I’ve seen a few discussions amongst the Australian IT community recently from people who are very anti-Cloud. Aside from privacy concerns (NSA access to data centres not located in Australia) and Internet infrastructure concerns (yes, many businesses still have pitiful Internet speeds), the next favourite objection involves every time a Cloud service has ever has an outage.
Microsoft’s Office 365 service didn’t help my cause today with a 3hr degradation in service, where emails couldn’t be sent or received for a number of customers. When the service was restored though, all the emails caught up.
Let’s set one thing straight – the Cloud isn’t bulletproof. It’s not. And no matter how much a marketing department wants to yell about reliability and 99.9% uptime, the Cloud is still a bunch of code sitting on top of some hardware. Yes, it has better infrastructure redundancy than most SMBs. Yes, it has better proactive management and monitoring than most SMBs. And most importantly, it has a better qualified support team and access to technical resources than most SMBs (if we’re talking Office 365). But that doesn’t mean it won’t break. That doesn’t mean that code won’t get its knickers in a knot and fall over sometimes.
The people who are quick to laugh when a Cloud service fails are the same people who are too nervous to give an on-premise environment a ‘no downtime’ guarantee. Ultimately, they know that all technology has an element of risk, but maybe they’re just pushing back against the Cloud marketing hype?
Take a survey of a handful of SMBs and the reliability results will vary. I can name small businesses that have gone for years without a server outage. I can also name SMBs that have been plagued with hardware issues, failed updates and other problems. Even business grade hardware with the support of the best qualified professional in a small business environment is at the mercy of the technology hiccups. That’s life.
As the IT community has always liked a car analogy, compare it to any vehicle manufacturer you like. You either love your Holden/Ford/GM/Jeep whatever, or you’ve had so many problems with it (and crap service) that you’d never buy another one ever again. The Cloud is just like that and sometimes you can’t blame a dodgy mechanic.
If my technology service goes down I want to know that a) the best people to fix it are on the job and b) I’m not paying them an exorbitant hourly rate while they are. That’s the advantage of a business-grade Cloud service (and not all Clouds are created equal)! I don’t know the technical specifics of the configuration issue that triggered today’s 3hr mail flow halt, so I can’t comment on whether it would have taken me 30 minutes, 3hrs, 3 days or 3 weeks to fix. But I do know that while this service interruption was being investigated, I was still working. I wasn’t staring sitting at the screen hitting refresh every minute. I was actioning existing tasks that needed my attention. In my particular circumstance, with access to all of the emails I had already received, my productivity impact was nil. In fact, it was a pleasant way to work! Perhaps I should turn off my network connection more often?
And that’s the crux of it. What’s your plan B? If everything is in the Cloud and it goes belly-up, what is your business continuity plan while you wait for your service to be restored? Do you have offline access to your information? Can you work on other things? Is it time to grab a whiteboard marker and brainstorm those marketing initiatives that you’ve been putting off?
I know email is important – it’s the default method of business communication now. But during a short outage, if you cannot do anything else in your business, are you really just a professional emailer?
At least you aren’t burning your own IT resources (or a consultant’s bill) to resolve it.