- The Chicago-based web application company Basecamp switched from Google Cloud to Amazon Web Services earlier this summer.
- David Heinemeier Hansson, cofounder and CTO of Basecamp, says his company experienced at least three outages where the team couldn’t do anything to resolve them and received few updates about them.
- Hansson says that the issues Basecamp had with Google Cloud might be solved in time, as AWS has been in the game longer and has more experience dealing with cloud customers.
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When the Chicago-based web application company Basecamp decided to move to the cloud four years ago, it narrowed its short list to two options: Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services.
It chose Google over Amazon even though in 2006 Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously bought a small stake in the company.
Previously, Basecamp had used some of Amazon’s storage services and it was Google Cloud‘s storage services that interested them the most. With Google’s service, the team did not have to do manual work to make sure its files were stored in a certain location. Instead, Google handles such things behind the scenes and figures out where to store a customer’s files.
Hansson says that this is convenient when the service is working, but not when there’s an outage. He believes that if the network coordinating all this goes down, then everything else goes down, because nothing is accessible. (Google declined comment.)
"It sounds great on paper," Hansson said. "The part we hadn’t fully considered was that if you go through a single front door to get access to all your files, you can’t get to any of your stuff if the front door is jammed. That’s where we ended up with Google storage repeatedly."
During the outages, Hansson says the team couldn’t do anything to access its files, making it "frustrating." He also says these incidents damaged Basecamp’s reputation with customers — the first or second time there’s an outage, customers may understand, but after that, they’re less forgiving.
"Basecamp, up until we moved to the cloud, we’re proud to tell our customers that are services are essentially never down," Hansson said. "We started having these issues that were caused in part from Google outages. We kept having to explain to customers and apologize for us being down. … Your reputation goes from, ‘oh yeah, Basecamp is always available’ to ‘that has a lot of problems.’"
He also says Basecamp had a "bad experience" about finding out about the status of outages. For example, it didn’t get timely updates when the service was down, estimates on when it will be fixed, or information about what went wrong.
"We had some questions about their architectural setup, and we weren’t happy with the answers," Hansson said. "For us, if we’re down for 5 minutes to 10 minutes, that’s a major problem. We need to be able to get great information and feedback right away, but we wouldn’t. We would get no updates for long stretches of time. It’s disconcerting when your services are down."
Moving to AWS
The caveat with AWS is that setting it up requires more work. Hansson says that with AWS, the team had to do the job of putting files onto separate networks and data centers, so that if data centers in one area go down, Basecamp can access its files through another network. Even though setting this up required more work from Basecamp, Hansson says so far, "it’s a far better idea."
Although Basecamp hasn’t been an AWS customer for very long, since around June, Hansson says that so far, he’s pleased with AWS’s storage service. This even though the team has to do more work to manually switch between cloud regions if there are issues. It’s possible that AWS may go down, such as the major outage in 2017. However, he feels that he’s been put in a stronger position to mitigate the outage, should it happen.
"All services eventually go down," Hansson said. "You have an architecture that allows you to build a resilient setup. We have a backup that we’re distributed across multiple data centers that are quarantined from each other."
A "matter of time"
Still, Hansson says that Google’s cloud does have some advantages over AWS. Since Google’s cloud is newer, it’s more forward in certain technologies like Kubernetes, an open source cloud project that was started by Google engineers (although AWS supports Kubernetes, too). He also says that Google has a lot of tools and options that developers love. However, he says, it doesn’t seem to have as much experience in technical support and helping customers.
"With Google it feels like they’re making a cloud for themselves," Hansson said. "That’s great for them, but that’s not the original focus. With AWS, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like they’re a customer-focused organization in a different way."
He says that solutions to the issues Basecamp experienced with Google Cloud might just be a "matter of time."
After all, way back in 2009, when AWS was young and pioneering the concept of cloud computing, it had its own set of similar issues, according to one the top engineers of one of its first big customers at the time, Netflix.
And Hansson isn’t counting Google out of success in the long run.
"Amazon has been in this game for a lot longer," Hansson said. "They had to consider customer needs for a lot longer. Google has a lot of catching up to do. Ultimately, I think it’s healthy that they [AWS] have proper competitors. It would be bad for the industry if Amazon had a monopoly in cloud services."
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