Microsoft's recent BPOS outages, and Dropbox's password incident, revive questions about embracing the cloud for varied IT needs.
How reliable is the cloud?
That's a pressing question for consumers and businesses
mulling whether to take their data off-premises. Meanwhile, tech companies fill
their cloud literature with phrases like "redundant systems" and "security,"
designed to soothe any fears about signing up for an online subscription service.
Despite those assurances, problems do occur. Online storage
provider Dropbox applied a code change at 4:54 p.m. EST June 19 that caused
problems with the authentication mechanism, switching
off users' account passwords for nearly four hours
. That meant anyone could
access any account by typing in any string of numbers and letters as the
password, potentially exposing data belonging to the service's 25 million
"This should never have
happened," Dropbox founder and CTO Arash
Ferdowsi wrote in a June 20 corporate blog posting. "We are scrutinizing our
controls, and we will be implementing additional safeguards to prevent this
from happening again."
Most cloud-related issues
aren't nearly so spectacular. But service outages nonetheless remain a factor
under consideration by businesses deciding whether to embrace the
Some North American users of Microsoft's BPOS messaging and
collaboration service were experiencing network connectivity issues starting
the morning of June 22. "Source of network issue identified and hardware
components replaced. Next update within 30 mins," read the
Official Microsoft Online Twitter feed
at around 1 p.m. EST June 22.
Around 50 minutes later,
a follow-up Tweet read: "Service restored for Sign In app. Health Dashboard
still showing intermittent access issues. Next update within 30 mins."
On May 10, malformed email traffic sparked a growing message
backlog that impacted some BPOS customers for up to six to nine hours. The
issue occurred again May 12, compounded by a separate but related problem that
led to customer delays as long as three hours. In the wake of that, Microsoft
executives insisted the issues affecting BPOS wouldn't come into play with
Office 365, Microsoft's upcoming cloud-based productivity platform (and a BPOS
"O365 should provide more stable service," read a June 22
on the Official Microsoft Online Twitter feed. "It is built from the
ground up new and reports and expectations are very good."
Back in April, an outage at Amazon Web Services led to
service disruptions across the Internet, affecting popular Websites such as
Reddit, Quora and Hootsuite. Google lost some of its users' email data in
February, after which it launched an aggressive effort at restoration.
The possibility of downtime is something baked into most
cloud contracts; the question is what happens when the outage is so
catastrophic that it leads to data loss, or when an issue on the provider's
side results in data being stolen by some outside agency. For most companies,
including Microsoft, the response to more well-publicized events is to issue
some sort of credit for the cloud-time lost.
Despite those hiccups, many businesses continue to see the
benefits of signing up for cloud services. "Clouds will have
fundamental issue," Andi Mann, chief cloud strategy guru at CA
Technologies, told eWEEK. "But you need to be ready for downtime,
whether it's your own
infrastructure or cloud infrastructure. You need to understand what the
is. It's all just about risk management."
Microsoft and other companies are increasingly "all in" when
it comes to cloud services, at least partially as a way to recover revenues
lost due to declining sales of hardware and traditional, desktop-bound
software. As they progress into the space, each cloud incident offers a
learning opportunity to improve their respective services-at least in theory.
But at the same time, those incidents may lead businesses (not to mention
governments, which seem increasingly interested in the cloud as a cost-saving
measure) to take a second, hard look at whether they should wait a bit longer
to embrace the cloud.
In the meantime, those very same tech companies are moving
full-speed-ahead with their cloud strategies, particularly in the
realm. "Starting today, we are launching a new version of the SkyDrive
Website," Omar Shahine, group program manager for SkyDrive.com, wrote
in a June
20 posting on The
. "We took advantage of modern browsers and HTML5 to make
SkyDrive faster, easier to navigate, and more beautiful for viewing photos."
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