Ronnie05's Blog

Is cloud computing as reliable as we thought?

Posted in The cloud and the open source by Manas Ganguly on April 24, 2011

On the early morning of April 21 (Pacific Day Time), Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) data centre in Virginia crashed, taking down with it several popular websites and small businesses that depend on it. These included favoured social networking destinations like Evite, Quora, Reddit and Foursquare, among others. This outage continued through to the next 3 days. The duration of the outage has surprised many, since Amazon has a lot of backup computing infrastructure. The online businesses affected by the EC2 outage lost that many hours of ad revenues, business opportunities and drops of the precious trust of many loyal followers, a primary pillar of social networking. These losses are hard to quantify. The question is being asked: if an Amazonian cloud giant can crash so badly, what about the rest? If Amazon can’t safeguard the cloud, how can we rely upon it so? So the debate begins on the future of cloud computing and what to do to make users and companies put their trust in cloud vendors such as Amazon.

The good thing about the cloud is that it protects users when their own home computers crash and lose data. But the rotten part about the crash of the cloud is that millions upon millions of users become helpless and any recovery of the data is beyond their control. Eventually, the cloud will become like a utility. You can get as much computing power as you want with the flip of a switch and you won’t have to worry about outages as much over time. But we’re clearly not there yet.

Cloud isn’t magic like they earlier thought it was. It is rather merely about viability and not about continuous availability. Continuous Availability sold cloud computing to many small businesses, including the ever-increasing social networking bandwagon. SMEs are now graduating to the next level of cloud computing, using it not just for storage, but also for active computing purposes like communication, sustaining remote workforces and deploying cloud services like remote IT help, cloud operating systems , and so on. The impact of such an outage, therefore, is felt even more.

Although Amazon will probably recover quickly, the event has damaged its credibility. Amazon has been a personification of the spirit of the Internet, which is one of true democracy, access to the means of distribution, and rapid evolution. However, in this case, Amazon has been cryptic about the cause and it has only said that matters are improving but were still not resolved. If Amazon can explain the problem and make a good case for why the damage may not be big, then it will be fine. If not, the work will go elsewhere. Amazon may be a big player, but there are other big players waiting to step into the game.These include the likes of Google , IBM , Cisco, RedHat and Microsoft (whose cloud ads are all over Silicon Valley), to name a few.

Even the darkest cloud has a silver lining and this outage will be critical in determining a lot of supporting factors which will be critical for customers/ Corporations to consider before they engage the cloud infrastructure.

• Some sites spend the money to run mirror sites on other cloud vendors, so the sites can remain functional even if one cloud vendor goes down. But that’s an expense that many web sites haven’t taken.
• Corporations will have to decide what computer operations to put on a cloud operated by external vendors and how much they should keep inside their own internal data centers.
• Customers will have to figure out the right policies for backup and recovery services. A right suite of legal conditions to serve disaster management situations such as these will be important.
• Businesses will have to decide whether to allocate more money to backup data centers in multiple locations.

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