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Intuit Outage Fuels Cloud Naysayers



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June 21, 2010 8:44 am

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Intuit’s cloud services went down last week for an astonishing 36 hours. That’s a long time if you’re a business running your books off of the cloud using Intuit products. According to a statement by Intuit, the outage occurred during routine maintenance when a power failure brought down their primary and back-up servers. This raises some legitimate questions about how Intuit is implementing its cloud solution, but it also was a high profile example of the dangers inherent in cloud computing. The real question though in my view is: Could this happen in-house? And the answer is: Of course it could. If it could happen to a cloud provider (which is after all just a data center just like any that you find inside an enterprise), then it could happen anywhere.

Let the Critics Come Forth

In a letter on the Intuit web site from Intuit president and CEO Brad Smith, he apologized for the outage. Comments on the page suggested an under-current of anger and frustration from some customers. One legitimately asked why the primary and backup systems were housed in the same place. That’s a very good question and one cloud customers may want to ask cloud providers in the future when signing service-level agreements. There seem to be some open questions about how Intuit got into this mess and how they could have prevented it.

Those are valid and reasonable questions to be asking after an outage like this, and the individual company should be held accountable for giving customers answers, but my issue is when people use a single outage such as this to open the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) flood gates to use an outage to condemn cloud computing as a notion because of an isolated incident. One commenter on the Ziff-Davis site wrote:

“This outage just illustrates my point that so-called cloud computing is inherently unreliable. Unfortunately the computer industry is incredibly trendy and once some experts declare the cloud is the way to go, the rest follow without thinking.”

In my view it does no such thing, anymore than when a system goes down in-house, that it demonstrates the unreliability of enterprise computing.

Outages Are Going to Happen, Folks

Outages are going to happen. That this site was down for 36 agonizing hours had to be awful for individuals that depend on this data to run their businesses. I’m not trying to sugar coat that or make excuses for Intuit. What I do want to do is point out that outages will happen in any data center anywhere for any number of reasons, some of which are in the control of the center managers and some which are not.

You can and should learn from these incidents and I hope Intuit uses this as an opportunity to revisit their set-up and policies to prevent a similar incident from happening again. If they don’t, they will risk losing their customers moving forward, but let’s not pretend that this one incident reflects on cloud computing model as a whole because if it does, tell me that the next time your Exchange server goes down for a half a day. It happens and it will continue to happen. But let’s be intellectually honest about this, and not try to use it to put forth an anti-cloud agenda because it really isn’t a valid argument.

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6 Comments

  1. By:FlyingGuy

    And the argument goes like this…

    In our race to the absolute bottom of the price bucket the bean counters don’t stop to think about the consequences of their actions, what a surprise, they count beans and the more beans they “save” the more they impress the CEO and the fatter their bonus gets.

    Intuit’s bonehead move of having all their eggs in one basket is just the tip of the iceberg. Why you might ask, because is saved beans, nothing more nothing less. Now it is going to cost them large.

    You want to know why everyone is jumping on the “cloud” band wagon? Well Beans is your answer.

    We must stop and re-examine our headlong plunge into remote computing, if for no other reason then to get everyone to pull back and sask the very legitimate question, “Well if they are cutting corners on sticks and bricks, are they cutting corners on backup as well?” and a host of other questions.

    I was having a discussion with a person concerning Oracle’s licensing and support fees. They were saying that those kinds of prices do not fit the economics of database engines since MySQL is free as is Postgres etc. I asked him what he his boss was going to react when their system goes down and in the morning the boss comes in and asks, “Why are we down?” and he answers, “Because I couldn’t get a reply from the support IRC channel because it was 3:00 am!” and has yet to reply.

    This is only a cautionary tail of course but it is one that must be examined in the context of the road you seem hell bent on going down. It is a lot like one of the current GroupWise “cloud” archiving options. “Hey don’t worry, its all OK we have your e-mail in the cloud!” But wait, it is not their cloud it is Amazon’s Cloud. So they cut a deal with Amazon and now they are cutting a deal with you. What happens when Amazon decides to alter the agreement and that in turn will alter your agreement? Uhmm hold the phone… You did not sign an agreement with Amazon, they guy smiling and telling you “Hey its in the Cloud” did. When their deal goes away, what happens to your data?

    Here is a hint… There is absolutely nothing you can do when Amazon reclaims all that disk space that used to contain your data, it is just gone.

    Here is the last straw… You just go ahead and try convincing the Judge that you cannot comply with the discovery order because your data which was in the cloud is now vapor. Good luck with that one.

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    • By:rsmiller510

      Flying Guy,

      We are obviously on opposite ends of the cloud spectrum on this one, but I can tell you that whether you know it or not, at least some part of your company’s business is being run by an outside service and the sky hasn’t fallen yet. Chances are your company shares data outside the firewall on a regular basis. It’s just part of doing business.

      I not going to simply dismiss your concerns out of hand because certainly some of them are valid, but i think you are overreacting to a change in model. I’m not going to rehash the same arguments that I made in the post, but I think it is economically imperative to use cloud computing both in the private model, hybrid and yes the public mode for certain functions.

      One way to alleviate your fears is a hybrid model where you back up data from the cloud vendor to your servers on a defined time interval.

      Thanks for taking the time to share your concerns and thoughts.

      Ron

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      • By:FlyingGuy

        Well actualy none of my data goes outside but that is neither here nor there.

        “but I think it is economically imperative to use cloud computing…”

        Why is that? So you can push your prices and costs in an ever downward spiral so that only the CEO gets a paycheck?

        There is only one legit reason to willing hand over your data to a third party and that is so you don’t have to invest in your own infrastructure. If you rely on the cloud you are subject to the whims and fancies of the cloud and more precisely the cloud vendor.

        You suggest getting a backup of your cloud data on your “own servers” . This is completely and utterly counter to the very notion of using the cloud. The reason to use the cloud is to not have to invest in silicon of your own.

        Now imagine a law firm. Their GW database is really starting to get BIG and I am mean pushing a terabyte big. According to you their relief is in the cloud. OK, fine so there it is 80& of their discoverable e-mail out in the cloud. Ok now FF a few years and their e-mail data has grown by 30% as they have grown.

        Just how do they “back it up onto their own servers” because the whole reasoning for the cloud is to NOT have to buy more silicon, NOT to have to hire people like you and me to build their systems out. They now do not have the capacity to store ALL of their on data.

        Technology issues aside this is driving people out of work, out of business and ultimately onto the streets. They build HUGE data centers and staff them with barely enough people to operate them correctly when everything goes right and certainly not enough people when things go wrong as the Intuit case so clearly illustrates.

        While the cloud has some merit, it is NOT an economic imperative nor is it a business imperative. What it is more then anything is a CYA imperative for upper management who don’t want to pay the kinds of salaries that are required to keep a solid IT infrastructure running and mind their own data.

        As with ALL rushes to the bottom there is the inevitable crash and this one will have the same kind that took out the entire Dot Com “revolution” as “Unlimited Storage” space becomes just like “Unlimited Data” did on the internet. They sell you one thing but it really IS something else entirely.

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      • By:rsmiller510

        I’m not going to rehash my arguments to try and convince you of something you are dead set against, but do you seriously think that lowering overall costs for IT is only going to benefit the CEO? Why should everyone have their own individual data center. Does everyone run their own telephone companies, their own electric grids (other than Google)? People outsource these services in spite of the fact that they are part of the lifeblood of any organization. Nobody (not even you would, I would suspect) would question why companies do this. So why should every organization pay to keep its own data center for every single task. Email is a good example, since you bring it up, because it’s an area that many companies are comfortable using an external service.

        You might not like the trend, but companies like Salesforce are changing the way we do business. If you asked the average IT worker in 1997 if their company would ever put their customer data on somebody else’s servers, you would have gotten a similar reaction to what you are giving today, but it’s worked and it’s cheap and (yes) reliable and there is no denying that. See my earlier post, The Salesforce Effect. Salesforce runs 72.000 customers on just 2000 servers. They achieve * efficiency* through virtualization. It keeps their costs down and when they make a security upgrade to answer the concern of their largest customers, the smallest ones benefit too.

        You are tilting at windmills. It absolutely is an economic imperative. Companies cannot continue to grow their data centers forever and the cost of running these centers it is out of site (that is a post for another day).

        Thanks for your comments. Arguments are always welcome as long as you stay civil (which you have and I truly appreciate).

        Ron

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  2. By:mhudnall

    What’s old is new again and always a laggard with new technology. Time to market with new technology usually means that “risk” is taken to gain market share. However, confidence in the marketplace has value to be considered as well and this is financial data.

    I believe it was April 15, 2007 (might have been 2006) when Intuit went down on e-filing day. Whew….mine was already accepcted, but just bareley.

    Thank you for the content opportunity, it’s the “proactive management” of the environment and the providers need good management to control the risk, insure SLA’s to customer in order to avert these impacts. End user customers need to monitor performance of their providers as well, they are not off the hook to their organizations in managing services to their business.

    More to come at ……

    http://www.novell.com/communities/blogs/mhudnall
    and
    http://www.kmhudnall.com

    Cheers! Thanks for the content opportunity!

    BSM is the Game Changer!

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    • By:rsmiller510

      Hi Mhudnall:

      Thanks for commenting. I’m not sure we can let Intuit off the hook because some perceive the cloud as new technology. It’s really not. Salesforce has been at it since 1999. Amazon has had PaaS for at least several years. I don’t think the Intuit outage had to do with growing pains so much as their implementation, and as I said, bad implementation whether in the private data center behind your firewall or in the public cloud could lead to problems. There is always going to be a human frailty factor in all of this. My point is that we can’t blame the delivery method. Instead, what we have to do is recognize that and prepare for it., rather than throwing the baby out with bath water.

      Thanks again for your comment.
      Ron

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