Fallout from the Amazon Cloud Outage

Sue Marquette Poremba

Amazon's recent cloud outage has not only caused a lot of problems, but it has created a lot of questions involving the security and viability of cloud computing. What stuck out most to me was the different takes different security experts and publications had on the issue.

 

Wired, for example, posted an article that said it wasn't so much a problem with Amazon, but that the companies are implementing Amazon's service design without preparing for the possibility of failure. In the article, Paul Smith of Everyblock, one of the sites that felt the effects of the outage, admitted:

Frankly, we screwed up. AWS explicitly advises that developers should design a site's architecture so that it is resilient to occasional failures and outages such as what occurred yesterday, and we did not follow that advice.

PC Magazine also focused on the companies that were affected and the finger pointing that has resulted:

Reddit, for its part, said that it had noticed problems with the storage volumes that Amazon used degrading, to the point that the disks experienced unacceptable latencies - minutes [to] read just 512 bytes of data. (Amazon referred to these as "stuck volumes".) But Reddit also noted that data written to the cloud wasn't being backed up, something that should never happen, it said.

Rather than place blame, I think we'd all be best served by using this as a learning experience. In fact, ZDNet found seven important lessons to be taken from the Amazon outage. The one that really jumped out at me is that if we want to work safely and securely in the cloud, we have to be willing to pay the costs:

Bob Warfield describes how a previous company used Amazon.com infrastructure in a way that allowed it to "bring back the service in another region if the one we were in totally failed within 20 minutes and with no more than 5 minutes of data loss." As he goes on to say, the choices you make about the length of outage you're prepared to support have consequences for the cost your customers or enterprise must fund. "Smart users and PaaS vendors will look into packaging several options because you should be backed up to S3 regardless, so what you're basically arguing about and paying extra for is how warm' the alternate site is and how much has to be spun up from scratch via S3.


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