Torments of the Internet damned

I live on the Internet. I work on the Internet. I keep in touch with my friends on the Internet. Without the Internet, I'm out of business. I'm not the only one. But lately, with my rock-solid AT&T DSL connection (6Mbit/sec. down, 512Kbit/sec. up), I've taken it for granted. That was before my connection went sour and I rediscovered just how miserable life can be without a good network connection.

Last Friday my network connection started turning on me. It never completely failed. Instead, it started torturing me with a thousand cuts of minor slowdowns and nagging latency delays. By Saturday morning, my network connection was down to dial-up modem speeds of 32Kbit/sec.

Imagine trying to run a hundred-yard dash in knee-deep mud and you have an excellent idea of how I've felt over the last few days. Instead of getting my work done, I've been working, with AT&T, on getting my Internet connection back into shape. It hasn't been easy. I'm falling behind in my real work; and my connection is still having fits.

It could have been worse, though. Yes, I rely on the Internet to do my job, but I don't rely on network-based applications. I use the Web, instant messaging and e-mail constantly. But I don't write stories using Google Docs , manage projects with SharePoint Online or use Salesforce for CRM (customer relationship management). If I did, I wouldn't just be angry and miserable; I might well be on my way to being out of a job as well.

You see, I can still get some stuff done even with a crippled Internet connection. I write my stories with OpenOffice 3.1 ; I use QuickBooks for both accounting and project management; and I keep my calendar and manage my contacts with Evolution . By keeping my mission-critical applications on my local servers, I'm still able to keep going.

What about you? If your business Internet connection were crippled and running at 5% of its usual speed, could you keep going? If you've moved your business's core software to SaaS (software as a service) , I doubt it.

It's handy to run your applications remotely. But that's not to say I'm a Luddite. Indeed, I was helping run the Internet, or at least some of the parts of it belonging to NASA, when a T1, with its 1.544Mbit/sec. speed, was considered remarkably fast. But I've never been comfortable with relying on the Internet for vital applications.

Of course, you have to have the Internet for e-mail and the like, but does that mean that it's a smart idea to put all your IT eggs into the Internet basket? I don't think so.

If you do -- and some companies have outsourced all their applications remotely -- you're always one backhoe cut away from having your business knocked out for a day or so . But that's easy. At least with an incident like that you know where the problem is and how to fix it. What about a situation like mine where there is no clear, easy-to-spot, easy-to-fix problem? Then, you can go for days and days with the IT heart of your business stilled and dead.

This is no way to run a business.

Whether you call it Web-based computing, SaaS or, the latest buzz term, cloud computing , it all comes down to putting your IT assets out of your control and one thin wire away from complete failure. It's cheaper in the short run, and some of it is necessary, but, as the last few days have reminded me, you really shouldn't rely on an Internet connection for your core work. In the long run, something will go wrong, and when it does, all your IT cost savings may be lost in a few days of total business shutdown.

Consider yourself warned.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com .

This story, "Torments of the Internet damned" was originally published by Computerworld.

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