The recent outages of Google and Microsoft's Outlook.com reinforce concerns many businesses have about relying on cloud services and may cause organizations that have already moved or are considering moving to the cloud to reconsider. When you look at the big picture, though, you can still trust the cloud.
It's no secret at this point that there are a number of benefits to using cloud services. Cloud providers are generally able to take advantage of economies of scale that let them offer servers, storage, and services cheaper on a per user basis than what businesses can accomplish on its own--particularly small and medium businesses that have fewer employees to average the investment across.
Along with those benefits, however, comes the stark reality that you're entrusting your business to third-party companies and to servers that exist somewhere "out there." If your Internet connection fails for any reason, or if those servers suffer an outage as Google and Microsoft did, suddenly business grinds to a halt.
Five nines reliability
It's obviously a huge deal when servers or services you depend on are unavailable, and your business is dead in the water at the mercy of a third party. That sucks. But before you swear never to trust the cloud again, think of the bigger picture.
The Holy Grail of uptime for servers and services--whether local or in the cloud--is generally accepted as "five nines." In other words, we recognize that no system is perfect, and that some downtime is to be expected, and we consider 99.999 percent uptime to be pretty awesome.
There are 8,760 hours in a year. That's 525,600 minutes--not including leap days. Google went dark for about five minutes, or a fraction of a fraction of the year. That's barely a hiccup. The Outlook.com outage was significantly longer--a few hours--but that is still less than a tenth of one percent of the year.
Could you do better?
A company that chooses to trust any part of its business to cloud-based services should consider the potential disruption that will result from an Internet or server outage. But the question they have to consider as well is, "Can we do it better?"
For most small and medium businesses, the answer is probably "No." That is especially true if you factor in cost.
No server or network is perfect. If a business chooses to manage its own network and servers on premise to avoid the inherent risk of the cloud, there is still an equal possibility of a server or network outage. For many businesses, the risk is actually greater because the cloud provider has trained personnel tasked to maintain the infrastructure 24/7, whereas SMBs tend to just dump IT management in someone's lap and hope for the best.
There are pros and cons to the cloud, but there are also pros and cons to managing a local IT infrastructure. The reality is that for most small and medium businesses the cons of the cloud don't outweigh the pros.
Have a business continuity plan
Businesses should consider the fact that servers will crash, and networks will go down. Hopefully, it won't happen often, but if your business relies on access to certain servers or data to conduct basic operations, there should be a disaster recovery and business continuity plan in place that defines what to do when an outage occurs.
If the outage is a few minutes, or even a of couple hours, it's not such a big deal for most companies. But consider what you would do if your servers are unavailable for days, or weeks. Define mitigating processes that can be used to conduct business on a short-term basis, and consider what your options are to restore, rebuild, or replace your infrastructure if necessary.