Very early this morning/late last night--but at the beginning of the London/Paris/Berlin workday--Google's software, including Gmail itself, crashed, and it did not come back for some users until as much as four hours later. While the apparently unintentional outage was timed such that it affected the barest minimum of U.S. (particularly East Coast) users, it stole half of Western Europe's day.
Terrifyingly, part of the reason it took Google so long to fix the problem, according to the New York Times, is that--wait for it--Google and its employees all use Gmail. (Someone over there really ought to use Yahoo! or something, if only for times such as this.) Certainly this tendency towards a vicious crashing cycle is cause for caution regarding (over)reliance on cloud computing.
At the same time, the outage revealed just how pervasive cloud computing has become. Among those businesses effectively shut down by the outage were the Telegraph and the Guardian, two of Britain's top dailies, who use Gmail for email, Gchat to communicate with each other, and even Google Documents to write and edit articles (the software's sharing feature makes the program especially handy for when multiple contributors need to view or even make changes to a common document). So that's at least two top papers who have already made the move to the cloud.
Indeed, it's hardly a surprise anymore to see Mediabistro's GalleyCat blog report that esteemed author Susan Orlean (whose The Orchid Thief formed the basis, in a discursive way, for the movie Adaptatation) has stopped using Microsoft Word to write her next work after a hard drive crash caused her to lose a good chunk of it. What's she using now? Google Docs, naturally.
Now, Ms. Orlean would probably have been harmed less when her hard drive crashed had she been thoroughly diligent about backing up to an external drive. But cloud computing can be about more than just ease, efficiency, and, indeed, cost (Google's whole software suite is offered gratis): it can be about convenience and elimination of annoyance, too--and nothing is more annoying than constantly backing up your work (well, except for losing your work when your hard drive crashes).
As for the reliability issue? The Times blogger, Saul Hansell, makes a good point: "If you are being quantitative about it, I’m not so sure what this proves. Every company I’ve worked for has had its internal systems go down at least as frequently as Gmail does. But psychologically, a problem under your own roof is easier to handle than a problem caused by someone far away, whom you can’t even get on the phone to complain to."
In sum, we're willing only to call the reliability issue a wash between cloud computing software and hard drive-bound software. And once you get rid of reliability, it becomes apparent that the advantage--for the individual, for the large corporation, and perhaps especially for the small business--lies with cloud computing.
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