Whenever cloud services like EC2 or Google Docs experience downtime, there are always plenty of comments about the dangers of relying on the cloud. While it’s true that depending on third parties (both your ISP and the provider of the cloud service itself) for basic computing tasks like document editing can be risky, it’s also important to look at and understand the entire equation before evaluating cloud services. Here are some things to consider:
- First and foremost, when you work 100% locally, you have to worry about the integrity of your own storage solution. I’ve had drives fail and/or files become corrupt several times over my career, and I lost much more time than I probably would have during a Google Docs or Amazon Web Service outage.
- When you run everything locally, you need to spend time and money on a backup solution. Although there are a lot of great ways to back up data seamlessly and unobtrusively, there is still overhead involved in the form of configuration, maintenance, and even computer performance. Additionally, local backup solutions like Apple’s Time Machine and Time Capsule are insufficient; if you really want to be secure, off-site backups are imperative. (Take it from someone whose office recently sustained water damage after we got 12″ of rain in four days.)
- If you work in the technology industry, you probably use more than one computer and/or go through computers faster than a typical consumer. Keeping data synchronized across computers, maintaining workstations, and configuring new machines all requires overhead which can be dramatically reduced by using more cloud-based services.
- Although using cloud-based services puts you at the mercy of both the service itself and your ISP, I think you can make a pretty good argument that your ISP usually isn’t all that much of a risk. Even if I’m working 100% locally (writing code, editing video or image files, etc.), I am much less productive without an internet connection. In fact, I’m so dependent on various sites and web-based services that when my connection goes down (which is very rare), I’m more likely to walk away from my computer entirely than to continue working with local files.
All this is not to say that relying on the cloud doesn’t have risks associated with it, or that cloud-based services are always superior to working locally. In fact, although I’m hugely invested in, and dependent on, cloud-based services, I’m not convinced the day will ever come when I do all my work in the cloud. Additionally, aside from downtime, there are other things to consider when choosing to store data in the cloud — chief among them being security. However, before one criticizes cloud services for downtime, it’s important to understand that periods of time during which you cannot be productive come in many different forms, most of which are actually alleviated by using cloud-based services.