IT Management Articles

Thinking About Next Steps for Small Businesses After the Amazon Outage…

by Keean Persaud
Published on 2 May 2011

By now, most of you must have heard about the recent outage at Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud service. The outage, which caused headlines because it brought down major websites and application providers running on AWS, surprised analysts in the cloud computing industry. This is because Amazon is a major player in the industry with a scale and infrastructure availability that is among the best.

Perhaps, that is also the reason why many were quick to pronounce the outage as a "crisis that would force a conversation in the industry." The outage has indeed sparked a conversation.

Much of it is about technical details such as the form of architecture which is best suited to the cloud and whether Amazon's EC2 had the necessary redundancy for cloud architecture. While some proclaimed the incident as a death knell of an industry forecast to grow to $55 billion in revenue by 2014 (according to IDC), nothing of the sort has happened so far. According to Adrian Sanders, cloud evangelist and founder of VM Associates, the outage was a "blip on the radar and over time will serve as a hiccup and warning for single point of failure systems." "Those with FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt) will definitely have more to think about," he adds.

The major concern for small business owners, however, is whether cloud computing can deliver on its promise of high quality and relatively inexpensive IT services. By itself, that question is a combination of several questions.

To start with, can you trust cloud services that rely on single points of failure (Amazon's cloud design)? While you cannot control the cloud architecture being used, you can definitely make sure that it includes redundancies. For example, Amazon EC2 gives service providers the freedom to choose availability zones or geographic zone for their data. According to Amazon, each availability zone runs its own physically distinct, independent infrastructure, and is engineered to be highly reliable. Of course, multiple availability zones comes at higher prices.

Similarly, security has been a major concern for small businesses in cloud computing. Did the outage exacerbate cloud security concerns? "Security is a late adopters concern," says Sanders. "Smart corps will still see the upside (because they already know how insecure their networks are)." He adds that security concerns - as always with "cloud" - it really depends on the business sector.

Downtime translates into lost revenues for small businesses. Is there anything that you can do about it? Not really. "Small Businesses are, more or less at the whim of whomever their cloud providers are," says Sanders. However, he adds that small businesses can better prepare with a back up plan. "Part of that is syncing and pulling crucial data down into other systems (Dropbox works in a pinch) and having a "disaster" plan for 24hrs," he says.

Another area that small businesses should pay close attention is Services Level Agreements management or SLAs. The fine print on these agreements masks details. Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) customers in regions affected at the time of the disruption, regardless of whether their resources and application were impacted or not, are getting an automatic 10-day credit equal to 100 percent of their usage. Of course, the specific terms of that compensation depends on your negotiation of the SLA.

In the end, the recent cloud computing outage might just be a brake in the cloud computing juggernaut.

What do you think? Has the recent Amazon outage had any impact on your cloud strategy?

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