Sunday, May 17, 2009

Problems with depending on cloud computing

In recent years, we are being sold on the total promise of cloud computing, or to be on a much simpler level, storing our data on sites on the internet and depend on internet applications for a lot of their work. Some examples of these are using Google Mail, Hotmail, Google Docs, Online Maps, Online photo sharing and storage. Corporations also depend on applications running off the internet such as Salesforce, Google Apps, etc. In fact, the entire concept of Software as a Service (SAAS) depends on companies basing their primary business applications on 3rd party hosted apps. We are now at that stage when companies no longer have a backup for these services; consider your own case - when you save something on Google Docs, do you also have a local copy of that data ? Do you have a backup way of running your business when the internet app goes down for whatever reason ?
Most companies now depend on these hosted services / data storage being always available. After all, if you are a photo storage company and depend on customer photos being stored on Amazon's S3 service, the service better be always available. If the service even goes down for a couple of hours, that is a time when your customers can no longer access their photos, and would not be a pleasant experience. Now consider the recent case of Google services being unavailable for a few hours due to a traffic jam at one of its data centers. This means that services such as Google Analytics, Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, and so on were unavailable (link to article):

Google has apologized for yesterday's service outage that left 14 percent of its user base without Google's wide variety of online services for a few hours. Google said in a blog post the outage came down to a simple traffic jam at an Asian data center. Well, a quick look at this graph from the Web security company Arbor Networks shows a canyon-sized hole in North American Internet traffic during the G-outage. With a wide variety of practical services like Gmail, Google Docs, Maps, Calendar, and even Google search gone, online activities came to a standstill for many people during the Google blackout.
Just how smart is it to depend on a company to store all your data online? Some smaller storage companies have even gone under without giving users a chance to collect their precious bits and bytes. Canadian photographer Ryan Pyle told Spring how he lost more than 7000 edited and retouched images after the storage company Digital Railroad abruptly shut its doors last year.

Leads to 2 problems - with many companies operating on wafer thin margins and in a recession, there is a greater chance of many companies disappearing. If these companies were in the service of either data storage or app hosting, then customers will be hit when these companies go down. In some cases, when the disappearance is sudden, then customers may be hit with data loss.
In the second case, it may be possible that a company does not go down, but operations are hit for some time due to some technical issues, planned downtime, or even hacker attacks. Customers dependent on them will need to suspend activities during such a period.