The <a href="">hand-wringing over yesterday's Gmail outage</a> was as predictable as it was wrong-headed.

Michael Hickins, Contributor

September 2, 2009

3 Min Read

The hand-wringing over yesterday's Gmail outage was as predictable as it was wrong-headed.Yes, as many observers were quick to point out, this was Gmail's fifth significant outage of the year. But what most of them fail to say is that their own systems are probably even more unreliable. According to Osterman Research, most enterprise email systems go down for almost an hour per month:

in mid-sized and large organizations, email systems experience a mean of 53 minutes of unplanned downtime during a typical month. That means that during a one-year period, a typical email system will be down for 10.6 hours.

Those numbers confirm what most of us who have worked in corporate environments since before the advent of cloud computing already know, which is that internal systems are no more reliable. But to be fair, what gets most people hot under the collar about cloud computing is the helpless feeling that comes with not being able to call their IT guy and scream.

What it comes down is the illusion that if you have a system behind your firewall, it's under your control. Well, it's under your control to the extent that you're the system administrator, and that you can deal with the problem rather than fielding angry calls from the C-suite, and that the person who knows this system isn't on vacation or on break or in the subway.

True story. My wife, a former professional race car driver -- drives really fast on tracks designed to let you skid around turns -- is afraid of flying on commercial airlines. Because she's not driving the things. She's not in control. Never mind that the fleet is serviced by highly-skilled technicians who know the lives of thousands are in their hands, and piloted by highly-experienced people who have their own lives in their hands, as well as all the passengers and crew's.

Does Google have a couple more engineers than your average Fortune 500 company? Does it really seem like they'd do a better job if someone were screaming in their ear, demanding to know when "the email will work again?"

So am I trying to say we should just grin and bear it, as we did with our local ISPs in the days before broadband? Not a chance.

The cloud means we have choices. There's still Yahoo mail, after all, not to mention Windows Live, both of which are in the process of developing services that make Web-based email more than just an asynchronous communications tool by integrating features like social networking and document handling capabilities.

Large systems vendors are also promoting the idea of the private cloud, which although self-serving to those vendors, does provide enough scale (from a manpower perspective) to make the idea of taking email (and other computing services) outside the firewall an attractive proposition.

Yesterday's outage doesn't bring the reliability of the cloud into question. It does bring Google's reliability into question.

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