Do the recent Amazon EC2 outages put in doubt the viability of cloud computing for mission critical hosted business applications such as hosted CRM, hosted ERP, and hosted BPM software?

By | June 2, 2011 | Open Source

There is a lot of news at the moment regarding the safety of data and the viability of business applications in the cloud. And for those companies that are already using a hosted application such as hosted CRM, hosted ERP, or hosted BPM software, this recent news can be quite disconcerting.. After all a company signs up for a hosted or SaaS application such as a hosted BPM Software in order to have less headaches, not more.

There is no denying that cloud computing and the hosted business applications that run on the cloud are here to stay, but recent questions have been raised about its readiness to become “mainstream”. Most people by now are aware of the recent news stories regarding the April Amazon cloud outage and the resulting Sony Network outage. [Read the BBC News Story] Although these outages are now rectified, I’m sure there must be plenty of businesses out there who are now re-thinking their strategy to go ahead with a SaaS solution such as a SaaS BPM Software or SaaS CRM Software. However, even in light of these recent doomsday headlines, it is important to consider the benefits vs. the risks associated with moving your business applications and business data to the public cloud.

The BBC news story poses a great hypothetical example – when your own ‘On Premise’ data servers suddenly stop working, your IT team gets to work. When your data storage is in the cloud however, you cannot avoid feeling helpless as you spend time on the phone speaking with your hosting supplier waiting for a fix. Perhaps this causes a loss of faith because you cannot see what is being done to resolve the problem. I myself have been through the trauma of a major database crash (and a corrupt backup), and while my then CEO was less than pleased with the situation, he could at least wonder into my office to see what was being done about it. Assuming that you’ve chosen a reputable cloud provider however, you should feel confident that although you may not be able to walk across the hall to see your technician struggling through a technical issue, your provider will have a formal process for dealing with such issues. Personally, I would prefer to have an expert take over the database issue than try to tackle it myself (even if my data was on premise!). You may not be able to walk into their office and pile on the pressure for a rapid fix, but at least you can rest assured that someone is working on it, and that that person knows exactly what they are doing.

There are always going to be risks with data storage – and not just because you decide to put it in the cloud. It’s easy to feel apprehensive right now because we tend to think “if it happened to a company like Sony, it could happen to me”. Sony claims however that it was they themselves that shut down their network after they detected an “External Intrusion” and fixed the vulnerable areas before resuming service. It is quite possible it was simply a gang of hackers looking for some publicity. (Or perhaps 1 single hacker looking to say “I did that”). Whatever the reason, and despite the network being offline for 4 weeks, they did recover. They also claim that sales of Sony products that use the network remain unaffected by the outage. While it is possible that these outages and loss of service can happen, the providers learn from them and put procedures in place so that it cannot happen again. As cloud computing evolves, so does its suppliers.

If you’re considering moving a hosted application to the cloud such as your CRM, ERP, or BPM Software, there are dozens of questions you should ask yourself – “what kind of data am I storing?” “Do we have backups?” “What would happen if our cloud service went down?” “Do I have a way to recover my hosted application (for example a hosted BPM software application) locally, if my hosted bpm software goes down or my bpm hosting software provider goes down?”

To those of us deep in this industry, it is obvious that these are small hiccups on the road. Nobody seems to be back tracking. Apple just announced the launch of a number of new services to be hosted in the cloud while even Microsoft is set to launch Office 365 as a 100% cloud based business application suite this summer. To me, this tells us that despite the risks, the benefits are just too compelling to stop this juggernaut.

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