Cloud Computing: Can't Anyone Play This Game?

Last Updated May 13, 2011 11:54 AM EDT

Another day, another cloud outage: Microsoft (MSFT) apologized for botching its Web-based email services. Why? Because things were so bad that customers pitched stories to the media and readied other public displays of dissatisfaction.

It's not like Microsoft is the only tech giant that's screwed up in the cloud recently. Google (GOOG) Blogger went down and took 30 hours of user posts and comments with it. A few weeks ago, Amazon (AMZN) had a massive outage that took down a number of high-profile services.

Then there were the 100 million compromised Sony PlayStation Network accounts, the tens of thousands who found their entire email cache and contact data in Gmail gone and ... well, you get the idea. All this illustrates one thing: Pretty much no one in the cloud-computing business has figured out how to run reliable public services. The industry winners may become those who can simply avoid tripping over their own feet.

BPOS = "business productivity online services" or "big piece of s***"?
Microsoft's problems weren't a single event, but three incidents over a two-day period, according to a blog post by Dave Thompson, corporate VP of Microsoft Online Services. Once again, a service provider was slow to tell its customers the truth about what happened. And, once again, that silence made matters even worse:

As a result of Tuesday's incident, we feel we could have communicated earlier and been more specific. Effective today, we updated our communications procedures to be more extensive and timely. We understand that it is critical for our customers to be as fully informed as possible during service impacting events. We will continue to improve the timeliness and specificity of our communications.
Microsoft isn't the only inept communicator out there. The official communications from Google Blogger were sparse and vague:
Monday, May 09, 2011
Blogger will go into read-only mode Wednesday (5/11) 10:00PM PST for about an hour for maintenance. (posted 21:17 PDT)Friday, May 13, 2011
To get Blogger back to normal, all posts since 7:37am PDT on Weds, 5/11 have been temporarily removed. We expect everything to be back to normal soon. Sorry for the delay. (posted 04:25 PDT)

We've started restoring the posts that were temporarily removed and expect Blogger to be back to normal soon. (posted 06:07 PDT)

Nice of them to keep people apprised. Even though Blogger is a free service, the users are customers and you can bet that Google is making money from them, one way or another. In the cloud, there's no such thing as really free.

Trust us, we're with the infrastructure
So much of the high tech industry is betting on cloud computing that you might swear it had relocated en masse to the Pacific Northwest. Clouds are just the latest incarnation of tech's Great Silver Bullet -- the new new idea that, with one shot, can put away all a company's problems.

Vendors want to convince individuals and corporations that they'll spend less maintaining their own hardware and software without sacrificing a bit of performance, reliability, availability, or security. But every outage is a demonstration that no one can trust these promises -- and maybe not even the basic premises of public cloud computing.

The perception of competence will likely become one of the big differentiations between the vendors that win the markets and make money and the also-rans. Then the big question becomes: Will cloud computing still look like an affordable option once vendors have invested in the equipment and software necessary to ensure real uninterrupted service?

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.