Google and other cloud-based services have been experiencing outages of several hours' duration throughout 2009. While that may be fine for members of the general public, who can live with e-mail occasionally being down for an hour, it is of potential concern for businesses of all sizes, including larger enterprise companies, where constant uptime equals revenue and even survival. Are services such as Google Apps and Microsoft Azure ready to meet that need?
The downtime experienced by Google
on May 14, the latest in a series of temporary shutdowns experienced by
cloud-based service companies throughout 2009, evokes one of those questions of
burning importance to the enterprise: Are cloud-based services truly ready to
meet business needs that require virtually continuous uptime?
Google's occasional shutdowns reliably bring a great deal of media
attention, as with the February incident that took down Gmail in the United States and the United Kingdom for about 2.5
A few months before that, in August 2008, Google
Gmail and Google Apps underwent 15 hours of downtime.
In addition to the public cloud sphere, private cloud computing has found
itself confronted with similar breakdowns. In March, the early test release of
Microsoft Azure, an enterprise-capable cloud platform designed to eventually
compete against Google Apps, underwent a 22-hour outage that left users unable
to access its applications.
To the casual observer, such outages might suggest that cloud computing,
despite the hype, is not quite ready, so to speak, for business prime time.
"We're still in the early days of exactly how cloud computing is being
defined and delivered, and also what companies are expecting out of these
services," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK in
an interview after Microsoft Azure experienced its temporary shutdown.
Click here to read more about the trend toward private clouds.
If a company wanted to increase the reliability of its private cloud-based
services to the much-vaunted "five nines" (99.999) level, and thus
lower its potential downtime to near zero, then King suggested the company
would have to pay for it-and potentially pass those costs along to its
customers. Within that context, particularly in the midst of a global recession,
most companies may opt to extend 99.99 percent availability, and trust that
their customers will live with the slightly increased risk of downtime.
Whether small and midsize businesses utilize private clouds or build their
businesses on public cloud-based services such as Google Apps, their tolerance
for downtime is almost certainly higher than that of the enterprise, which
generally demands virtually zero unexpected shutdowns.
"If your revenue is based on being able to stay in contact with people,
and you have an outage, it can build to significant levels of damage quickly,
so your tolerances are tight," Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle
Group, said in an interview.
"The outages that Google experiences [don't] happen in a well-run
enterprise," Enderle added. "I'm not sure Google gets the enterprise;
even with Microsoft, it took them bringing in employees from places like IBM
before they understood it. Google has not yet gone through that process, even
with a CEO coming out of Sun-it requires a
fairly large infusion of people who get the enterprise."