) 100% availability of the data, regardless of network quality
(2) 100% performance when editing files, using any type of program
(3) 100% simplicity; just drag-n-drop files to synchronize and share them
(4) 100% security on the PC also: the virtual drives that NomaDesk creates on the PC are encrypted and can be shred remotely via our online TheftGuard service.

The bulk of our users, which are SOHO and SMB teams, appreciate the straightforward and secure file sharing they get through using the NomaDesk client software. You should know that in most cases NomaDesk replaces the traditional file server, FTP and VPN - with success!

Please let me know your thoughts.

Kind regards,

Ross Mason said...

Hi Filip,

It sounds like you are taking the right approach. There is not a one size fits all answer for the cloud but its likely that many SaaS offerings will need to tap into the cloud rather than being isolated in the cloud. To Gmail's defense they recently started an offline Gmail beta program. Smart SaaS companies will use the cloud in conjunction with existing application models to leverage the best of both. It sounds like that is the philosophy behind your application.

aperepel said...

The feeling that I missed something big is not leaving me. Not only did I read this news in the morning post-mortem, from my gmail, but android kept pushing gmail for both free and premium accounts the whole night. If it were not for the buzz, I would've never even noticed this failure.

Of course, this incident is interesting from the SLA point of view, but think about it - it's way way better reliability still than anyone can offer at a comparable price.

Ken said...

Another thing to consider with relying too much on hosted services like this is how a simple mixup can bring your business to a halt. At a previous company there was a mixup in our billing with Salesforce and they shut down our account. As a result, suddenly our sales people lost access to customer account data, our webinar registrations started bouncing, leads were lost, and tech support was unavailable. It also happened our CFO was on vacation when this occurred. In all it took a couple days to straighten out while we felt helpless and at the mercy of another vendor.

Ross Mason said...

I agree that 'for the price' GMail is a fantastic service. But for mission critical applications the SaaS service model needs to offer much more in the way of resiliency if people are going to build their businesses on it. That said SaaS will flourish in the SMB market and mostly non-critical services.
BTW I noticed that Android kept on delivering Gmail, but most of the users are on the web.