This week, a small population of Google Apps users—including some paying customers—have been affected by some pretty serious outages, ranging from a few minutes to a few hours (with some claiming nearly a day).
When a situation like this arises, my gut reaction is to scoff at the whiners out there. In-house mail servers experience outages too—in my experience working at small businesses with local hosts, it’s a weekly or monthly occurrence. Why should this cloud-based solution be any different?
Well, it has to be. It works like this—in most cases, improving IT means increasing cost to reduce risk. The cloud, at this point in time, is turning this on its head. Less cost, more risk. And in some ways, that totally defeats the purpose of IT.
But before we pound the final nail in this proverbial coffin, let’s be realistic:
Google Apps is pretty new. Newness isn’t the best excuse, but Google Apps still has a little water behind its ears. Things never come out of the gate perfect—if you expect Google Apps to be perfect or aren’t willing to shoulder a bit of risk, then avoid it for now (or maybe forever).
The cloud can’t be perfect. I don’t really believe a cloud-based system can ever be 100 percent perfect while still offering efficiency and major cost benefits. Some outages and downtime will occur. But, I agree that for a cloud-based service to be worth it, these have to be few and far between. And, customer support must be very fast and very good.
Google Apps still rocks. Anyone that doesn’t love the concept of Google Apps has obviously never launched a business on a shoestring budget. For the small business user seeking to look professional, the free version of Google Apps is the most absolutely cool thing. In lock step with programs like OpenOffice and the hundred open-source design programs out there, it’s not as good as the alternative, but cost is a factor. And with so many economies of scale already in place in our society, these free and low-cost technology solutions provide a vital service to competition in the greater business world.
In conclusion, Google’s problem was not so much that it is capable of flaws (though it’s clear that there is room for work), but rather that customer support fell apart. Google Apps customers are willing to shoulder a bit of risk with the cloud, but they need to be kept in the loop. The greatest fear with cloud computing is the fear of the unknown—if a company can’t address this fear with timely response, then valuable services will be avoided due to a “better safe than sorry” mentality.
Google, now is not the time to shrink back and say the press is being unfair to Google Apps. Now is the time to step up, admit what happened, and provide a bold vision for a future where cloud computing has an increasing role in IT. (But let’s be realistic: the ultra-idealized version of cloud computing will not be a reality any time soon, and maybe not ever.)