A few days ago, Google suffered an outage that affected millions of its customers who use its cloud-based services. You probably noticed it if you use YouTube, Snapchat, Nest, Vimeo, and other third-party apps.
Going without these services was certainly an inconvenience for some, but for paying Google customers the situation was more serious.
Those were the business users of Google’s email service Gmail and office applications like G Suite, which includes features that store files and collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Google Sheets. Other applications that rely on Google’s cloud-based platform like Shopify, an ecommerce tool used by millions of small businesses, were also affected to the point that many credit card transactions were unable to be processed for hours.
According to a report by the technology site the Verge, Google blamed Sunday’s outage on the “high levels of network congestion in the eastern USA” for the issues. The company has promised “a post-mortem” and to “make appropriate improvements to our systems to prevent this from happening again.”
To add insult to injury, Google’s phone service Fi also suffered outages Monday that caused even more disruptions to many individuals and small businesses.
The fact is that these problems are not going to go away, and that’s a challenge for many small businesses that rely on cloud-based services for sales, payments, and communications. When these applications don’t work, our businesses don’t work. So what to do?
The first place to start, according to Brian Pickell of KP Interface, an IT firm in Phoenixville, is to ask your cloud provider what its plan is in case of an outage.
Pickell tells his clients to find out what redundancy measures are in place for every level of a cloud provider’s platform such as connectivity, infrastructure, application, and networking. He also recommends asking about the platform provider’s security measures, backup and restore procedures, and what incidents occurred during the last three years.
“What guarantees are offered by the provider in case services are interrupted?” Pickell suggests. “A separate investigation into the performance of the provider should always be conducted.”
“We will continue to have conversations with our clients (as a result of Google’s incident) to see if the cost of these services and their benefits are worth it compared with the possibility and cost of their email going down,” Sumner says.
It’s important to also figure out how you would accept payments and continue operations in case of an outage, even if that means taking credit cards by phone. It’s also not expensive to have redundant email accounts with another provider to maintain communications.
Diversification is critical. Many of Google’s customers found themselves down and out over the weekend because all of their applications were in one basket. Google, like many other online software companies, encourages you to do this by bundling its offerings. While that may make financial sense, the risk is that when the company has a problem all of your applications could be affected.
To mitigate this, consider using different applications from different companies to perform different functions. Maybe use Google for your email, but Microsoft for your office applications and Dropbox for storage. This way you’re reducing your exposure in case one of those services has an outage specifically related to its servers.
Backing up your data is also critical. Although customers’ data wasn’t at risk because of the latest Google outage, other companies have suffered breaches and more serious issues. Be it a home PC or a corporate server, Anthony Mongeluzo, the president of PCS, a Moorestown managed services company with four other locations in the area, always recommends multiple forms of backups.
Mongeluzo also likes Backupify because it allows his customers to specifically access and restore their Google data and calendars.
Finally, just because everything’s “in the cloud” doesn’t mean you don’t need an experienced professional to advise you on the best applications, security, devices, and network configuration to get the most out of your business applications with the least amount of risk. Have an expert create a disaster plan to make sure you are ready for any unplanned outages such as what hit Google’s users last weekend.
Although outages happen rarely (the tech site Gizmodo reports that both Google’s Home and Chromecast services stopped functioning for about eight hours in mid-2018 and that YouTube and Gmail users also reported problems later that year and on “multiple occasions” in 2019), they still occur. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prepare for the next time. Because there will be a next time!