Cloud Computing Critics Are Missing the Point

Last week, I played down the impact of a recent Gmail outage. In hindsight, I screwed up — I should have played it down more.

The problem is that so many people see the Gmail outage as a strike against cloud computing. Here’s a blog post, for example, that said the outage “highlights cloud risks.” And no less an authority than The Wall Street Journal declared the glitch a “black eye for companies like Google.”

And then there’s blogger Seth Weintraub, who was shocked that Google would turn to backup tapes to restore the lost data. (Read the comments on his post, and you’ll see how that went over with readers.)

A lot of this clucking, whining, and finger-pointing is just part of the online news cycle. We aren’t having fun unless we’re playing up the potential for disaster.

But we’ve moved well past the point when the “concern” over cloud computing erupts into full-scale stupidity. The Gmail outage is actually a prime example of what’s right about the cloud, not what’s wrong with it.

Let’s use those backup tapes as an example. They may seem like a quaint way to back up data, but real enterprise IT pros know better. Backup tapes are often the last line of defense against a software upgrade gone awry (the source of the Gmail outage) or even a full-blown physical disaster. Tape systems are expensive, and they present unique management and reliability challenges (or at least they should). But when you absolutely must protect valuable business data, they’re still the medium of choice.

Take a step back, however, and this is about more than just one backup method or even one company. Unlike your business, these companies owe their existence to their ability to protect their customers’ data. The data centers they run are marvels of security, efficiency, and reliability. If a disaster strikes, these places will be standing long after the companies they serve are wiped off the map.

Strip away the cloud-security hysteria, and you’re left with one question: Can you do a better job of protecting your business data than these guys do? More to the point, can you do even an adequate job, given limited time, money, and resources?

Cloud computing may not be perfect, and it may never be perfect. But it’s a whole lot better than the alternatives, and that’s what really matters.