Last week, Gmail failed – for the third time in recent months. Yet again, the media and blogosphere declared the end of hosted services, software-as-a-service and cloud computing as we know it.
Here’s why I disagree:
1. On-premise email fails too
We all like to complain about Gmail being down, but what about corporate email systems? Are they really so much more reliable? Well, according to research group Osterman Research mid-size to large organizations experience an average 53 minutes of monthly downtime in their email systems! That’s not something you can ignore.
This is the opposite of the tree falling in the woods where no one is around to hear it. Gmail is larger and more heavily used than any one corporate email system. When it falls, everybody talks about it. Don’t confuse more buzz with more actual downtime.
2. It’s just Gmail
It sure is fun making Gmail the poster-boy of SaaS (hey, wasn’t that supposed to be Salesforce?). The thing is, even if it does go downhill and turn into a complete and utter flop, we should be wary of extrapolating to the entire cloud. Here’s an analogy: in the early ‘90s, as PC desktop software upped its level of complexity with the arrival of Windows, crashes became more common. Did that doom the PC software industry? Of course it didn’t, PC software was and still is a massive industry that thrived for years. Some products simply may have more problems than others.
3. It’s still more convenient
Cloud-based apps are available anywhere. They scale up for you. They are painlessly upgraded on a frequent basis. Deployment is easy. No special installations are required, just a browser. Add to that the fact that many cloud-based apps are today exceeding their desktop equivalents in terms of features and usability. Gmail is a great example of this: personally, I can’t bear to go back to Outlook. I’ve honestly been getting more work done since I adopted it as my primary email system.
4. It’s still more cost-effective
Even with the odd bump, IT budgets are more wisely spent on what your company is supposed to be good at – not at installations, administration and maintenance that everyone else does too. Amazon likes to call this “differentiated dollar creation” vs. “undifferentiated heavy lifting”.
5. Need 100% uptime? Get backup.
No post on cloud computing is complete without Nick Carr’s analogy of utility computing to electricity. In the early 1900s, companies stopped generating their own power and plugged in to the electricity grid. This is what’s happening now to computing – it’s being consolidated into massive datacenters and can be consumed more dynamically than ever before.
Let’s look back to electricity. If you’re a hospital, a government facility (or even a datacenter) – do you rely only on the power grid? Of course not, you get yourself some backup generators – just in case. The same applies to the cloud: organizations that really do need 100% uptime can and should embrace the cloud, but they should do so with a well-prepared contingency plan – just in case.
Cloud computing has become too much of an either-or question. Both vendors and customers need to start thinking how they can change that into an answer where everybody wins.
Image credit: The background is a photo by Chris Metcalf. The Gmail logo was obviously superimposed by us…