I recently attended a conference in Las Vegas and stayed at the new Cosmopolitan Hotel. Personally, I’m not much of a Las Vegas fan, but I find the sheer scale of everything astonishing and this hotel was supposedly the biggest ever. There was also a lot of talk about how cool, new and techy the hotel was, so I was interested to see what it would be like.
My first impression was “glitter”. Let me rephrase that: GLITTER!!! Think, hotel-sized chandelier, and you’d be pretty close. And here’s what it looks like on the inside. Anyone prone to migraines shouldn’t even enter the building without a bag over their head (then again, if migraines are a problem, you shouldn’t even BE in Vegas!). I was sick at the time, so it was not a good first impression. All I wanted to do was get some drugs at their little drug store and go to bed.
That’s when I noticed the line. Not at check-in, which I expected, but at their drug store. As I waited, I found out that the hotel had updated their server software the night before and the “system was down”. (How many times have I heard that phrase?) But apparently something WAS working. We just had to wait much longer than usual to get whatever we needed. So, like everyone else, I just shrugged off the minor inconvenience and went to my room.
But while I was waiting in line I heard the teller say that the Cosmopolitan was the first major hotel to put ALL their computer systems “in the cloud”. This surprised me because it sounded awfully risky. For those of you who don’t know what that means, think of your servers at work where all your software and data are stored. Your individual terminals access the servers for whatever software and data you need. It’s called a LAN (Local Area Network) and most companies use this approach. We are all familiar with this and, unfortunately, we are also familiar with what it means when the “system is down”. Fortunately, we usually have an IT guy who then figures out the problem and gets things going again in a reasonable amount of time.
“The Cloud” is basically the same thing, except your servers are somewhere out there on the Internet and you don’t know, or really care, where they are because they’re transparent to you. When everything’s fine it’s just like logging on to your local server. Take a look at this image.
Each one of those dashed lines is an entry point to the Internet. If the line breaks, for whatever reason, then you don’t have access to the data or app you need access to and therefore the more data and apps you run in the cloud, the more vulnerable you are to outages on the Internet.
So I get to my room and it becomes quickly apparent that the Cosmopolitan’s interior decorator was really a software developer with a hatred of all things simple. Why have a simple on/off light switch when you can program it instead? Better yet, why not have all the lights go on if anything in the room moves? Or maybe make it so that anyone on the system could randomly turn the lights on or off whenever they feel like it? And why let just ANYONE open the fridge if you can program a lock onto it that won’t work if the system goes down? I’m just glad whoever designed the rooms had the courtesy to NOT include programmable toilets.
TV? Nope. Internet access? Not a chance. (This was particularly delightful for a conference for consultants who live or die on the Internet). Restaurant bills over $50? Nope. Better to split the bill up and run separate charges, with each charge under $50 so that each charge can be immediately authorized. Phones were down as well. And this went on for three days! I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was not a good time to be an IT guy at the Cosmopolitan.
Now, admittedly, these problems may or may not have anything to do with running their entire system “in the cloud”. I suspect it also had a lot to do with automating things that should never have been automated in the first place, like lights and refrigerators. But it’s suspicious and I’ve never run across a hotel that had such horrendous IT trouble for such an extended period of time. So I suspect running everything in the cloud was a contributing factor to the problems and highlights the danger of not having a local backup. At the end of the day, I still suspect running your apps in the cloud is ultimately the way to go, but for the time being I think a hybrid system that allows both local and cloud computing is the way to go.
On a separate note: I don’t mean to be too critical of the Cosmopolitan in this article. Having spent my entire career in the tech world, I totally get how quickly and thoroughly things can get screwed up when dealing with computers. I’m just using this situation as an example of the possible danger of relying too heavily on the cloud. To the credit of the Cosmopolitan, they went out of their way to make it up to us and the other attendees. They comp’d our entire stay for all three of us, plus the room service we ordered, for a total of $2100. It was a difficult situation for everyone and the Cosmopolitan staff bent over backwards to make it up to us.