Tuesday, February 03, 2009

“the cloud is broken”

To steal a phrase, “the cloud is broken”. Or rather it was broken yesterday…all day.

We’ve been users of Quickbooks Online edition since its release back in 2002, I think. When I called in a couple of days ago to add another company to our account, the rep said “wow, I think you were one of our very first customers”. Yes, probably. It’s my job to live on the bleeding edge so my clients don’t have to.

When our network goes down it does so in a blaze of glory. When our backups fail they do so in a spectacular manner. I always have some experiments running here, so we don’t have to experiment on our clients like some other firms do.

The adoption of “cloud computing” is something that we’ve been doing here for a very long time. Since 2002 in fact. We pioneered Quickbooks online services, off-site backup, hosted anti-spam services, Internet file and folder sharing, etc. But you’ll notice that we don’t recommend much of it. In specific individual cases, it works well. But there’s an evil side to letting someone else be in charge of your applications – the service provider.

Let’s look at a couple of examples: Yesterday Quickbooks Online was down all day. This was an annoyance for me and my company but it wasn’t critical. This is why having my accounting in the cloud works for me. But what would happen to you, if you couldn’t access your accounting application all day on February 2nd? This happened to be the last day that 1099’s could be filed. It was not a good day for procrastinators.

Another (nameless so I don’t get a cease and desist letter) hosted accounting provider decided last year, during tax season that THIS would be a good time for a major application upgrade. Makes sense to them I suppose because it has new features that they knew their customers wanted. It made NO sense to the customers who in the middle of tax season had to stop and learn how to do things in the new application.

A (nameless) insurance application provider thinks it’s a good idea to hold their customers hostage. Customer: “we need to get a copy of our data because we’ve decided to move to another application”. Hosted Application Provider: “I’m sorry we’re unable to give that to you at this time.” Translation <insert evil laugh>, we’ve got you and we’re not letting you go.

So let’s sum up. Using the cloud for applications instead of having them onsite means that sometimes your accounting application will disappear, it will be updated to the new version when it is least convenient for you and when you’re sick and tired of dealing with them, you’ll be unable to change providers.

Now I’m not saying that cloud computing is going to fail. Some providers will figure out how to provide great services, while protecting your data, giving you access to it at any time and putting you in control of scheduling but they haven’t yet. So for now, cloud computing only makes sense in special cases where the downsides are tolerated because of factors internal to your business processes.



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