Scary but Safe: Being in the Cloud is like... Being in the Clouds

The kind of people who risk their lives by driving because they're afraid of air travel are a cloud computing provider's worst nightmare. Just as the idea of plummeting from 6 miles in the air is instinctively scary, so is an infrastructure outage by a remote third party crippling your business. But you have to compare it to the odds of a car crash or an in-house failure of a critical IT service.

We've heard a lot recently about major outages in cloud-like information services. Sony's month of agony and  impressive losses is the most extreme example, but we've also seen outages from Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, to name a few. These are frightening events for anyone placing (or considering placing) more business-critical services in the cloud. But it's also a good illustration of the way reason and emotion diverge.

Cloud proponents such as's Marc Benioff are giving   reasonable, factual explanations of why the cloud is still a good idea. They point out, correctly, that any information service can fail, and that it seems likely that cloud services will be, on average, more reliable than in-house services. Their arguments are solid, reasonable, and credible, but they miss the main point.

Human beings are not always reasonable creatures. We have evolved to respond instinctively rather than rationally in some situations, which is why we fear air travel and embrace car travel instead, despite it being far more dangerous. We have evolved lightning-fast reactions to perceived threats which often prevent a more rational analysis.

The solution is obvious, but easier said than done: we have to favor reason over emotion. I fly all the time, but it's still scary if I think about it too much, so I focus on the safety statistics instead. Similarly, using a cloud service may be scary, but a rational analysis should help us conquer our fears.

Cloud services, like airplanes, can help you soar and are highly reliable. But like airplanes, their failures are spectacular, visible, and scary. What everyone has to decide for themselves is whether these are choices to be made out of rationality or out of fear. Choose reason and your business will most likely benefit; choose fear and you are likely to pay a higher price in the long term. And you won't get those wonderful little bags of peanuts, either!