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Google, Microsoft Head for Cloud Cover


New developments push both companies toward more online computing.

As the feasibility of cloud computing improves with every intuitive online app, versatile smartphone, and glowing customer review, companies are steadily considering the benefits of keeping software and data stored server-side. Google (GOOG) has long extolled the speed and mobility of cloud computing, evidenced by its acclaimed line of online apps, and new developments show the search giant is trying to usher the security of online storage into steadier waters.

Attempting to distance itself from the notable cloud disasters of recent years, Google has introduced "synchronous replication" into its app suite. As a data safety net, synchronous replication duplicates information to multiple data centers, thus preventing any lag or -- worst case scenario -- complete data loss should any issue bring down a server.

The company goes into almost explicit detail about the process in a recent blog entry, explaining its focus on two factors in data recovery -- Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO). Specifically, Google will consider the amount of data that is inaccessible during a disruption (RPO) and how long a user is willing to go without access to that data (RTO).

Google is apparently unaware that the popular answer to both questions is "very little" but it also has an answer for a third question, "How much is this going to cost me?" Google's reply: Zip.

Up to 25GB -- a very large chunk of data for the average user -- will be protected for free on Google's servers. The company gives its reasons as to how it can provide this coverage without cost -- its large number of data centers, ongoing load reallotment, high-speed connections, etc. -- but it left out one major reason: to make its upcoming cloud-reliant Chrome OS as attractive to customers as possible through security and investment. And as long as Google introduces a privacy initiative on par with this data security development, Chrome OS will have a far easier road ahead of it.

Although Google has contended with ongoing data outages of its own, Microsoft (MSFT) had to weather a far nastier storm. For a company that has largely sidestepped cloud computing, it -- along with T-Mobile (DT) -- had to bear all the negatives when Sidekick smartphones simultaneously lost all data functionality last October. (See T-Mobile and Microsoft: The Losers of Cloud Computing). Customers were left without contact information, calendar entries, photos, and any indication that they would be eventually restored. Two weeks later, by some miracle, they were.

Despite that brush with a thunderous cloud, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is now convinced that cloud computing is where the tech industry is headed -- a far cry from the focus on desktop apps the company had for decades. But recent developments like Windows Phone 7 and Bing apps have proven that Microsoft is looking to take the computing weight off desktops.

Speaking at the University of Washington yesterday, Ballmer relayed his commitment to online computing, saying "We're all in." He explained that 70% of his workforce is currently working on cloud-based projects and expects to hit 90% by year-end. Ballmer solidified that sentiment by sending a company-wide memo, urging the staff to "move at cloud speed."

"[It] is critical that every Microsoft employee works to deliver the full benefits of the cloud to our customers," Ballmer stressed in the memo. And mentioning the word "cloud" 25 times in the space of 500 words is definitely a start. However, Ballmer neglects to mention any current project that really pushes online computing. It's as if Ballmer caught wind of the Google story and decided to swim Microsoft toward that end of the pool.

Here's hoping Ballmer fully grasps the concept beyond a buzzword.

Cloud computing, as a format choice, is still on shaky ground. Aside from the Google and Sidekick outages, consumers have dealt with BlackBerry (RIMM) service outages, two-week old voicemails courtesy of AT&T (T) and Apple (AAPL), server-side infractions from Kindle maker Amazon (AMZN), broken Netflix (NFLX) video streaming, and everything from Twitter to Facebook to Yahoo Mail (YHOO) being down.

Maybe by the time Chrome OS debuts, it'll start looking a lot better
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