97 Percent Fills the Bill for SAAS

Opinion: Why expect 99 percent uptime when you can't deliver it yourself?

Boy, its been a tough few weeks for me. Ive heard from some readers whove said they are unhappy with my columns and/or will stop reading them altogether.

Why are these readers unhappy? Ill let one of the letters I received tell you:

Dear Mr. Rapoza,

Ive been a longtime reader of your Tech Directions columns, and Ive always found your Opinion pieces to be of a consistent high quality. Until now. In recent weeks, I have found that your columns have failed to reach the high, 99.999 percent levels of quality to which I had become accustomed.

The recent columns have been well-written and conceived overall, but, in several, there have been one or two sentences that just didnt work. I expect nothing less than five-nines quality from those I give my time to, and your recent columns have been, at best, 97 percent good. If your columns do not return to 99.999 percent quality or better, I may have to discontinue reading them.


Ivana B. Perfect

Wow, is that harsh or what? I think 97 percent is pretty darn good. I mean, come on—Im providing a valuable service here, with lots of technology insight, Opinions and strategies that require no or very little upfront work on the readers part. Id like to see how Ms. Perfect would do if she had to write her own technology Opinions and insights each week. I bet shed be lucky to hit 79 percent quality.

Of course, a very similar controversy is going on in the software world: With SAAS, or software as a service, companies such as Salesforce.com are being called to the mat for recent outages that have prevented them from providing 99 percent uptime to their customers.

Now, Im not saying that these issues shouldnt be brought up or that the Salesforce. com outages didnt cause pain and problems for users. But these outages have to be examined in the context of the systems they replace.

Look at it this way: The worst of the recent Salesforce.com outages was measured in hours, and most of the others have been less than 30 minutes. Now think about your own company and how long it takes to bring back a major system such as CRM, ERP or e-mail when it goes down hard—probably hours at least and maybe even days.

/zimages/2/28571.gifSalesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff blamed the recent outages on the companys new $50 million data center. Click here to read more.

In a recent interview with Sun Microsystems Jonathan Schwartz here in our Woburn, Mass., offices, we talked about the Salesforce. com outages. Schwartz defended the SAAS model, asking how long it would take a company to recover from a major SAP outage on in-house systems. I agree with his thinking. When I was reading stories about Salesforce. coms outages, I had this picture in my head of an IT manager sitting at a desk surrounded by harried co-workers who were screaming about their downed internal servers. I imagined the IT person sitting there saying, "Hang on, Ill get to it as soon as I finish reading this story about how unreliable Salesforce.com is."

It would be nice if we lived in a movielike world where everything was consistently the same. But while James Bond may be able to always hit the bad guys with one shot (and get the women with one line), people and software cant always deliver in the real world.

SAAS provides lots of benefits to customers, from short deployment times to no infrastructure hassles to constantly improving software. But the reality is that these applications run over the Internet and will always be subject to failure simply because of that fact—whether Salesforce.com has problems on its end or a local contractor drops a backhoe through a line on your end.

And where did this magic "99 percent" number come from, anyway? Why is 97 percent considered bad? Id be willing to bet that almost no companies can guarantee 97 percent uptime for the servers and systems they maintain themselves. Come to think of it, almost nothing in life has a 97 percent success rate.

So, to everyone, please lighten up about this 99 percent stuff. And, to my readers, while I will always strive to be 100 percent perfect in my columns and articles, I wont always hit that. And if you choose to call me a 97 percent man, thats OK. Ill take it as a compliment.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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