Widespread Office 365 and Azure outages last month drew negative headlines that Microsoft could easily have done without. But how worried should businesses be about the general reliability of cloud services being rolled out by major vendors.
Many websites were knocked offline by faults, which developed on Microsoft’s Azure platform soon after midnight on 19th November 2014 and reverberated around the globe until lunchtime. Amongst the services affected was the company’s Office 365 suite of applications as well as its Xbox Live gaming facility.
Of course, these are not the headlines that Microsoft wishes to attract at a time when it is marketing Azure to SME businesses as a more efficient alternative to owning and managing their own online servers. But let’s be honest – just like those household cleaning agents that claim to kill 99.9% of all known germs – has anyone ever seen a cloud provider that actually guarantees the full 100% uptime?
Is 99.9% uptime good enough?
The problem arises from the way the cloud has been marketed in recent years along with our ever-increasing reliance on information.
Cloud service providers routinely claim to guarantee 99.9% uptime, although clearly Microsoft has fallen short on this occasion (the permitted 0.1% downtime equates to about 43 minutes per month whereas Azure services were affected for almost 11 hours during the November outage.) Furthermore, what happens when major providers breach their service level agreements? Well, you may expect to receive a service credit against a future invoice but any compensation will only take into account monies you have already paid rather than any consequential loss suffered.
The truth is that even ‘close to 99.9%’ uptime still compares very favourably to what many small businesses have been experiencing over the past decade running applications on their own locally managed and maintained servers. But the times have changed. Companies like Microsoft simply cannot leave their clients without access to emails, documents and websites for hours at a time without making global headlines.
The need for balance
So, if we accept that there is not a cloud service provider in the land that will provide any meaningful 100% guarantee of uptime, does this mean it is too early to be considering hosted solutions at all? Well, the millions of businesses who have already made a move to the cloud would indicate the answer to this question to be a resounding ‘no’.
Companies still need to assess the risks associated with cloud solutions in the same way they did when installing NT and Novell servers in the 1990s. Your provider may not be able to guarantee 0% downtime but if they can assure you of 100% transparency, and your expectations are realistic, plans can always be made for when the worst happens.