S3 outage: time to double up

S3 outage: time to double up

Summary: Amazon's S3 outage is proof that relying on a single cloud isn't enough, especially if, like RSS analytics provider Mediafed, your enterprise customers demand continuous service. You have to run on at least two.

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TOPICS: Amazon, Cloud, Outage
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Probably the best presentation at London Cloud Camp last Wednesday was the one the organizers saved until last: Alan Williamson spoke about Mediafed's experiences as a company that relies on cloud providers. Mediafed specializes in providing RSS traffic analytics to European media companies, with a blue-chip client roster that includes BBC Worldwide, LeMonde, The Guardian, IDG, Axel Springer and others. Williamson's advice will be heeded by many wondering what to do after Amazon S3's 6-hour long outage yesterday:

"We've come to realize we cannot rely on putting all our eggs in one basket," he said, explaining that Mediafed uses two cloud providers side-by-side: Amazon and UK-based Flexiscale. "We run both at the same time." Some customers are on one and some on the other, but all are backed up to the other cloud so that if one fails the service can switch across to the other — which presumably means its customers can still this morning access all their stats from yesterday's RSS traffic, even during the hours that S3 was down.

Anyone concerned about what Om Malik is calling the fragility of cloud services after yesterday's outage needs to consider putting a similar set-up into place. Frankly, I think Malik has it completely wrong — it's not the cloud that's fragile, it's computers, and anyone who expects perfect uptime when relying on a single point of failure has their head, not just their infrastructure, in the clouds. Either you stay cool, like SmugMug, and accept occasional glitches as part of the value proposition you pay for; or you do what Mediafed has done and put some redundancy and a failover plan in place.

As Williamson said in his presentation, there are plenty more risks to worry about besides systems outages: "My heart is fearful of the credit card stopping at Amazon. It scares the bejesus out of me that's going to happen at Amazon." For all its benefits, the cloud is still no silver bullet. Working with the cloud means getting savvy about a whole new set of issues, such as becoming expert in building server infrastructure that monitors your cloud resources, or solving hairy back-up and archiving challenges (Mediafed recently calculated that it is now storing so much data in the cloud that it would take three weeks to download a back-up of its S3 data). Williamson concluded: "We appreciate that cloud computing has moved us on but [now] we've got a whole set of new problems."

See also these posts about previous outages at Amazon Web Services:

Amazon Web Services gets serious about enterprise

Time for a Bezos trustworthy cloud initiative?

Topics: Amazon, Cloud, Outage

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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3 comments
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  • Having to use two services can't be ...

    economical compared to taking care of your own data. Have these companies done any real studies comparing the cost of managing your own cloud compared to letting someone else manage it, especially when you have to use two providers.

    IT can turn into a money pit very quickly. That is especially so when it is mismanaged. But a mismanaged service provider providing your cloud will flat ruin your business.

    The cloud will eventually prove to be a nightmare. After networks get to a certain size, they become impossible to manage. As cloud popularity increases, so will the headaches.
    bjbrock
  • Cloud is the right term...

    I chuckled the first time I heard the term "cloud computing". Clouds to me are very unreliable and shift with no notice or reason. I guess that had an impact on me, because in viewing the "cloud" as it may be, seems to show that computing in this area also has many unknowns and many problems. Oh well...
    Narg
  • RE: S3 outage: time to double up

    Thats true having one single point of failure is just setting yourself up for failure, thats what Amazon needs to figure out. I've been thinking about using S3 to help provide backend for my new Iphone app, NOW I've changed my mind, maybe i'll head over to the Nirvanix cloud.