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No Black Clouds for Cloud…

July 3, 2012

I should have expected that there would be some technology concerns over cloud computing with the recent power outages in the East.  But of course, it’s raining here, and we’re in a cold snap, so I keep forgetting how much everyone else is getting hit until I read the news.  Hot Air pointed me to this Washington Post article on the “reliability” of cloud computing.

The House subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade is studying the risks of such moves and hopes to schedule a hearing on the matter ahead of the August congressional recess.

“Last week’s powerful thunderstorms, along with the massive disruptions they caused, exposed some of the vulnerabilities of cloud computing,” said the panel’s chairman, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), in a statement. “But I also believe the problems extend way beyond consumer convenience and customer service. There are some serious privacy issues which we need to look at as well.”

Oh, nevermind, it’s congress that’s worrying about it.  No wonder I wasn’t concerned.  When your favorite “deliberative body that just deliberates and spends money,” is concerned, I’m generally only concerned that they’re going to “deliberate” on how to regulate the environment.

Let’s just say that I know a bit about cloud — with the disclaimer that the company I work for does sell hardware and software that powers the cloud in many cases.  Let’s look at cloud computing vs. computing in a standard datacenter for “critical” application.  (I’ll note that I don’t consider e-mail a critical application, even though I’m on it most of the day.)

An IT organization is usually fighting for its life.  In good times, the organization gets told to grow without an increase in budget.  In bad times, it’s one of the first to get cut.  As such, finding ways to reduce the costs of operation are paramount in most CIO brains.  So a CIO directs the line manager to find ways to reduce costs of e-mail.

There are two scenarios.  First, you can keep your e-mail servers and data in your own datacenter.  Advanced (and big) organizations might span across two datacenters for redundancy.  A power loss will take down your e-mail, or at least seriously degrade performance.  In the second, you move your e-mail service to a distributed cloud service.  You have to get assurances of privacy and reliability, and the service will likely span the data across two to three datacenters with some redundancy guarantees.  A power loss will probably shift your workload to another datacenter and you’ll experience some minor downtime.

What?  Those are essentially the same outcomes?  Yep.  To an organized IT shop, a power outage is at worst a denial of service until the datacenter can get back up and running, and most of them will be running well before the rest of the grid (backup power is our friend).  To be honest, smaller businesses are probably better outsourcing their e-mail, since the remote servers will likely stay up much longer than something in the back office of a building on a shaky grid.

So I wouldn’t sweat your data or even your service when it’s coming from a cloud.  But I also wouldn’t sweat it when it’s coming from your own well-run datacenter.  I’d more sweat what “opportunity” congress sees in regulating what doesn’t need to be touched.

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