cloud thumb 434x318 2009   The Year The Clouds Reigned And RainedThe cloud is now both such a buzzword and integral component of our lives that it is difficult sometimes to see where the hype ends, and real use begins.

2009 was a huge year for the cloud, in its myriad forms. Let’s take a look the best parts of the cloud this year, and some of the largest problems that seemed to constantly crop up.

We will see that 2009 was most assuredly the year that the cloud became both pedestrian in its normality, and problematic in its often dismal downtime. If you think back however, the cloud is still quite the baby.

The first main-stream rumors of cloud computing, which we are going to use as a generic term for cloud hosting and processing, began in 2007. It is quite simple to watch its ascendancy with Google Trends. The graph below outlines its explosive growth.

 2009   The Year The Clouds Reigned And Rained

You will note, especially if you have any background in Calculus, that the area under the curve for 2009 is a multiple of 2008, and a gigantic rise compared to 2007. The year 2009 carried cloud computing from curiosity to component.

One of the largest and most important driving force in the industry was Amazon, with their AWS suite of cloud services. Consider how important Amazon s3 and Amazon EC2 have become. A small test: design a new web service mentally that does not at least consider using Amazon AWS to handle a part of the needed storage or computing demands.

Microsoft had and continues to have a large hand in the pot. Azure, the umbrella for their cloud, continues to grow. Now more than a year old, it is racing towards its full launch. This year Microsoft has thrown untold resources into the project, pushing cloud to developers that perhaps would have been slow to accept it.

But even with Amazon and Microsoft pushing the cloud, it was consumer web services and cheap cloud hosting that brought the concept of the cloud to the masses. Google Docs, Wave, Rackspace and MediaTemple cloud hosting options, Gmail, and a host of other applications brought the concept of cloud storage and computing to brand new heights in 2009. These services were hardly new (Wave aside), but they all rose new prominence in 2009.

And of course, we need to recall that Chrome OS is a cloud tool, storing its needed information up in the sky to alleviate the need for bulky physical storage. We could go on, but you see the direction: more cloud apps and tools doing and storing more in the cloud used by more and more people.

But this explosive growth, on both the developer and end user sides of the equation, was hardly without problems. You will note the title of this piece is “reigned and rained.” This parade is about to get wet.

We have to cherry pick examples of the cloud opening up and relieving itself all over its users, and the wider internet, but being summary hardly restricts us from making the point. The most famous failure of the cloud this year was assuredly the Sidekick fiasco. In October, a Microsoft subsidiary Danger had a massive failure, causing the data stored on all Sidekick phones to be wiped blank.

Users after the failure could not even save new data, as it was erased when the phone would restart. That counts as an boo-boo regardless of what company does it. That it was Microsoft made it even more popular to discuss. Of course, that meant little for the Sidekick using masses, who had perhaps not known that their data was being stored in datacenters and then passed out. Toll: massive. When all your important is in the cloud, and that cumulonimbus evaporates, you have a problem, Houston.

Gmail is by far the best online email system in existence. If you took a poll of the top technology people today, Gmail would (by my guess) have more than a 90% mind share. I personally have more than 60,000 emails stored in the Gmail cloud. So what happens when Gmail goes down? Thousands of agonized tweets as the internet working class grinds to a halt. Gmail went down several times this year, embarrassing for a service used by the people who make the technology news.

Gmail has become such an integral component of the internet workflow that to lose it means the day is lost. It was the second bout of downtime that spurred (anecdotally) a move by many to backup their email to their desktop machines for safe keeping. Result: many people began the process and gave up after 20,000 messages. We are stuck in Gmail, and can only hope this cloud stays where it shoud: in the sky. If you note this graph, Gmail outages this year have caused a much larger ruckus in 2009 than all other years combined.

Finally, we can not let Rackspace off the hook. Rackspace is one of the worlds largest web hosts, and a proud offerer of cloud hosting. Problem: Rackspace has a mild uptime issue, with a number of massive outages this year. There was one just two weeks ago. You can track Rackspace downtime in a small way here, do note the lack of spikes in the graph before 2009. Many small time owners of websites have begun to use cloud hosting given its cheap price, and high flexibility to handle traffic spikes. Rackspace is a very popular choice.

When you pull the Rackspace plug it not only takes down TechCrunch and Mashable, but an ocean of small-timers as well. And it happened system wide this year several times.

The year was rough enough for the cloud that some enterprising soul built a website, CloudFail, just to track all the problems. If you look at the page, you will see actually that the Rackspace cloud has been having some problems just today. The site has been added to my must-read list.

There it is: the cloud became mainstream this year, and suffered a comedic number of downtimes and outages this year. Across the internet, we are building a whole new suite of everything baked into the cloud. If we can keep it online, we win. If we cannot fix most of the reliability issues, we are never going to see business critical tasks, the ones worth all the money, headed to the cloud en masse.

What do you think? [Image credit: threeminds]