The news that Californian public cloud storage service provider Nirvanix is shutting down operations has sent shockwaves through the industry.
For customers of the public cloud provider the situation is grim indeed — they have until October 15th to organize and carry out the complex task of getting their data off Nirvanix's cloud storage servers and onto their own or someone else's.
"We are dedicating the resources we can to assisting our customers in either returning their data or transitioning their data to alternative providers who provide similar services, including IBM SoftLayer, Amazon S3, Google Storage or Microsoft Azure," is the message that currently appears on Nirvanix's web site.
So what do we make of suggestions that this is the end for cloud services in general, or at least for cloud storage services specifically?
Some people will no doubt be nodding sagely and saying, "I told you so." The wisdom of making the storage of valuable data the responsibility of a third party will certainly be questioned.
But let's take a look at this in the clear, cold light of day. How is using a public cloud storage service provider any different than using cleaning contractors to clean your offices every night, or a security company to move your cash?
Sure, you might argue that cleaning services and cash transportation aren't mission-critical operations, while the safe storage of your data probably is. But what about electricity or telephony services? Without them your business would grind to a halt, but that doesn't mean you've built your own power stations and started your own telecoms company.
Time to Think About Redundancy ... Again
What it does do is make you think about is redundancy. Disasters happen and electricity and phone lines go down. That's why business continuity plans include the provision of generators and fuel, cellphones and even satellite phones. And companies that have their own storage resources have offsite backups, just in case a disaster strikes their data center. At least they should.
Now, the untimely demise of Nirvanix will probably lead to a classic "flight to quality" that always happens when a market is in a crisis. Companies that are using lesser-known cloud storage providers will doubtless now be looking at blue chips like IBM, Amazon, Google or Microsoft and wondering why they are not using them for their storage services.
But what about redundancy?
Of course, the likes of Amazon or Google have multiple copies of your data in data centers all over the place: there's plenty of redundancy, right?
But what is that redundancy worth if the unthinkable happened: one of these Internet giants went to the wall? Or what if a terrorist strike or insider attack suddenly brought them offline for an extended period?
Or what if the NSA… well you get the picture. Who imagined that a financial giant like Lehmann Brothers would be here one day, gone the next?
The End of Public Cloud Storage As We Know It?
So what am I saying here? Firstly, that the end of Nirvanix doesn't mean the end of public cloud storage services any more than a disaster that strikes an individual company's data center spells the end of on-premise computing.
Secondly, don't imagine that using a public cloud storage service provider means you don't need redundancy — some other place where your most valuable data is kept. No one expects Amazon or Google or Microsoft to close down with two weeks' notice, but then again, Nirvanix's customers didn't expect that they would be given just a matter of days to retrieve their data either.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.