The blogosphere was buzzing Monday with news of Google's Gmail outage. ZDNet's Larry Dignan outlined backup options, while young Zack Whittaker could barely contain his glee that Microsoft wasn't alone in hosing a major webmail product. And yet, despite the inconvenience, the sky simply isn't falling. The cloud is alive and well and Gmail remains one heck of a safe place to store your email (and everything else for that matter).
Every time something like this happens, cloud naysayers take the opportunity to tell us why it's a bad idea to store valuable information out in this mythical, mystical cloud. Those naysayers are usually no fans of Google, since the web giant has so much riding on cloud strategies and would just love for all of us to join them in embracing the unseen, distributed web. It's not like Google has a competing desktop product for what it does. The Chrome OS only solidifies the idea that computers need merely be portals to the web with anything of value stored and synced across Google's servers.
And you know what? Count me in. No matter what I do, I'll never be able to replicate all of data around the world in multiple secure, regularly backed-up servers. I'll never be able to ensure the sort of uptime that Google does. Even if I download all of my emails from my three Gmail/Google Apps accounts to Outlook or Apple Mail, it's far more likely that my viciously teething daughter will chew the hard drive right out of my laptop than Google will actually, permanently lose my emails and documents.
Before so many of us began to rely on webmail services, whether Yahoo Mail, Gmail, or Windows Live Mail, how often were we worrying about those Outlook .pst files and backing up desktop redirections to make sure that nobody lost an email or a calendar appointment? Even if I had the time, inclination, or wherewithal to be a slave to backups, Google is going to do it better.
That 2 hundredths of 1 percent of Gmail users who were affected by Google's most recent outage were no doubt panicked and wildly inconvenienced. However, when all else fails, Google even has tape backups from which they can retrieve your stuff if given enough time.
Larry's suggestion to back up your Gmail to another webmail service (or vice versa) probably isn't a bad one. If hell freezes over and Google goes bankrupt tomorrow, shutting down their many international data centers, then at least Yahoo will still have your emails, right? Fair enough. But Gmail's (and, to be fair, Hotmail's) outages represent a miniscule fraction of the system hours for which there were no outages and for which nobody gave a second thought to where exactly their email lived. Can the same be said for those of us who manage our own mail internally? Probably not.