The recent outage of Google Gmail, which also affected users of Google Apps (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) is yet one more reminder of how organizations need to carefully weigh the pros and cons of using on-demand or cloud-based applications and services. As I wrote last August, in response to a larger outage in which Gmail and Apps were down for about 15 hours (and have copied below), I don’t believe that Gmail and Google Apps are really up to supporting large, enterprise end-user organizations at this time. I do think they can be considered useful for consumers and for some small companies, as well as for specific departments, groups, and selective applications. In fact, I use Google Docs and Gmail sometimes when I’m on the road.
Google Apps and Gmail Crash: Cloud Computing’s Limitations Exposed?
Cutter Consortium Enterprise Architecture E-Mail Advisor
August 27, 2008
[…] Just last week, however, we saw Google receiving a lot of criticism because its on-demand Gmail and Google Apps services went out for approximately 15 hours. During this time, end users were either afforded spotty service or were unable to access their Gmail or online applications altogether. Therefore, the big question is: does this incident expose the limitations of cloud computing? In other words, if Google can’t keep its on-demand e-mail and office productivity applications working, should end-user organizations consider using applications that are more comprehensive, such as ERP and CRM?
The answer to the first question is yes: this outage does expose the limitations of cloud computing. How could it not? Many users were unable to access their e-mail and other applications. The answer to the second question depends to a large degree on the amount of risk you are willing to accept and the service-level agreement (SLA) you are able to get from the service provider.
First, let me say that I don’t believe that Gmail and Google Apps are up to supporting large, enterprise end-user organizations. Sure, they can be considered for small companies and for specific departments, groups, and selective applications. However, I still believe that it is risky to think that they can support a larger organization’s overall needs. These are my own gut feelings, and I’m sure the Google folks would argue otherwise and can even point out to me some large, enterprise customers. (But I’d still need to see exactly to what extent these enterprises are actually using Gmail/Google Apps.)
Gmail and Google Apps are available in two forms: a free standard edition and a premier edition, which costs US $50 (user account for one year). According to the Google folks, only the latter offers a guarantee of “99.9%” uptime. Thus, the free service provides something else and these users really don’t have much room to complain. The premier users certainly have a viable argument that Google let them down — depending, of course, on the length of the outage they had to endure. Moreover, that’s something they’re going to have to carefully assess and go over with Google.
I believe that this incident is going to have people rethinking whether they want to use cloud-based or on-demand services to support their organizations. Judging from the some of the comments on the various blogs and newsgroups, this rethinking is already underway. The bottom line, however, remains that cloud computing and on-demand applications are still works in progress. And whether an end-user organization should consider using an on-demand e-mail service or a set of office productivity apps, or a hosted CRM or ERP system, comes down to the degree of risk the organization is willing to take, the service provider’s key practices and performance record, and how comprehensive an SLA you can get. The type of application is important, too. All of these should be carefully reviewed and considered. For example, a project workgroup could probably get by without e-mail for 15 hours. It would certainly be inconvenient. What about your overall company? Could it get by for 15 hours without e-mail or collaboration or word-processing? Obviously, it depends on the company and its line of business. Then substitute this scenario with the nonavailability of an on-demand CRM system or a hosted ERP application or service. Now compare this with how often your own organization’s on-premise e-mail, CRM, ERP, etc., systems are down. See, it doesn’t boil down to a simple black or white or yes or no answer. Finally, when it comes to any SLA, it should be worked out in utmost detail. In other words, as with any business contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” so that there is no possibility of misunderstanding and nothing is left to chance.
I still believe that it is risky to think that Google can support a larger organization’s overall needs. As I wrote in August, these are my own gut feelings, and I’m sure the Google folks would still argue otherwise and that they can point out to me some large, enterprise customers. Eventually they may become bullet proof enough, but that time is still down the road a ways. I know that some will counter that their own company’s e-mail systems frequently experience outages. And that’s certainly true. But it’s one thing to have e-mail out for a while, and quite another not to be able to access your word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, or other desktop productivity tools.