Salesforce Outage: Can Customers Trust The Cloud? - InformationWeek

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5/12/2016
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Salesforce Outage: Can Customers Trust The Cloud?

Salesforce experienced an outage and service disruption to the NA14 instance, sending customers to Twitter to complain and organizations to evaluate the best way to work with cloud software providers.

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Will Salesforce's ongoing service disruption affect the confidence levels of customers and the market overall in the concept of software-as-a-service and cloud computing?

Maybe not, but it's a black eye for Salesforce, absolutely. So say analysts watching the situation at this high-profile cloud provider of enterprise apps. Experts offered recommendations about how customers should negotiate with cloud service providers such as Salesforce and others to mitigate the damages from cloud outages.

"Clearly it's an embarrassment for Salesforce," Gartner VP and fellow Yefim Natis told InformationWeek in an interview, noting that Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS have not been immune to outages either. "Outages happen to everyone. They vary in impact. This one was bad. People lost data. They didn't have access to systems for a long period of time."

[Google experienced a cloud outage last year. Read Google Cloud Outage: Virtual Networking Breakdown.]

The Salesforce service outage started on Tuesday with the company's NA14 instance, affecting customers on the US west coast. And while service was restored on Wednesday after nearly a full day of down time, the instance has continued to experience a degradation of service, according to Salesforce's online status site.

Here's what the Salesforce status message said about NA14 on Thursday morning: "The NA14 instance continues to operate in a degraded state. Customers can access the Salesforce service, but we have temporarily suspended some functionality such as weekly exports and sandbox copy functionality."

Salesforce provided this additional detail about the cause of the problem: "The service disruption was caused by a database failure on the NA14 instance, which introduced a file integrity issue in the NA14 database. The issue was resolved by restoring NA14 from a prior backup, which was not impacted by the file integrity issues. We have determined that data written to the NA14 instance between 9:53 UTC and 14:53 on May 10, 2016 could not be restored."

(Image: retrieved from Salesforce status site on May 12, 2016 by InformationWeek)

(Image: retrieved from Salesforce status site on May 12, 2016 by InformationWeek)

Experts agree that any IT system, whether on-premises or in the cloud, will always be susceptible to service outages, and organizations need to be prepared for that. The most proactive CIOs can read their cloud contracts and look for service level agreements that provide monetary compensation for significant outages, Natis said.

Natis and other analysts say they don't believe that the Salesforce outage will undermine customer confidence in the resilience of the cloud. One of those customers affected by the outage was technology analyst and business consulting firm Ventana Research. The company provides consulting services to businesses, but found its business offline Tuesday due to the Salesforce outage.

"The outage undermines my confidence in Salesforce but not cloud software as I have never had this issue with any other software-as-a-service or even on-premises software where you could control your own issues," CEO and Chief Research Officer Mark Smith told InformationWeek in an email on Wednesday.

"They cost companies including mine a whole day of work in revenue growth and selling, customer service, operations, billing, and overall productivity, and they could not provide any useful update until very early [Wednesday] morning and have offered nothing for the screw up."

To its credit, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff apologized for the outage on Twitter and responded to customer complaints there, providing them with his email address. But while the social media response may have been viewed as masterful by some, others were not impressed. And Salesforce still has plenty of work to do in the days ahead.

Natis said Salesforce must provide a detailed review of what went wrong and how it will prevent it from happening again. That's what Microsoft did a few years back after Azure experienced a significant outage in November 2014. The company eventually provided a detailed forensic analysis of what went wrong and how it would be avoided in the future. That's what Salesforce needs to do now, Natis said.

Salesforce's status site said that "as part of our standard process, we are performing a full root cause analysis and will provide our customers with the details once they are available."

Will that be enough to persuade irate Salesforce customers to stay with the company?

"This happening once will be forgiven," Natis said. However, if this Salesforce outage is an indication of things to come for Salesforce's systems, customers may start looking for other solutions.

Jessica Davis is a Senior Editor at InformationWeek. She covers enterprise IT leadership, careers, artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and enterprise software. She has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology. Follow her on twitter: ... View Full Bio

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
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6/1/2016 | 8:09:46 PM
Re: Outages
@Broadway: It will likely depend upon the specifics of the contracts/SLAs.  Cloud providers know that outages can and do happen (albeit rarely on a big scale), so they tend to attempt to protect themselves as much as possible -- esp. b/c a lot of cloud customers can't/don't negotiate with them.  We'll see.

In any case, if there is a penalty or some other consideration Salesforce owes, and it provides it/pays it, then there's probably no lawsuit.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
5/13/2016 | 9:54:06 AM
Outages
Funny timing, with Salesforce Connections happening this week in Atlanta.

This has been a perennial concern with the cloud -- particularly since the AWS outages of 2011.  It's something tha thas to go into the risk/cost-benefit analysis, to be sure.  Outages are rare, but the more you aggregate data and servers, the more impactful outages will be.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
5/12/2016 | 3:49:24 PM
Can Salesforce afford tol lose four hours of customer data?
I may be wrong, but the period in which data was lost suggests that Salesforce takes and saves backup snapshots of customer data every four hours. That's much too wide open a window. The stakes are so high that Salesforce would do well to restore its credibility by disclosing what its data backup window is and how it's improving it. Every 30 minutes might be a start. With modern snap shotting methods, that would be a minimum. It should be more often than that.
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