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Google's Planned Downtime Compared
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In the wake of Gmail outages earlier this month and in August, Google on Thursday moved to disperse the cloud hanging over cloud computing.
"The reliability of cloud computing has been a hot topic recently, partly because glitches in the cloud don't happen behind closed doors as with traditional on-premises solutions for businesses," said Google enterprise product management director Matthew Glotzbach in a blog post. "Instead, when a small number of cloud computing users have problems, it makes headlines."
To counter skeptical headlines, Glotzbach offered reliability metrics, in the hope that numbers speak louder than naysayers. And he said that Google has turned its Gmail Service Level Agreement (SLA) -- available to Google Apps Premiere Edition customers -- into a Google Apps SLA. The agreement now covers Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Talk, Google Docs, and Google Sites.
Over the last year, Gmail has been up more than 99.9% of the time, he said.
Gmail, Glotzbach said, has been down "an aggregate 10-15 minutes of downtime per month over the last year of providing the service. That 10-15 minutes per month average represents small delays of a couple of seconds here and there. A very small number of people have unfortunately been subject to some disruption of service that affected them for a few minutes or a few hours."
To that very small number of people, service credits have been extended, as per the terms of Google's SLA.
Coincidentally, on Thursday, Microsoft tried to move the goalposts for SLAs. In a presentation at the Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference on Thursday, Gianpaolo Carraro, the company's director of SAAS architecture, said that uptime promises aren't enough. He suggested that companies should have tools to monitor and verify cloud network services. And he proposed a variety of other possible contractual obligations that might make cloud computing SLAs more palatable for organizations.
But since such SLAs have yet to appear, uptime remains an obvious way to measure the success of an online service.
On-premises e-mail solutions -- IBM Lotus, Novell GroupWise, or Microsoft Exchange, for example -- don't fare well if uptime is the most relevant metric. Glotzbach cites Radicati Group research that shows on-premises e-mail products averaged "30 to 60 minutes of unscheduled downtime and an additional 36 to 90 minutes of planned downtime per month."
"Looking just at the unplanned outages that catch IT staffs by surprise, these results suggest Gmail is twice as reliable as a Novell GroupWise solution, and four times more reliable than a Microsoft Exchange-based solution that companies must maintain themselves," said Glotzbach.
But Sean Poulley, VP of IBM's online collaboration services, argues there's more to meeting corporate needs than uptime. "I'm fond of telling people that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail," he said. "There's never ever only one right answer. There's only what the specific requirement is."
"I think it's less to do with whether a company can get 99.9% uptime," he said. "It often has more to do with skills." Citing a recent IBM study of some 1,200 CEOs, he said that the number one problem they reported was insufficient skills among workers. Reliability, he insisted, is less of an issue than whether companies have the skills to run mail infrastructure at high levels of availability.
More than uptime, companies are looking for security, services and integration with on-premises capabilities, he said. "Mail in the enterprise really isn't just an inbox these days," he explained.
IBM's e-mail business, he said, is doing well. In the last quarter, Lotus reported 10% year-on-year growth, he said, the sixteenth consecutive quarter of growth. "The fact is the market is expanding for mail solutions," he said.
Nonetheless, he acknowledged that some customers are looking to outsource their e-mail. And IBM is committed to serving those customers too. He pointed out that IBM recently launched a hosted version of Lotus Notes. He expects that corporate e-mail will continue to be a mix of dedicated hosted e-mail services, Webmail providers, and on-premises appliances for the foreseeable future.