News Flash: The Cloud Will Go Down

By Josh Catone
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Yesterday, for a few hours Gmail went down. Judging by the reactions on Twitter and in the blogosphere, you’d have thought that the world ended. For work and web-obsessed people who rely on email throughout the day, for a couple of hours it might have felt that way. But when you put yourself at the mercy of a cloud-based computing service, that’s something you have to expect.

No web site has 100% up time — just like almost no computer operates without fail. The same way your personal computer sometimes breaks — denying you access to your email — Gmail and other web-based services will also sometimes break.

ZDNet’s Larry Dignan has a great post that brings up the most obvious point: cloud services can go down, so doesn’t it make sense to keep our data synced offline as well?

“If you’re depending on these Web-based applications you need a backup plan,” writes the always clear-thinking Dignan. Another level-headed ZDNet blogger (these guys are on a roll), my friend Ryan Stewart also hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “Systems are going to go down, it’s a fact of life. What’s important is to be prepared when those systems go down which is a major reason that some kind of offline access should be built into systems like email. In theory we’ll reach a time when the cloud really is always on, but we’re not close and it may never happen.”

They’re both advocating something I have been talking about for awhile: desktop access for web apps is very important. The two main reason I gave in my ReadWriteWeb article linked in the previous sentence why we need desktop access for RIAs are that they will help transition mainstream users from desktop to web apps, and because multitasking in the browser is shoddy at best. But to those we can add a third reason: desktop synchronization gives you access to your important data when the cloud goes down — and it will go down.

Dignan wonders if Microsoft might actually be onto something with their software + services vision. Via Microsoft:

The future is a combination of local software and Internet services interacting with one another. Software makes services better and services make software better. And by bringing together the best of both worlds, we maximize choice, flexibility and capabilities for our customers. We describe this evolutionary path in our industry as Software + Services.”

“But to date the effort has been mocked in cloud puritan quarters. It’s not true cloud computing argue these cloud computing puritans. Microsoft is just trying to protect its software dominance (duh) they argue,” says Dignan.

Of course, Microsoft isn’t actually alone in thinking that the software + services is the real future of RIAs. We wrote a couple of weeks ago that Yahoo! also thinks that desktop RIAs are the future. Further, Adobe clearly thinks that desktop/offline access for rich Internet applications is a major part of the future of computing with their AIR software.

Desktop access for RIAs and offline sync of data is a necessary evolutionary step toward that mythical future where the cloud is always on — the one that, as Stewart says, we may never actually reach. For now, relying completely on the cloud is fine only if you’re okay with the fact that your data won’t always be there for you. Keeping your data backed up somewhere else is thus common sense.

So there is one very important lesson to be learned here:

  1. The cloud will go down, and thus
  2. Offline/desktop access for RIAs is important.
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  • I always have a good chuckle whenever I see almost every major blog reporting a relatively short outage period in any major service. They all ball and whine about it like their life is over and the company just totally dropped the ball somewhere. You’re absolutely right – sometimes systems just fail. It’s a fact of life – get over it.

    The real kicker for me is that these people complain and lament about 30 minutes of downtime for a service they use FOR FREE. Get real people – Google doesn’t own you 100% uptime for the use of a product you’re not even paying for.

  • Anonymous

    Not true. Some systems don’t fail. I work with a company called Ultracart out of Merced, California. Their system never fails. I’m talking, we’re on something that is running on their system every minute of the day every day. When they’re push a build the system runs slow for about 1-2 minutes of the day. It’s run on a cluster, and everything is so backed up with contingency plans in place to the point where you could set the place on fire and it’d still be running.

  • keith5885

    Ahhh facebook is down everyone! I cant get on! Ahhhh… ok now I have to go outside and call people. What a bummer.

  • brian

    why hasn’t gmail added Gears for desktop syncing, or have they and noone uses it?


    I am on my email 18 hours a day. My G mail has not gone down since I paid for extra storage about one year ago.