Amazon's Cloud Computing Fable


Last Wednesday's EC2 failure at Amazon took down a number of online influences such as HootSuite and Quora, plus dozens of smaller sites wholly reliant on cloud computing to stay afloat. As the outage continued, scores of angry comments littered forums bemoaning Amazon, looking for answers and debating the perks of cloud computing. Constantly connected, we consume technologies with a voracious gusto, overlooking how fresh a product is, always hungry for the next course. Remember IE6? The zip drive? Just barely. It wasn't so long ago that the world moved without the iPod, let alone iPad. BlackBerrys were rare, emails fewer and farther between. And all the while, lingering on the periphery, seemingly unnoticed, was the cloud.

Before being a "thing," cloud computing was simply another online capability. Tech reporter Jacob Aron writes, "The Internet was designed as a distributed network that could route around failure, but the web is now becoming increasingly centralised as more services move in to the cloud."

The root of the outage remains a bit hazy, and Amazon has yet to release an official statement. It seems Amazon ran into trouble trying to copy cloud data, triggering a shortage of capacity that stunted users from adding any new information to the cloud. Aron commented, "In other words, it sounds like a rogue backup process has created so much data that Amazon's hard drives are filling up faster than it can empty them. This also explains why they can't simply move affected sites to another server - it's currently difficult to access website backups and upload them elsewhere."

Essentially the Internet's golden child, Amazon is a widely recognized global marketplace. Lesser known is that Amazon functions as the reigning supplier of cloud computing services, attracting fledgling sites with low hosting fees and a reputable brand name. When the "hiccups" began across multiple servers in various zones, bigger players with alternate backup sources, like Foursquare, were able to get back up in a matter of minutes. Others, including Reddit, dependent on Amazon's promised multiple backup zones, were down for hours, while a handful of little guys ended up crippled for nearly 2 days.

Moral of the outage: No cloud is infallible, not even Amazon. Before entering into web-based services, explore multiple providers or a combination of services within the cloud to protect your site.

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