Stormy weather: 7 gotchas in cloud computing

Users hit turbulence on the trip to cloud computing

To further drive down their own costs and users' monthly fees, providers could store older data on systems that can power down or off when not in use, Crump says.

Sudden Code Changes

With cloud computing, companies have little to no control over when an application service provider decides to make a code change. This can wreak havoc when the code isn't thoroughly tested and doesn't work with all browsers.

That's what happened to users of SiteMeter's Web traffic analysis system this year. SiteMeter is a software-as-a-service-based (SaaS) operation that offers an application that works by injecting scripts into the HTML code of Web pages that users want tracked.

In July, the company released code that caused some problems. Any visitor using Internet Explorer to view Web pages with embedded SiteMeter code got an error message. When users began to complain, Web site owners weren't immediately sure where the problem was.

"If it were your own company pushing out live code and a problem occurred, you'd make the connection," Methvin explains. "But in this situation, the people using the cloud service started having users complaining, and it was a couple of hours later when they said, 'Maybe it's SiteMeter.' And sure enough, when they took the code out, it stopped happening."

The problem with the new code was greatly magnified because something had changed in the cloud without the users' knowledge. "There was no clear audit trail that the average user of SiteMeter could see and say, 'Ah, they updated the code,' " Methvin says.

Soon after, SiteMeter unexpectedly upgraded its system, quickly drawing the ire of users such as Michael van der Galien, editor of PoliGazette , a Web-based news and opinion site. The new version was "frustratingly slow and impractical," van der Galien says on his blog.

In addition, he says, current users had to provide a special code to reactivate their accounts, which caused additional frustration. Negative reaction was so immediate and intense that SiteMeter quickly retreated to its old system, much to the relief of van der Galien and hundreds of other users.

"Imagine Microsoft saying, 'As of this date, Word 2003 will cease to exist, and we'll be switching to 2007,' " Methvin says. "Users would all get confused and swamp the help desk, and that's kind of what happened."

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