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Is Sidekick a Cloud Failure?

Posted by Preston on 2009-10-14

Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain.
J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a strong disbeliever in The Cloud – for some very key reasons. The reasons are distinctly different depending on whether a vendor is talking about a private cloud or a “out there in the internet” public cloud.

For private clouds, I think it’s nothing more than the emperor’s new clothes … it’s nothing more than an attempt to stick a buzzword compliant label on something already done in datacentres and charge more for it.

For public clouds, my primary concern is the that it’s a variant of trusting trust. Businesses who put their data, apps and services in the hands of cloud vendors have to trust that the data will be well managed and highly available.

(Aside: Yes, I acknowledge I use Mozy. I use it for limited and personal backups only. I use it for immediate offsite backups of a few key chunks of data that I also backup via other mechanisms. I.e., if Mozy disappears tomorrow, all I’ve lost is a bit of convenience – not my data.)

In addition to the plethora of traditional Internet based companies that are ramming cloud down our throats every spare moment, lots of “traditional” IT companies are banging on about cloud computing in the most obnoxiously hyped up ways these days. EMC falls heavily into that camp. So does IBM. So does Microsoft. Indeed, it seems impossible to find a company these days that isn’t willing to jump up and down shouting “us too, us too, look at us, we do cloud! Our clouds are ever so pretty and oh so reliable!”

Thin provision this. OpEx vs CapEx that. Data replication that. Anywhere access it all. It brings a little lump of bile to the back of my throat every time another vendor jumps up and down about cloud. It’s all a load of hype.

You want thin provisioning? That’s called virtualisation – or at a pinch, blade servers – and paravirtualisation. You want OpEx vs CapEx? Charge-out for processor cycles used has been around in the mainframe world since practically the year dot (IT wise). You want replication? That’s been around for ages too. You want internet available data? Um, yeah, that’s been around for a while as well.

You want to pay an extra 50% to 100% and have a buzzword compliant “Cloud” sticker on it? Excellent! I have a bridge I want to sell you with your leftover budget.

If that all came across as me jumping up and down on top of a soap box, you’d probably be right. Sometimes it seems that the only person of senior ranks in the IT industry with the chutzpah to tell the truth about cloud is Larry Ellison. And even Larry admits that cloud has reached such a level of hype that Oracle will be forced to stick some buzzword compliant stickers on their marketing material as a result.

So what does this have to do with Sidekick? Well, everything.

Despite what some pundits would tell you as they desperately scramble to protect the “good name” of cloud from yet another tarry lining, sidekick is cloud. Sidekick was in fact cloud at its strongest level of hubris. Data in the cloud with no ready provisioning for seamless local backup and restore. Cloud goes, data goes. It’s that simple. You couldn’t get a more buzzword compliant appearance of cloud than that.

Now I know that people will leap to the defense of cloud and say “well, it’s not the cloud fault, but the implementation fault – they didn’t understand ILP properly”, for instance. There’s a level of truth in that, but truth and trust don’t go hand in hand. You see, the end user doesn’t know that some vendors when they talk about cloud mean replicating, self repairing data services that are highly available. They just, thanks to all the buzz and hype generated by the industry hear “cloud” and think “wow, that’s secure!”

This isn’t a matter of truth, it’s a matter of trust. It’s a matter of a monumental breach of trust.

You see, the biggest, most misleading claim about cloud computing is that public clouds – clouds hosted by big corporates, are hosted properly and will provide high availability. We’re only barely across the starting line of companies offering cloud based services – companies that have supposedly been doing high availability themselves for ages – and yet we’re already seeing situations, time and time again, where cloud “vendors” are letting their users down. Sidekick is the latest and perhaps worst example. However, Google Mail has had systemic failures, Apple’s MobileMe has suffered issues as well – cloud failures are all around us, just waiting to be looked at.

The cloud system is hopelessly unbalanced in favour of the supplier. Massive companies with massive budgets with lots of very very small customers. So what if the cloud goes down for a few minutes – what’s a single person going to do about it?

Well, judging by the number of search hits I’ve had in the last couple of days due to a previous article I wrote about Sidekick, I have to imagine that the term class action lawsuit is springing to mind for a lot of those small and otherwise disenfranchised users.

Anyone who trusts the notion of a public cloud that doesn’t offer to seamlessly and automatically keep data locally available after the sidekick debacle is a fool.

With a bit of luck, one good thing may come out of the Sidekick debacle – the silver bullet/magic solution hype that has surrounded cloud for far too long may finally be pierced with some cold hard facts.

It’s time for people to wake up and smell the trust.


Current reports would seem to indicate that some, if not all of the Sidekick data may have been restored.

This this cause for celebration? For the end users, yes. Does it mean that Sidekick is trustworthy? Hell no – a significant data loss event taking such a lengthy period of time to recover is not, under any circumstances, a sign of trust.


4 Responses to “Is Sidekick a Cloud Failure?”

  1. […] The essence of cloud computing is trusting your cloud provider. Preston de Guise provides an excellent analysis of what this event teaches us: Despite what some pundits would tell you as they desperately […]

  2. I tend to treat availability failures (GMail, Amazon) less harshly than data loss failures (Sidekick).

    Data loss is a special case ;)


    • Preston said

      Oh, I agree that generally speaking, data loss is worse than data unavailability.

      However, when it comes to being unable to at a given point in time access your data, they both have the same effect. Case in point: if you need to pull $200 out of the bank urgently, then it’s of small comfort if the banks systems go offline knowing that the data is still there…

  3. […] seems inept that through the entire article, there wasn’t a single mention of the Sidekick Debacle. As you may remember, that debacle was sponsored by ‘Danger’, a Microsoft subsidiary. […]

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