You'd think it was the end of cloud computing.
No one wrote it precisely that way, but after Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) suffered three significant outages with Gmail and its other Web-based productivity software in August, pundits rained on the cloud.
"Given all of the major Web outages, Google, Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN ) Web Services, Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) MobileMe, I'd wait a bit before running a major business on the Internet," wrote Clint Boulton at eWEEK.
"These growing pains, which are more evident each day that we rely more on service-based software efforts, indicate that you can't really trust the cloud at this juncture," wrote ZDNet blogger Larry Dignan.
They're both correct. You can't 100% trust the cloud right now. But you're crazy if you think cloud computing isn't worth betting on as an investor. Here's why.
Mr. Online, Meet Mr. Offline
First, let's remember that outages have been occurring on the Web for more than a decade. Some notables:
- Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) suffered one in March, on a Monday, the worst possible day for an outage because that's when customers typically update their queue for the week ahead.
- salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM ) went offline in December of 2005, infuriating users. Today, salesforce.com is considered a model for Web services uptime.
- AOL made national headlines after a 19-hour outage in 1996.
Let's also remember that 3Com founder and former InfoWorld columnist Bob Metcalfe predicted that the Internet would collapse that same year. A 19-hour outage at AOL notwithstanding, Metcalfe was proven wrong.
Cloud computing suppliers and their development teams have to proceed from the idea that the Web, like any network, is going to suffer outages. Having offline access to online data is an imperative.
Each approach is different:
Google. DoubleGoo has Gears, a plug-in that makes browser-based software available offline. Interestingly, the Big G hasn't positioned Gears as a remedy for downtime but as an enhancement for those times when you're on an airplane and would like access to Gmail to catch up.
Adobe. Using a runtime called AIR, Adobe takes a more comprehensive view of blending the online and offline worlds. "We don't believe that all of the technology benefits of the Web are confined to the browser," said Adrian Ludwig, group manager of Adobe's platform business unit in an interview with me.
A "runtime" is code-speak for a virtual machine through which developers dress up formal Web-aware 1s and 0s in desktop casual. Adobe's development kit provides tools to help with the coding while the runtime executes the instructions. Salesforce.com is among many corporate Webizens to have built desktop equivalents via AIR.
Microsoft. Finally, let's give Mr. Softy his due. Microsoft has the buzzword-compliant "software + services" strategy, which includes the Silverlight toolset and runtime. You know Silverlight if you've used the SEC's interactive data features in EDGAR or streamed any of the Beijing Olympics.
Silverlight and software + services are purported to enable a seamless blend of desktop and online features. Microsoft's Office Live Workspace may be the best example; it allows for Web-based collaboration on documents created on the desktop. Synchronized Outlook access is also a feature.
Who wins among these three? I'm betting on Google because (a) it has no desktop bias, which means it can blow up any existing model it wants to and (b) I don't think we've seen even a tenth of what the Web is capable of as an application environment, but I know that Google is betting its entire business on making it more useful.
Think I'm wrong? Have a different take? Use the comments box below. I'll be back to revisit this topic, and your ideas, next week.
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