On October 26 of last week, a number of popular, “cloud-based” services suffered multi-hour interruptions. Among the outages was Google’s App Engine, a platform that is used by thousands of other websites and internet platforms including one of my favorites, Passpack.com. Some of your favorites may have been impacted as well: Dropbox, Tumblr and even YouTube were affected. For many, this was a non-event, particularly those who operate and compute within enterprise-based platforms, or rely solely on the desktop and storage of their own computers. C2 Technology relies heavily on cloud-based services, primarily Google products, for our core information systems, and I use Passpack to track the multitude of passwords I need to do my work. So when those outages hit on the 26th, I found myself unable to access the keys to my various digital kingdoms, and felt very much like someone who finds themselves locked out of their car, and at the mercy of another person’s timetable. In this particular case, Passpack.com wasn’t even to blame, as their own reliance on Google’s App Engine service hamstrung their ability to deliver service to their customers, and the fine engineers at Google themselves were struggling with the outage. Everyone’s brand took a hit, and yet there was no one any one of us could blame for the outage – not even a radical hackivist group looking to ruin someone’s day for political currency.
What this means for you:
Very simply, “Never put all your eggs into one basket.” This homily, however pastoral-seeming, still very much applies to how you should use technology, especially when it comes to your core business processes. As an illustration of how this can be bad: I was using Passpack to store my Gmail password, which was complicated and impossible to remember, and instead relying on a complicated, but easier-to-remember passphrase to access Passpack to retrieve that password whenever I needed it. When Passpack went down, so did my ability to access Gmail and all of my client contact information. The lesson to take away from this: if you are going to store critical information online, have a back-up plan for continuing to operate without access to that information. Either back-it up locally (fraught with its own set of risks), or compartmentalize parts of your operations so that they aren’t heavily reliant on a single service provider, or the presence of the internet.
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