Blame game over Amazon outage misses the point

With's most recent outage, cloud detractors and apologists alike missed its real lesson: All technology can fail

On June 14, the Amazon Web Services cloud computing platform experienced a serious outage in its Virginia (U.S.-East) data center. Apparently power-related, the outage took down portions of one of the four independent availability zones that operate in that data center. As a result, many popular websites and a slew of less popular ones disappeared from the Internet for several hours.

As in previous outages of megascale cloud implementations from likes of Amazon and Microsoft, this incident triggered a round of hysteria about the future of cloud computing. Surprisingly, unlike the response to last April's AWS outage, many rushed to Amazon's defense. This could be a reflection of the fact that attitudes toward the cloud and its inevitable failings are becoming more realistic, or it could simply be that this month's outage was far less widespread. In either case, anti-public-cloud pundits and competitors alike wasted no time in using this failure to underline why the public cloud is an incredibly bad idea.

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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt that helps no one
As I've said before, I am still relatively shocked by the wild reactions that always seem to follow these highly publicized events. One blog entry written by private cloud vendor Piston Computing particularly caught my eye. In it, Piston co-founder Gretchen Curtis opined that this most recent AWS outage was proof it's better to own than to rent. Although buying may indeed be better than renting in many cases, I lament the black-and-white nature of this post, and think it's a great example of the FUD from self-interested entities (Piston sells data center technology, whereas Amazon rents it) that always seems to trail similar events and in the end serves no one well.

I won't go point by point on Curtis' post because I happen to agree with much of it -- at least in the very large enterprise sphere that forms the sweet spot for Piston's implementation of OpenStack. But what irks me about it -- and much of the other editorial commentary -- is that the AWS outage doesn't back up the claims Curtis made. Her points were valid, but they were unrelated to the AWS outage.

All data centers -- on-premise or cloud -- require disaster recovery
This most recent AWS failure is akin to a very serious, yet recoverable failure in a core infrastructure component in an on-premise data center -- and I've seen it happen more times than I can count. If you operate a mission-critical infrastructure that can't tolerate downtime, you probably have measures in place to protect your operations from extended outages were they to occur -- a backup data center in another building or site, for example. If you haven't invested in building that kind of redundancy, your organization has essentially decided the risk of downtime isn't worth the time and money it would take to avoid that threat.

The exact same is true of the public cloud. Any modern IT system, regardless of what it is or who runs it, can and will eventually fail. That applies as much to on-premise infrastructure as it does for public cloud infrastructure. The tech we use today is simply far too complex not to fail.

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