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.
Google Gmail, Google Apps Are Not Enterprise Ready
=Analysts Make The Case Against Google in the Enterprise}
Gardner’s wish: “I expect that over time the Web-based apps will get better and better, they will have to. Unfortunately the pressures on predominate internal e-mail systems may not be on such an improvement trajectory.”
Gardner’s outlook is refreshingly realistic. I turned to Burton Group’s Guy Creese for his perspective on the matter.
Creese echoed Gardner’s statements about the ubiquitous nature of Gmail, noting that many SAAS (software-as-a-service) solutions are used in small groups or departments to do Web conferencing or other tasks. If those targeted solutions go down, the affected departments can’t do their jobs, but the rest of the business continues running.
The issue with Gmail or Google Apps, he noted, is that the business grinds to a halt when they go down.
Creese then put the nail in the coffin for Google Apps and Gmail in the enterprise: “At this point, it is risky for enterprises to move over to Gmail and Google Apps, given this past behavior.”
However, he also said we can’t slap the unreliability tag on SAAS because of Google, noting that companies such as Salesforce.com have a better uptime track record than Google. Moreover, he noted forthcoming solutions such as Microsoft Hosted Exchange may prove to have a better track record.
“In short, if Google can’t get this right, someone else will,” Creese told me.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Given all of the major Web outages, Google, Amazon Web Services, Apple’s MobileMe, I’d wait a bit before running a major business on the Internet.
Sometime soon, someone (Cisco? Google?) will create a massively parallel system with so many failovers that when a fleet of servers goes down, users will retain connectivity, their data and everything else. It will probably be backed by some super Internet router the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Some vendor will have to build something, because if these outages continue to propagate and get coverage (notice how no one makes a big fuss out of Lotus or Exchange outages), no big business will be able to trust the Web as a business platform.
Would you put your faith in running an entire Fortune 500, 1,000 or 2,000 company on the Web? Me neither.