Warning: The Cloud Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

This is not the first time I am writing this column.

Cloudy forecast for cloud computing?

While I last tackled the topic of Amazon’s outages some 14 months ago, when Amazon’s cloud-based data center service went down in a big way, Amazon has had several more highly-publicized outages, most recenty in April and in the middle of June.

These outages impact businesses and consumers alike.  Home movie fans who tried to use Netflix last Friday were disappointed.  Instagram users were in shock because they couldn’t share photos.  And Amazon has thousands of other customers, many of whom found themselves in the same boat.

This time, the problems were caused by the severe East Coast storms that left over two million people without power, but the cause doesn’t matter.  It’s the lack of preparedness for dealing with storms and outages that worries me.

If you’re thinking, “oh, but this is in the cloud,” I have some news for you.  The cloud has to have an earthly connection somewhere and redundancy doesn’t seem to be Amazon’s strong suit (or that of its customers).  The failure occurred at an Amazon location in Virginia, and that’s where many of these companies had their data.  They didn’t seem to think it made sense to put it in a second place, perhaps for safe keeping or in case a storm blew in and knocked one location off line.

Amazon did do a good job of updating its status messages with somewhat terse language (example: we are “investigating elevated error rates impacting a limited number” of customers) but that didn’t bring the data center back online any faster.

The problems weren’t over Saturday morning although the company said that some of its servers and services were back online.  ”We are continuing our recovery efforts for the remaining EC2 instances,” the company posted shortly before noon.

If you were an Amazon customer, these messages were all you would get.  Presumably your websites were offline as were any services, so you had to hope that Twitter wasn’t using Amazon’s cloud in Virginia that day as that’s how many Amazon customers were telling their own customers about the outage.

The point of my bringing this up is simple and something I’ve said before, numerous times: more and more data storage and processing have been off-loaded into the cloud without the appropriate precautions being taken to ensure data accessibility and redundancy.

I’m sure that we’ll see people questioning the viability of cloud-based services and storage because of this occurrence – but taking steps to ensure that a single outage doesn’t take thousands of companies down in one fell swoop seems to be quickly forgotten until the next time it happens.

It’s not up to Amazon. If you’re an Amazon customer, you’re clearly on your own – and you need to be working on a plan to ensure uptime.  If not, your customers will, by going somewhere else.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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