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Gmail outage raises issue of control

While talking to an IT director about Google’s Gmail outage yesterday, I realized that it wasn’t so much the outage itself that bothered him (his organization does not use Gmail), but the sense of not being in control of a cloud computing environment.

Billy Rials, IT director for Rankin County in Mississippi, wants his throat to be the only one that public officials come after when something goes wrong.

He’s responsible for the IT that runs seven cities and knows his data center environments inside and out. He said the environment is no utopia, but he believes they are getting closer every day by adding more and more virtualization technologies for servers and desktops.

“What do I say when an official calls me and ask what’s wrong: ‘I don’t know, something is going on with the cloud provider’?” he said. “It should be my responsibility, and bringing someone in from the outside … I have no control or the authority that I think I should have.”

Then there’s the fear factor of other people you don’t know having access to the infrastructure that runs your stuff. At least in your own data center you know that Joe was the last one to work on server X, so if something goes wrong you ask Joe.

There’s a sense that your environment gets lost in the cloud. At shows I’ve heard people asking how they can find their data, servers, you name it, in a cloud computing environment.

These are people who are trying to keep track of virtual machines in their own environment. The thought of the complexities added by trying to track down what’s going on with an application on a virtual machine in someone else’s environment is a road they don’t want to go down.

There are those fully embracing cloud computing, of course. They consider it to be no different from the risks they faced with outsourcing or colocation. The ROI or cost savings is worth the risk of an occasional outage, and even giving up a little control. And after all, how often do your email servers go down within your own four walls?

Let us know what you think — email me at

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I have no sympathy for this guy. If he's responsible for the IT of that amny users then he knew full well the potential risks for moving his messaging system into the cloud. Anything you move into the cloud automatically becomes someone else's responsibility...but still your neck on the chopping block. How often do our internal mail servers go down inside our 4 walls? How about zero outages in 9 years?
Hey, we all depend on external entities to some degree; none of us is in full control of everything. If Billy can go to the cloud, maintain the same (or better) level of service overall, even reduce his cost, and answer the concerns about security that inevitably arise, then he ought to [I]strongly[/I] consider that option. Otherwise, it's just a species of NIH that has plagued IT in one form or another for decades. I've written a post on a case study of going to the cloud for email: find it at
Hi Tim. Sorry, I should clarify (and have in the post) -- Rankin County doesn't use Gmail. Billy Rials was really commenting as more of an observer on the situation, and explaining the advantages of virtualization and keeping technology in-house as opposed to cloud computing. Sorry for the confusion. Thanks for helping me find an opportunity to further clarify things.
Oh I should clarify -- this is Christina Torode. Replying to comments requires a different account from posting, which is why I’m showing up as Chris176. I just received this from a former IT director and current CEO of a technology consulting firm in an email, and thought I would share his thoughts on the subject: "Exactly on point. If my systems go down I can fix them rather than sitting there listening to “Your call is very important to us, the next available agent will be with you shortly.” Furthermore I know every single person who has physical access to my data center. I gave them each their keys myself. I can shake their hands, I’ve seen their resumes, I know their backgrounds. I have no idea who has access to Google’s data center, or Microsoft’s or anybody else. What if Terry Childs gets a job there and decides not to give anybody the passwords []? What if my Cloud provider outsources their storage to another country – maybe a country that isn’t very friendly? My data could end up servers that are physically located in countries with far different laws on search and seizure than ours. There are so many questions surrounding putting mission critical data “in the cloud” but they all boil down to control. And it’s scary how many people aren’t asking those questions of their cloud providers – they’re just rushing to the shiny thing because they think it will help cut their operational budgets."
Is there a way to use the computing etc resources of the cloud and yet keep control of the data in your own organisation (ie so the cloud just provides a generic service (like say electricity or water)). If the cloud goes down, then you could use a backup cloud (private or public).