Beanstalk to the Cloud

Questions about the reliability of cloud computing emerged again this week when Amazon’s cloud-computing services suffered an outage that partially or completely disrupted Foursquare, Reddit, Hootsuite, Quora, and hundreds of other online services. The New York Times echoed the concerns that some businesses had as a result of the outage: “Amazon Malfunction Raises Cloud Computing Doubts.” The article also quoted an industry executive who had an apt observation:

The Amazon interruption, said Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer of Rackspace, a specialist in data center services, was the computing equivalent of an airplane crash. It is a major episode with widespread damage. But airline travel, he noted, is still safer than traveling in a car — analogous to cloud computing being safer than data centers run by individual companies.

“Every day, inside companies all over the world, there are technology outages,” Mr. Moorman said. “Each episode is smaller, but they add up to far more lost time, money and business.”

This weeks outage only affected a tiny percentage of all the users of cloud-computing services. Netflix, for example, relies on the same Amazon data services and suffered no problems. I didn’t have trouble accessing my Gmail or my photos on Facebook. All that stuff is in the “cloud.” I was waiting for a good explanation about what happened at the Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) center in northern Virginia, but I’ve decided I probably wouldn’t really understand the technical stuff anyway (excessive re-mirroring of Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes?). There will be outages in the future. Businesses will suffer. I will be irritated that I can’t get into Reddit or whatever is down. These things happen. Your computer will break. You’ll have trouble connecting to the Internet. Your car will break down. You deal with it. The problem at Amazon will be fixed. New problems will pop up, there and elsewhere. Of course, you can choose to avoid cloud services. Or you can be like Microsoft, which is spending $8.64 billion this year in cloud research and development.

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