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Summary:

The news that Gmail went down this morning (UK time) got me thinking about how we increasingly rely on third parties for essential business services. With a proliferation of web apps offering to meet our every business need and the inexorable rise of cloud computing, are […]

The news that Gmail went down this morning (UK time) got me thinking about how we increasingly rely on third parties for essential business services. With a proliferation of web apps offering to meet our every business need and the inexorable rise of cloud computing, are we investing too much trust in them?

Fortunately, I have Offline Gmail support enabled, which meant that I could at least continue working on emails received overnight while Gmail was down. But judging by the outpouring of angst on Twitter, many people had a pretty unproductive morning, with some four hours of downtime.

Gmail appears to be back up now, but you can bet that this won’t be the last time a major web app suffers downtime. While we can probably be reasonably confident that Google has the engineering talent to recover from most failures quite quickly (especially as Google’s paid-for Google For Domains users have a service-level agreement, including an uptime guarantee of 99.9 percent), we’ve seen many services suffer from a lack of continued support and investment, and some that disappear altogether.

Are we putting too much faith in services that we have no control over? Do you have a backup plan in place in case a critical part of your workflow goes down?

  1. Maybe it’s my over-abundance of tech(ish) blog RSS feeds in outlook, but it seems that everybody is _still_ crying over the fact that GMail went down this morning and almost like the spin doctors in a political campaign it’s being used as an anti-cloud movement for some reason.

    Having worked with many different companies that operate with everything from a single in-house server to multiple racks collocated in a private cage, I’ve yet to meet any of them that has sustained 100% uptime. Even large operations such as RackSpace (arguably the best of the best when it comes to uptime) had a few hours of downtime during 2008 due to cooling issues.

    The simple and plain fact is that nothing (internal or otherwise) is going to be up 100% of the time. If you decided you wanted to host your e-mail in house you have the obvious issues of a (generally) lack of redundant power, network, etc.. If you want to step that up to a datacenter you once again have issues of scheduled maintenance, hardware upgrades, natural disasters, more than a few times I’ve seen backup generators that simply fail to kick on when they are actually needed.

    The only real difference that I’ve seen between the google downtime and every other downtime is that a large number of people were effected at the same time and thus all complained at the same time.

    If people need access to their e-mails while not online (I’ve yet to see an internet connection that hasn’t had downtime) and neglected to setup a system to allow this (IMAP, GMail offline, etc..) then the blame should rest solely on them and not GMail / Google / Cloud Computing.

    I guess the point of this long rant is simply that fact that I have heard people complain time and time again about a loss of data/productivity which could have been avoided. If you had iron-clad proof that google was going to be around for the next 50 years that is no excuse to not have backups of your e-mails if they’re valuable to you.

  2. I didn’t notice it was down. I was sleeping :)

    I don’t rely on my Apps, but then I wouldn’t call Gmail an app. It is a web based mail client. I’ve always got a back up email with my ISP.

    I guess the only gripe I have is that with so many web apps coming out, we all sign up and try them. But when you don’t like them wheres the “stop emailing me about this app and kill my account!” option?

  3. ^^ It’s in the GMail filter section if they don’t want to play nice :)

  4. @Michael My point in asking the question was not to put forward an agenda (either for or against web apps and cloud computing), but rather to get people to consider whether they need to have a backup plan, consider what might happen if their service goes down. It’s also important to consider these things if you host all your services yourself :)

    @Alex I’m surprised that you wouldn’t consider Gmail an app. After all a desktop email client like Outlook is an application.

  5. @Simon My rant wasn’t aimed at you, it was more aimed at the people that ran around like chickens with their heads cut off when GMail was down for a few hours and now have sworn off not only clouds but sunshine, rain, rivers, and the dreaded waterfall computing. I’m sure they’ll be switching over to grid soon enough though (mother nature knows not of grid computing!).

  6. Unfortunately i don’t have a backup plan for all the risk cases that might appear in regards to application used. For example a day ago MS Word crashed before i was able to save the document but my luck, because i enabled the auto save functionality. So when it’s possible protect your “back”. On the other hand i think that we have become too dependent on specific services like Google (which had to break down once when it labeled the entire Web as malware and yesterday when Gmail was down.

  7. Dmitri Eroshenko, Relenta Thursday, February 26, 2009

    “people that ran around like chickens with their heads cut off when GMail was down for a few hours and now have sworn off not only clouds but sunshine, rain, rivers, and the dreaded waterfall computing.”

    @Michael you have you way with words! :)

    I think it boils down to the balance between how much effort you want to put into your disaster recovery routine, and how protected you want to feel.

    Some of our users manually export their accounts daily. Some pull their data via API. We are working on automating the remote back up functionality to the storage device of customer’s choice. Will include sunshine, rain and waterfall.

  8. Walter Wimberly Saturday, February 28, 2009

    To use the cloud, you have to give up some control. Last week my power supply died in my main computer – however I was able to get back up in a little bit with backups (hardware and software). When the cloud goes down, I don’t have a backup option – that is the disadvantage.

    I don’t think we can, at this point, rely on the cloud for critical applications – especially if we are savvy enough to know how to watch our own back.

    For most people however, if their computer had died, it would have worse than gmail being down for a few hours – as they would have lost all of their work and it might not have ever come back.

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