Charlie Wood runs Spanning Partners, a small company that provides a way to track salesforce information using RSS. He recently blogged about receiving a notice from salesforce.com about scheduled maintenance that shut down his access to salesforce.com for six hours, from 8 PM PDT to 2 AM PDT tonight.
I get notices all the time from salesforce.com about "scheduled downtime". This time the email describes a six-hour window this Friday night during which salesforce.com may not be available.I want to use salesforce.com to capture requests for customer support but those come in at all hours of the day, especially since my business is global and my customers are all over the world. There's no way my support page can be down regularly for hours at a time.
If salesforce.com wants to make itself part of the infrastructure of not only 9-to-5 businesses with American customers but also 24-by-7 businesses with customers all over the world, they're going to have to change something fundamental about their operations.
Salesforce.com is very transparent about the status of its datacenters, and makes its performance data information public. It turns out that two of salesforce's eight servers, serving North American customers, will be down for the six-hour window, for fixing bugs, new features and performance tuning. The maintenance window may not last as long as six hours, according to John Taschek, vice president of market strategy.
The downtime may be acceptable to North American customers who want to take a rest Friday night, but for global customers with operations active during the time period that hit those two servers, it will be the kind of inconvenience for which you want your service provider to be held accountable. Multitenancy has some cost advantages, but individual customers can't schedule their your own downtime.
It's early in the game for software-as-a-service. Google, Yahoo and other major on demand site suffer from outages and scheduled maintenance downtimes for some of their services.
Consumers are more tolerant, or forgiving because the services are generally free, than business users, who should expect at least three nines (99.9 percent uptime), which is 8.76 hours of downtime per year, which salesforce is already bumping up against this year. Uptime of 99.5 is a work week's worth of downtime (43.76 hours).
Last year, salesforce.com suffered outages and has been addressing the problems by adding a datacenter and investing heavily in infrastructure.
In an email Charlie asked:
Does anyone think PayPal could have hours of scheduled downtime and get away with it? Of course not! Why not? Because payment processing is a mission-critical, 24x7 function. Shouldn't sales and support be no different?
Five nines would be downtime of less than 5.26 minutes per year. You have to conclude at this point that salesforce.com, the poster child for the 'Business Web,' is business mission semi-critical.
I asked salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff about having 25 percent of salesforce.com's mulitenant servers down for six hours. His company is well known for talking about seamless upgrades as new capabilities are added.
Benioff said that the scheduled maintenance is not included in SLAs or uptime numbers. That doesn't make total sense--the servers are either up or down.
He also said that there isn't a company or service that doesn't have to periodically do heavy duty maintenance (I guess that means shut down its service). Does he include the telcos and payment processing services? He added that customers expect regular maintenance, including downtime I presume, to maximize performance. True.
I talked to Wes Benwick, CEO and president Bennett's Business Systems, which has 35 salesforce subscriptions and has been a customers since 2004. He volunteered that he has had performance problems with the salesforce platform lately.
"We've had performance issues. This morning I tried to run a report and got a session error. I clicked the back button and was able to get the report. It's a little aggravating, but I got the work done," Benwick said. . "It stinks that they are having these problems but you expect it with growth they are having."
Regarding the scheduled downtime, Benwick said, "We are an 8-to-5 company. We are used to maintenance windows on weekends. We have more downtime with systems we control in house."
In many instances, salesforce.com's uptime will be better than what a company can do managing its own infrastructure to support a CRM application. But as the company markets its enterprise platform vision, taking on Oracle, SAP and Microsoft, 99 and a half just won't do.
What do you think?