Google's Blogger outage makes the case against a cloud-only strategy

The same week that Google made its strongest pitch ever for putting your entire business online, one of its flagship services has failed spectacularly. There's a lesson here.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

The same week that Google made its strongest pitch ever for putting your entire business online, one of its flagship services has failed spectacularly.

Earlier this week, Google rolled out a maintenance release for its Blogger service. Something went terribly wrong, and its Blogger customers have been locked out of their accounts for more than a day. Google’s engineers have been frantically working to restore service ever since, although they haven’t shared any details about the problem.

A Blogger Service Disruption update contains four updates from the last 24 hours, starting with this one:

We have rolled back the maintenance release from last night and as a result, posts and comments from all users made after 7:37 am PDT on May 11, 2011 have been removed. Again, we apologize that this happened and our engineers are working hard to return Blogger to normal and restore your posts and comments.

That’s nearly 48 hours of downtime, and counting. Overnight updates promise “We’re making progress” and “We expect everything to be back to normal soon.”

My question is, “What if this had happened to another Google service?” Say, Google Docs? What if every document you wrote and saved on Wednesday was suddenly taken offline on Thursday, and you no longer had your presentation or your notes or your research for a client meeting today? How does this promise from Google sound now?

Your apps, documents, and settings are stored safely in the cloud. So even if you lose your computer, you can just log in to another Chromebook and get right back to work.

Google has owned and operated Blogger since 2003. It’s not like they’re still trying to figure out how to integrate the service into their operation. If it can happen at Blogger, why can't it happen with another Google service?

Yes, Blogger is a free service. Just like Google Docs and Gmail. In fact, Gmail and YouTube have their official blogs on Blogspot.com (the domain used by the Blogger service). If either one of those teams announced any news in the last 48 hours, you’ll have to wait to read about it.

This, to me, is the strongest possible argument against putting everything you own in the cloud. If your data matters, you need a hybrid strategy, with local storage and local content creation and editing tools. If your local storage fails, you can grab what you need from the cloud. If your cloud service fails, you've still got it locally. But if you rely just on the cloud, you're vulnerable to exactly this sort of failure.

Update: As my colleague Zack Whittaker just reminded me, earlier this week Google Docs did indeed have some issues. Two ZDNet bloggers reported problems saving documents to their Google Docs account. The saved documents didn't appear online for several hours. PC World's Tony Bradley reported similar issues in the same timeframe:

I was using Chrome, and I thought maybe it was a browser specific issue or some problem with cookies, so I tried looking in Internet Explorer 9-- same thing. Firefox 4--same result. I checked out my wife's Google Docs on her computer, and it seemed to work just fine, so I thought it must just be the laptop I was using, so I checked from my iPad--same thing.

No amount of browser refreshes or system reboots seemed to make any difference. Finally, I decided to move on. There was a file I had started earlier that was not appearing on my list of files in Google Docs, but I assumed it was still there somewhere. So, I did a search for the file name and when I typed "blog_051111" suddenly all of my files from today showed up. Weird.

The issue is still not resolved, though. Once I cleared the search field and refreshed the Google Docs page, the files disappeared once again. If anyone has any ideas (Google--are you reading this?) feel free to send them my way. Not only would I like to fix it, but I am very curious to get to the root cause of why the issue is occurring to begin with.

Google's Apps Status dashboard includes no mention of any Google Docs problems this week.

Update, 13-May 11AM PDT: Google says Blogger service is now restored. The official explanation attributes the problem to "data corruption" during scheduled maintenance.

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