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Can Natural Disasters Doom The Future Of Cloud Computing?
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many people are asking whether cloud computing can withstand nature’s wrath. The storm took several major cloud computing companies offline, including Amazon Web Services (at least on the East Coast), and left thousands of websites and online services down for hours—and in some cases days.
Hurricane Sandy has definitely proved that the cloud is vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme weather patterns, but that hardly presages the death of cloud computing. All computers and electronic systems are equally susceptible to the same events. Millions of people lost telephone and electricity service in the wake of Hurricane Sandy (as is the case for essentially all major storms). But cloud skeptics seem to conveniently forget that even if cloud services didn’t go down, victims of natural disasters without power still wouldn’t be able to access them.
In reality, most cloud computing company’s data centers are far more resistant to extreme weather and other disasters than the on-premises servers and work stations belonging to most homes and businesses. At several data centers along the eastern seaboard, data centers lost grid-based power but then immediately switched over to emergency generators. For many cloud companies, it was only when their generators were running out of fuel that they began shutting down servers. Such an organized shutdown is far safer than sudden power disruptions at a typical home or office, which are often responsible for hardware damage and data corruption.
Critics also typically fail to mention that the underlying network infrastructure upon which U.S. data centers rely is one of the most secure public utility systems in the country. While much of the nation’s electricity system is aboveground and millions of miles of waterlines have been cited by civil engineers as being in decay, the fiber-optic data transmission network which data centers use is almost always securely buried belowground—and sometimes even underneath oceans.
If anything, Hurricane Sandy will likely inspire cloud computing companies and data centers to develop even more robust protocols for dealing with extreme weather, power outages, and other emergency events. Already, several companies are experimenting with running data centers with alternative energy sources, such as solar, geothermic, and tidal, that are completely independent of the national power grid. That kind of forward thinking and investment are what set cloud computing companies apart from the many businesses that rely on traditional on-premises IT infrastructure and public utilities.
By Robert Shaw
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