In light of the latest Google Gmail and Google Apps outages, I asked several industry analysts whether Google's software is dependable enough for enterprises and whether or not the Web is reliable enough as a business platform.
IDC analyst Melissa Webster, who covers collaboration technologies, told me: "No surprise that as soon as there's a big outage, everyone howls. This happens with corporate networks and e-mail systems and applications too, of course. The real question is: which is more reliable?"
There is no easy answer to that question. She referred me to her colleague Abner Germanow, an IDC analyst who covers enterprise networking infrastructure, who called me to discuss the dependency of Google and the Internet as a whole.
Germanow said every technology starts out "good enough" for some particular task but as the technology matures, the level of reliability of that technology increases and people begin to ask whether it is reliable enough to run their business on it.
The bigger question we need to ask, he said, is whether or not we can risk any downtime in our business. In short: Is the reliability requirement so high that we can't afford to experience downtime? Is the answer is yes, then we need to question whether Web services such as Gmail and Apps are right for our business.
David Ferris, whose research firm Ferris Research covers cloud collaboration technologies such as Google Apps and on-premise servers such as Microsoft Exchange, uses Gmail for his business. If anybody could make the case for or against Google, it would be him.
I asked him whether or not the issue of Google's downtime was a big issue for his business. His response:
"Yes we noticed the outage but the hassles are acceptable. E-mail does today go down from time to time, whether it's from Google or an in-house service such as Exchange or Notes/Domino. That's a price to pay that most users, including us, are prepared to pay. Overall, we continue to feel that Gmail provides an excellent service."
Ferris' stance is strong, but remember his is a small shop. We're not talking thousands of employees here all trying to communicate through e-mail, instant messaging and Web conferences. For those, you'd probably want something a little more battle-tested, such as Microsoft SharePoint or IBM Lotus software.
Dana Gardner, founding analyst of InterArbor Solutions said most enterprises and SMBs (small and mid-sized businesses) deal with e-mail outages internally with some regularity, noting that the rates of uptime for these non-transactional apps can be as low as 97 percent and still be considered mission-critical. He told me:
"So let's take a reality check on whether Web-based apps are or should be any better than behind-the-firewall apps such as e-mail that sometimes go down. That said, trust and value are essential for any migration to Web-based or cloud-provided apps. The bad news is that if Company XYZ has an e-mail outage, people go to the water cooler and chat about the Olympics and shrug it off. Few people outside the actual company know or care. But when Web mail such as Gmail goes down, it's for the world to see."
What does this mean? Gardner explained that, for whatever reason, users of free Web-based apps have higher expectations than those paying higher prices for internal commercial systems that may suffer the same or worse performance. What a crazy, twisted world we live in.