Many Questions Follow Intuit Cloud Service's Outage

Paul Mah

A major outage last Tuesday left Intuit's accounting and tax software inaccessible for thousands of its SMBs customers, affecting services including the popular TurboTax Online and QuickBooks Online.

 

The exact downtime of the sites was not entirely clear, though one poster at Intuit's community site expressed unhappiness and highlighted how 25 hours of downtime is unacceptable. Assuming this is true, this mean that the availability of the service for the month is only slightly better than a dismal 96.5 percent; this single outage will see the service achieve an uptime of at most 99.7 percent for the entire year.

 

Naturally, customers are left pretty upset, especially when SMBs who needed to process credit card payments found themselves unable to do so. Complaints stacked up swiftly at the community pages and small business blog. Both locations garnered hundreds of comments, many of them negative and seeking compensation for lost sales or penalty fees for bounced checks.

 

So what really happened here? According to Intuit, the outage was caused by a power failure that was "accidentally" triggered during regular maintenance, bringing both primary and backup systems to their knees.

 

In May, I wrote about how failure by vendors should not automatically mean that SMBs jump ship at the earliest opportunity. I pointed out that an upside of failure is how it is often an excellent opportunity to examine how your vendor reacts in a crisis. In this case, Intuit posted regular updates on the company blog even as the team worked to resolve the service outage.


 

There were issues though, that put the company into the negative spotlight, however.

 

Regular Updates, but no Details

 

The company attributed the problem to an "accident power failure" and issued periodic updates to the effect of apologizing to customers and giving reassurances that the team was working hard to restore affected services. Notwithstanding how a power issue of this magnitude could possibly occur in a properly equipped and run data center, details pertaining to the actual problem were scant to non-existent.

 

Indeed, Intuit Chief Information Officer Ginny Lee admitted as much in a post titled Update 5:

We understand we didn't communicate as frequently as you or we would have wanted. This issue was complicated and involved a number of Intuit applications. We did not want to share any information until we had complete confidence in it. We realize now that in times of uncertainty it is better to share updates on our progress as they occur versus waiting for complete answers, not sharing enough and leaving you feeling in the dark.

Accidental Power Outage. Huh?

 

Frankly, the idea of an accidental power outage bringing down both primary and backup systems is somewhat ludicrous. As it emerged, Intuit later said that the "process of restoring power caused a hardware system failure" and that the company still doesn't know the root cause of that in the back-to-back power fiasco.

 

The general feel about the outage is this: There is either something else that Intuit is not disclosing, or the entire debacle stems from gross incompetence of its technical staff, neither of which is good. In addition, there also is no mention of the off-site fall-back systems that some customers claims Intuit assured them were in place when they first signed up for the company's service.

 

I still believe transparency and honesty are vital on the part of IT vendors in the face of failure; it is also clear, though, that even such actions will do little to make incompetence look better.

 

Over the coming days, I certainly hope that Intuit is able to find out more about the failure and unveil a more comprehensive and involved strategy of dealing with the fallout. This issue here is not so much about cloud computing as maintaining the reliability of services that customers depend on. SMBs had chosen to rely on Intuit to furnish the uptime they are unable to build for themselves, but appear to have been left sorely disappointed.



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Jun 22, 2010 4:58 AM Merrill Merrill  says:

So, the question remains:  Having oversold both its technical knowledge & its hardware-in-place, will do you suggest that Intuit suffer no consequences for its gross misdeeds here?

Let me explain it this way... Several years ago the Prime Minister of Netherlands was assassinated by a gun.  Guns are/were illegal in the Netherlands.  Just exactly how impressed should this victim be at the overwhelming effectiveness of the anti-gun law?

In other words, if Intuit's outage killed my business, do I care what their "uptime percentage" is????

Reply
Jun 23, 2010 6:13 AM Scott Gregory Scott Gregory  says:

Paul:

Your post raises some very good questions that many of us in the Intuit "eco-system" hope are answered in the days ahead.

I'm with you on the idea that there may be something more that we aren't being told here. How is it that there was no mirrored data center to switch to when their main data center went dark? I can't believe there wasn't one, but it sure looks that way to someone on the outside peering behind the curtain.

My guess is that many small businesses are stepping back to re-evaluate their options at this time. The thing is, in the small business space, there aren't many of them. FreshBooks is certainly one, but they don't have the breadth of services that Intuit offers.

Here's hoping for more information coming soon so we can fully understand what happened.

Scott Gregory, QuickBooks Specialist

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Jun 23, 2010 9:28 AM Linda Linda  says:

Frankly, for a company of this size, their outage is completely unacceptable.  I am sure there are people scrammbling for other solutions.  I suspect we are not hearing the entire truth, because the entire truth would be embarrassing.  At the least, Intuit needs to send out a release that indicates what happened, exactly, and how they will prevent this from happening in the future.  Who did their SAS 70 Audit???  Are they even SOX compliant????

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Oct 20, 2010 1:17 AM Pat K. Pat K.  says: in response to Scott Gregory

Once again today, 10/20/10, Intuit's Merchant services are down.  What is going on with this company?  Having been a fan of Quickbooks for many years recommended this to my current company along with Merchant Services to process credit cards.  It has been down several times during the last year and frankly the odds of both primary and backup systems going down at the same time indicates to me that they have to reinvest some of that revenue they're collecting to upgrade/replace their current systems.  Very disappointed in the performance of what used to be a good company.

Reply
Feb 17, 2011 6:53 AM plumbing plumbing  says:

If the power goes out, try not to open your refrigerator or freezer doors so you don't lose cold air unnecessarily. The contents of a full fridge should keep for about six hours; the contents of a full freezer should last for as long as two days.

Reply
Feb 10, 2013 5:59 PM Merchant Capital Merchant Capital  says:
Last year there was a San Diego power outage and the whole entire city almost went crazy. Could you image if that happened on a large scale witha company like intuit? Reply

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