Gmail's Outage Illustrates Cloud Problems, and Open Source Opportunities

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 25, 2009

Yesterday morning, Google's Gmail service went down for what the company claims was "a small subset of users." As GigaOm noted, when Gmail goes down, it disrupts many types of businesses, and it's often hard to fathom what is actually going on from Google's terse advisories. Yesterday's outage appeared to affect many users, at least judging by complaints and teeth-gnashing visible on Twitter.

This is a perfect example of why cloud computing is not as perfect as its many proponents claim it is, and why businesses will not just haphazardly keep all their data out in the cloud. Instead, I believe they will reach for combinations of in-cloud and out-of-cloud software solutions, just as many of us do individually. That concept leaves ample room for flexible, cloud-focused open source solutions.

Think about it, don't you already use local applications in combination with applications that live in the cloud? I use Gmail, I like Zoho's online applications, and lots of people like Ulteo's implementation of the OpenOffice suite of productivity applications for the cloud. But I write in several local application that I like, I use local graphics applications, image editors, and much more. Why do all the cloud computing proponents feel that businesses and individuals will ditch everything they do locally for an all-cloud focus? If Google can't keep a tool so central to many businesses as Gmail up dependably, shouldn't we approach cloud applications of all stripes cautiously?

As cloud computing matures, businesses and individuals are going to want choices. Some of the smarter companies focusing on cloud computing are aware of this need for choice. This week, IBM and Microsoft backed a new cloud API plan that comes from developer tools company Zend. It will allow developers to build applications in PHP, where the applications can work with various cloud services. That means application portability, which could fight dangerous types of lock-in in the cloud.

As we've reported before, there are several companies and project participants working on open source cloud initiatives. Eucalyptus Systems is working hard to create bridges between private and public clouds, based on an open source software framework that duplicates the functionality of Amazon EC2. Why create such bridges? The company's CTO Rich Wolski, told me this in a previous interview I did with him: 

"...{companies] are basically interested in Eucalyptus for doing the same kinds of things they're doing in Amazon AWS, such as business logic applications, where part of the attraction of Eucalyptus is that they can use it as a platform for seamlessly running their public cloud applications and their on-premise cloud apps."

Why do companies want apps that live in and out of the cloud? The answer is that that way they have flexibility, and they also don't necessarily have to have all their key applications sitting on outside infrastructures that are, well, maybe about as dependable as Gmail. My prediction is that local and on-premise software deployments won't be totally subsumed by the growth of cloud computing. Instead, they'll remain in use alongside cloud-based services, and there is plenty of room for open source software that anticipates this kind of hybrid usage.