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Roughly 150,000 Gmail users were left without access to their contacts and email and chat archives yesterday, Computerworld reports. Welcome to the world of cloud computing, investors. Run apps in the cloud, and you run the risk of losing data. Outages are part of life on the Web.

For years, (NYSE: CRM  ) battled the perception that outages would destroy its business. We now know that's not true, but the company has invested heavily -- more than $90 million over the last fiscal year alone -- to build out its data centers to ease frayed nerves. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) faces similar expenses for fortifying Gmail and its entire Google Apps suite.

And that creates an opportunity for disruption. Knowing outages are unacceptable, corporations have long employed both local and remote data back-up options. What about a system for consumers that backs up data that exists in the cloud to a locally controlled hard disk or server?

Think of it as Dropbox or, only in reverse. I'd designate the local hard drive I'd want Google Apps or Meebo or QuickBooks Online or whatever to back up to and then synchronize automatically. Everything of mine in the cloud would simply save to a disk.

You can bet cloud-computing apps providers such as NetSuite (NYSE: N  ) and SuccessFactors (Nasdaq: SFSF  ) would love to see technology like this. At the very least, it could remove a key concern about using their services and at the same time reduce their need for investing in backup infrastructure.

If I know tech and developers -- and I've known more than my share -- a solution for this is either under development or already exists. Either way, some form of synchronization strikes me as an important link in the multibillion-dollar cloud computing value chain.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about Gmail, data storage stocks, and the cloud computing investment opportunity using the comment box below. You can also rate Google in Motley Fool CAPS.

Interested in more info on the stocks mentioned in this story? Add Google, NetSuite, or SuccessFactors to your watchlist.

Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Google and are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers has spent the last five years piecing together a market-beating cloud computing meme as a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy enjoys days when it can have its head in the clouds.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2011, at 9:02 PM, RafesUserName wrote:

    Local data isn't as safe. What you suggest may seem like common sense but in practice ICT has a lot more variables.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2011, at 11:23 PM, jg167 wrote:

    The cloud is 90% hype. What is key is whether it is a public could (e.g. Amazon E3) or a private cloud like Google. Just knowing that the app operates in a cloud env only means it doesn't care where it runs, there's lots of data redundancy etc. The user doesn't see any of that. In this case Google still manages all the servers and can ensure enough power, storage, bandwidth to meet its needs. Not as easily ensured when using a public cloud. As for failures, if it was a true cloud app, this should not occur, the entire cloud should never go down, thus the hype.

    As far as backing up your gmail account to a local disk, it depends on how you use it. I always use my laptop for email so have a copy of everything there as well as being on servers. If you use a smartphone you might not want to keep a local copy, but that is becoming easier as time goes on and phones get bigger (a few G of mail is a lot of mail unless you are constantly getting video attachments). The issues is for any sort of backup, is how will you access it when you need it. If you depend on your smart phone, a disk at home is going to be a bit harder to make use of when you are not also at home.

    Failures of complex infrastructure are not likely to be solved by a "magic bullet" so a startup that provides such is equally unlikely (though some may claim to do so).

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2011, at 12:02 PM, yerdon wrote:

    Other, more recent, reports put the outage at 40,000 (0.02% of users). The good news is that it is only a temporary outage because Google backs it all up to tape. Just goes to show you that you need to still do the basic backup routine no matter how much redundancy you build into the system.

    This is actually good news for Gmail. It shows that in a real-world failure, they don't lose data. That should inspire confidence.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2011, at 6:31 PM, RobertC314 wrote:

    Keep in mind also that the real power of cloud computing is not just in the data, it's the processing power. With a cloud-based app you can perform incredibly complex calculations on a powerful server, then push the results to a thin client (think smartphone/tablet/netbook with the effective processing power of a gaming desktop).

    Once you have mastered that you only have a minimum required client in order to provide performance scalability limited only by the power of your server and not the local processing resources.

    Unfortunately, with that model server (and internet) QOS issues render your device useless until the connection is restored.

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