Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thunder in the cloud

Cloud computing is getting bigger every day.

Here in GodZone, NZ Post has announced that it will be opting to use Google's email and messaging "cloud" rather than in-house Microsoft applications and I think this is the start of a trend that will continue to grow in coming years.

Why go to all the hassle of running your own mailserver with the attendant issues of hackers, spam, hardware and software maintenance, etc -- when you can effectively outsource this to a big player like Google.

Google has the bandwidth, it has the servers, it has the software and it has the technical nouse required to ensure maximum uptimes.

In short, it's hard to pick fault with NZ Post's decision... isn't it?

Then we have other companies that are considering shifting far more than just their email and messaging services into the cloud, which is what cloud-based service-providers like Xero are relying on.

One vision for the future is that we go back to what is effectively the old thin-client model that was promoted many years ago for the LAN. Why burden indivudual workstations with the overheads of database management, transaction processing etc, when you can offload all that to a very powerful central server or server-farm?

Doesn't this sound like a wonderful scenario...

No more on-site backups, no more worrying about protecting yourself from disaster, either natural or manmade. No more having to regularly update your applications with downloaded patches, massively reduced system administration costs, etc., etc.

But there is one very important fly in the ointment that is the cloud.

What happens when the cloud actually carries a little (or a lot) of rain?

Yesterday morning I tried to log in and check my YahooMail.

All I got was a DNS error. Apparently the DNS entry for one of Yahoo's mailservers had disappeared and as a result, my connection to that particular cloud was severed.

Fortunately this only lasted a few minutes and I don't commit critical communications to a free email account so there weren't any beads of perspiration on my brow.

But what happens when there's a major outage and it's a mission-critical application such as your order-processing or accounting system?

What do you do if the Southern Cross data cable fails and all your offshore-based cloud applications are no longer within reach?

A smart player would make sure they regularly refresh local copies of their cloud data -- but isn't that just as much of a hassle as doing your own backups on an in-house server? Wasn't the outsourcing of this kind of admin one of the big selling features of the cloud?

And, if your business suffers significant losses due to such an outage, where do you go for compensation?

Your ISP won't be interested in providing such compensation. Chances are that they provide service on a "best effort" basis. If you use Xtra/Telecom you might qualify for a $50 phone card or a month's free internet but that's about it.

Even if you try to claim compensation from the operators of the Southern Cross Cable you'll likely get a cold reception.

So it seems that cloud computing has the potential to save SMEs and large organisations a huge amount of money. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to cost them even more.

Before welcoming the cloud with open arms, it might pay to check up on just what your legal position is in respect to compensation if/when things go bad and you're left without access for any significant period of time.

And, unless Google and other cloud service providers start servicing local customers using locally-based servers, there will always be a dark side to the cloud that should be considered by all those contemplating the jump from in-house to web-based applications.

1 comment:

  1. The other difficult question is which legal jurisdiction does the data fall under. How does legal discovery work? Which court has the authority to create intercept warrants?

    Storing a document on a server could be legal in New Zealand, but may contravene a law in another country.

    It feels like a legal minefield, and there are not sufficient test cases to know which jurisdiction has the ultimate say and control.

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