Lessons from the Amazon Cloud Outage

Lessons from the Amazon Cloud Outage

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock (or maybe a tropical paradise with no Internet connectivity), you must have heard about one of the greatest disasters of the cloud computing industry – Amazon’s Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) outage that happened last week.

Now, mistakes are a part of life, more so in an emergent technology like cloud computing. In fact, history is strewn with quotes that advocate making mistakes as the first step towards excellence –

“It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something.”
– Ornette Coleman, American jazz legend.

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.”
– Niels Bohr, famous Danish physicist.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
– John Powell, British composer.

One common theme in all these quotes is “learning from mistakes.” In fact, that is a belief I have presented in earlier articles (See: What Effect Will the Epsilon Data Theft have on Cloud Computing? and Gmail Outage – Is Cloud Computing To Blame? ).

While the incidence of “mistakes” has risen somewhat recently, there’s no reason to “throw the baby with the bathwater” and abandon cloud computing. It would be better to learn a few things from this incident, such as:

  • Understand what you are signing up for – This is very important for any customer of cloud computing. Clarify all the terms of the contract and if anything’s vague (a likely possibility in this brave new world of cloud computing), clear your doubts in writing. As of now, Amazon hasn’t declared the reason for the outage, unacceptable behavior in most business environments. Take steps to make providers accountable.

See: The Small Print in Cloud Computing Contracts

  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – In other words, diversify, diversify, and diversify. While going with a single provider offers several cost and operational benefits, it makes sense to diversify. Don’t be tempted into a Gold Rush.

See: How to Avoid a Cloud Computing Gold Rush

  • Realize that risks exist – Cloud computing is NOT Holy Water. Risks exist and you must know how to counter them.

See: Cloud Computing Risks (And How to Deal With Them)

  • Don’t fire your IT department – While some kind of downsizing makes sense, removing all in-house expertise when you go on the cloud is definitely not recommended.
  • Don’t go for the lowest bidder – While many would say that Amazon is one of the best, and most expensive providers around, not everyone uses the full gamut of services offered, including backup plans and redundant offerings. Therefore, choose what you think you will need in difficult times, not the option that makes the least dent on your income statement.

Cloud computing is not perfect, no technology is. But its advantages far outweigh the risks, making it a winning proposition. And remember, it took the computing industry four decades to go from room-sized machines to ones that fit on your desk; by that token, cloud computing is improving exponentially.

By Sourya Biswas

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