Amazon, Amaz-off, Amaz-on-again
On the afternoon of Monday August 19, two strange and unsettling events occurred. First, the perpetually-available ecommerce behemoth Amazon.com vanished, taking its Canadian cousin, Amazon.ca along with it. Shoppers were greeted with a 404 Not Found/Fail Whale page and were encouraged to come back later. The outage lasted somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes.
The second strange and unsettling event happened on a freeway north of Los Angeles, where actor Dick Van Dyke narrowly cheated death after his Jaguar burst into flames. He was pulled to safety and suffered no injuries. Ironically, the car was reduced to just soot and ashes.
These two events follow on the heels of a brief and unexplained outage at Google on August 16, which was calculated to have cost Google about half-a million dollars in lost ad revenue, and resulted in an enormous 40% drop in web traffic.
[Photo credit: Arlene Van Dyke/Vine.com]
In all of these cases there are serious repercussions with regard to brand and reliability.
In terms of the Amazon outage, and according to an infographic produced by the ecommerce firm 500 Friends, reproduced in December 2012 in PCMag.com, Amazon’s revenue is estimated to be $9,823 every five seconds, or $117,882 per minute. Therefore an outage of forty minutes can translate into almost five million dollars in lost sales.
There are many more minutes left in every single day to more than cover the losses of such an economic brownout. It is akin to one spilled carton of milk in the neighbourhood supermarket; it’s just part of doing business. But the fact remains that commerce on the cloud, for this biggest of the big players, as well as for all of the smaller players that surround it, still requires a careful and well-leveraged plan of action.
Rob Malnati, VP of Marketing at Cedexis agrees. “This is why organizations must remain committed to a multi-vendor strategy,” he states. His company monitors performance on the global cloud system and assists clients in ensuring real-time reliability (see this post for more detail on Cedexis.) According to his people, the blackout was limited to Amazon and was not indicative of damage to EC2 Virginia, Amazon’s prime cloud provider.
However in an age of heightened sensitivity to cyber-attacks on prominent organizations, these momentary lapses add up in the minds of consumers and threaten to turn into a lasting impression. This is where Dick Van Dyke comes in. All of the years of marketing and brand management that Jaguar Land Rover PLC has poured into their cars over the years has the potential to disappear literally in a puff of smoke, should the public attach the Dick Van Dyke fire to their perception of Jaguar cars generally. This would be unfair, but it is how the consumer mindset works.
Such fears crawl up the corporate backbone towards the mind of the CEO, already leery of moving too quickly to the cloud, preferring in many cases to keep mission-critical applications securely in-house. Such fears are not easily put to rest. If the outages were caused by a security breach somewhere, that’s a problem that undermines the credibility of the entire cloud system. If the outages were caused by a back-hoe cutting a cable, or a technician uploading a patch incorrectly, it calls into question the redundancy and failsafes that customers are told exist.
The lesson in all of this is that the don’t-put-your-eggs-in-one-basket approach applies equally to the cloud. Just as most of the cars that travel the freeways of L.A. don’t actually burst into flames unexpectedly, so it is that most of the cloud is safe, secure and reliable. However, as any reputable cloud provider will tell you, there are risks, which make it incumbent on all C-suite executives to ensure that they are fully involved in their company’s cloud policy, and that its rollout and maintenance is spread across a workable number of suppliers and experts.
By Steve Prentice