What Happens When Online Services Go Down?

This afternoon, Google Apps went down for a few hours.  Judging by the activity on the Twitterverse, you would have thought the world had ended.  You can check the outage yourself by going to Google’s AppsStatus page on the web (google.com/appsstatus).

Google Tweet

It appears that Google Docs, Sheets, Drive and other parts of the Google Apps universe were down for 2-4 hours this afternoon, depending on which app and which user.

While that is not the end of the world, it certainly is inconvenient and if you needed to either work on or deliver a file which is stored in the cloud, it was probably a problem for you.

For most users, they probably left early on a Friday, especially on the East coast where sanity didn’t return until 5 PM.

There is a moral here.  Having a business continuity plan is always a good thing.

While storing things in the cloud is convenient – I do it myself – it does mean that if the vendor has an outage – and every one of them will at some point in time – you may well not be able to get to that file or service until it is repaired.

This is true for Amazon Web Services, Google Apps, Microsoft Azure, Salesforce and everyone else – nothing is 100% available.

Also remember that the cloud is likely more reliable than your own, internal servers.  If your laptop, tablet or server crashes, assuming a reboot doesn’t fix it, how long will you have to go without?  For most vendors, if you pay a lot, you may get the vendor to be on site in say 4 hours.  That does NOT mean that the part that you need will be there with him – that might not arrive until tomorrow or the next day.

So this doesn’t mean that the cloud is bad.  Or good.  It means that technology is imperfect and you need to consider the consequences of an outage, assume that it is going to happen and have a “Plan B”.

For some people, Plan B might mean call it a day.  However, if the outage affects the way that your customers connect with you or how your team supports your customers, that particular Plan B might not be the best answer.

THAT is why you need a business continuity PLAN.  For some applications, waiting is probably a perfectly acceptable plan – for a certain amount of time.  An hour.  A day. A week.  Likely not a month.  For other applications, that might be a terrible plan.

And planning is usually way better than running around the house or office doing your best chicken little imitation.  No, the sky is not falling.  But it might be very cloudy.  Or not cloudy enough.

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