Outages Force Cloud Computing Users To Rethink Tactics
IT departments scramble to devise backup plans following service disruptions at Amazon, Citrix, and Google.
Another coping technique: Google, Salesforce, and some other SaaS providers offer PC applications that tie into their services, so users can work offline. Microsoft will do the same with the multitenant versions of its Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Office Communications Online services, which are in beta testing. Microsoft's Dynamics CRM Online is already available as a multitenant offering.
In the case of Google and Salesforce, their PC applets are intended for on-the-go and disconnected users, but they can be stopgap measures during a service outage, too. Harris Interactive recommends that its users download Salesforce's offline edition, which contains a copy of contacts and accounts and lets users synchronize their data when they regain online access to Salesforce. The drawback is that the offline versions of SaaS applications generally aren't as feature-rich as the cloud ones.
Another tactic is to limit your dependency on cloud services for business-critical processes. "You need to be thoughtful about how use you use cloud resources, so that the things you do have lower risk. If it takes an extra day to run, you don't really care," says Russ Daniels, VP and CTO of Hewlett-Packard's cloud services business. "Be thoughtful about where this stuff sits, rather than imagining that your existing systems will be replaced by stuff in the cloud and it will all be OK."
Scheduled maintenance for Apple's MobileMe service has a ripple effect on users
Glitch in Google Gmail's contacts system causes a two-hour outage for some users
Citrix blames GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar service disruption on a surge in demand
Google Gmail out of commission for up to 14 hours for some users
Internal system problem causes Amazon S3 service to be inaccessible for up to eight hours
There's also a choice to be made between multitenant services, in which multiple SaaS customers are hosted on the same system, and single-tenant services that devote one or more servers to a customer. Microsoft will offer both multitenant and single-tenant versions of its Online applications. The single-tenant version will cost a bit more, but it also will give customers peace of mind knowing that their applications are insulated from others'.
The worst-case scenario would be your SaaS provider going out of business, as The Linkup did recently. Storage company Iron Mountain has developed a safety net for companies worried about that risk. Its SaaSProtect Escrow service lets IT departments store data or applications with Iron Mountain and access them if the SaaS provider goes belly up. "We can sit in the background and help create at least some safety," says Iron Mountain CTO Fred Engel.
Some companies will seek to get the benefits of cloud services--the ability to quickly provision applications as needed, for example--without the disruptions by building "private clouds" in their own data centers. Others will wait until cloud service providers get more experience and see that change reflected in fewer and shorter outages and SLAs that demonstrate greater confidence in service availability. The early adopters of cloud services, meanwhile, need to develop fortitude--and backup plans.
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