pyehouse
10Sep/110

Google Docs Outage “Mea Culpa”

Google has made a blog post concerning the reasons for their Google Docs outage last week. In essence, a bug in their software was exposed when they added an enhancement, a bug that was only visible under heavier load than seen in the test environment. One of those "Wait, that didn't happen in the simulator" moments. I don't see this as an indictment against Google. Everyone makes mistakes and this is just that kind of ornery bug that is very hard to find without actually pushing your systems to max. But it still raises the question of how the cloud should be used.

Google's concept of cloud services, where not only is the data entirely stored remotely but the functionality is accessed there too, demands a full time connection to the remote server to work. While losing access to your stash of poetry or your grandmother's cache of recipes isn't likely to have caused you too much upset, being unable to grab the most recent copy of the contract on your way to the merger meeting might be a little more unsettling. Sure, you probably have a copy somewhere locally... right? The fact is, when you rely on this sort of arrangement, you are potentially putting some of your most critical digital possessions in the hands of another company. Even a company as well established as Google can fail. But surely it's more likely that your own machines would fail before Google's would. Okay, let's grant that. Google even outlined the steps they were taking to try to prevent this sort of problem (I hesitate to call it a disaster given what all is happening in the world these days, but some may feel the description fits) happening in the future. Are they going to also put into effect a plan that prevents a backhoe from severing my company's connection to the outside world and thus Google's servers? Will they also provide a plan that will prevent an accounting error from inadvertently shutting off my internet pipe? The fact is Google is not the only link in the chain between me and their servers and they're not even the weakest link. They are only one link and one part of the problem.

Apple's take, using the cloud as a form of automated storage, is a better bet. You get the convenience of local access plus the comforts of remote storage and availability. I won't care (as much) if my link to Apple gets cut because my Word document (or Pages for you purists) is resting peacefully in my Documents folder. Let the backhoes come and let destruction break forth upon my internet connection. I am prepared.

That's not to say that view isn't without its problems of course. It means my hardware purchases will still require more hard drive capacity which means greater expense. It means that I will be responsible for keeping my software up to date instead of simply hitting a website where the software is always up to date. But hard drives are getting cheaper for the most part. It's a downward trend for price, even for SSD devices. And the automatic update functionality for any major OS these days provides plenty of convenience for staying patched. For apps that I didn't get from an App Store, there are still options. Developers have been including update checks in their software for years. And of course, for those that don't, yes there will be a gap. The gap is shrinking over time.

The fact is that Google cannot guarantee that I will always be able to access my data and software anytime, from anywhere. They can hold up their end of things and frankly I trust them to do that. Not just because they have shown a penchant for being able to put together solid deployments but also because it's becoming their lifeblood. What they cannot do is ensure I will always be able to read my poetry at 3AM. And that's just unacceptable.