It was not a good week for cloud computing vendors. On April 21 Amazon’s E2 infrastructure as a service offering suffering a major outage and then on April 22 Cloud storage gateway provider Cirtas sounded a retreat from the market
Both incidents highlight reasons why “proceed with caution” is sound advice for those looking to use the cloud. But it is still important to note that the lights remain caution yellow, not red. It’s all about a realistic and proper assessment of risk.
When Info-Tech talks to organizations looking to lower upfront capital spend and speed up implementation time with a cloud option we always make sure to highlight these four classic cautions of the cloud:
- Security and accountability. What are the assurances and guarantees to meet requirements of security and regulatory compliance?
- Location, Location. Where is the data to be physically/geographically located? This has implications for both access performance and legal liabilities across jurisdictional boundaries.
- Data and Application Mobility. How hard is it to get it all back if I cease to use a given service. How easy is it to move your property from one cloud to another?
- Availability and Reliability. This one breaks into two sub-caution questions: (1) How available and reliable is the service? (2) How viable and reliable is the vendor?
The Amazon and Cirtas incidents neatly illustrate both parts of the fourth caution above. Amazon suffered a major data center outage that affected numerous tenants including FourSquare, Quora and Reddit. The problems started with Amazon’s Elastic Block Storage (EBS) storage subsystem. It sparked questions about the reliability and availability of all cloud-based infrastructure as a service.
With Cirtas the questions are as much about vendor as product viability. A maker of a storage controller that functioned as an on premise gateway to cloud storage (such as Amazon’s S3), Cirtas announced it was pulling out of the market while laying off staff.
While there have been positive responses to Cirtas’s BlueJet controller — that presents external cloud storage as a local storage array — the company appears to have been unable to keep up with demand for fixes and improvements to meet performance demands as scale increased. The catalyst for the retreat was withdrawal of support from two venture capital backers.
Cirtas is a start-up but a sudden exit from the cloud market is not limited to the small and un-established. Last year EMC withdrew its Atmos cloud storage service and refocused on being a software provider for other hosting services. Iron Mountain is also withdrawing its cloud storage service. Large and small are equally challenged to build a business model where they can make a profit from the low margin cloud market.
Investing in any cloud based or cloud related product carries risks. We choose to represent the classic cautions with yellow flags or yellow traffic lights, rather than red flags or red lights, because the advice isn’t full stop but rather slow down to assess and stop if the risks are too great.
Amazon, for example, has better availability and resiliency and load balancing for a hosted server in their cloud than many IT departments can afford to deploy internally. The view of Amazon’s availability and reliability is very different from the “five nines” data center than the 99% uptime server room.
Not withstanding the high profile outage, there are likely countless small individual outages that were avoided because a customer’s servers were in Amazon’s cloud. One of Amazon’s competitors noted that the Amazon outage is like a plane crash — a high profile incident that nonetheless does not prove that air travel is less safe than cars.
An enterprise that really needs zero downtime availability, say for a public-facing web based e-commerce business, needs to have continuity and recovery planning that includes failover to more than one location and infrastructure — and that includes cloud-based infrastructure.
The bottom line here is that the lesson from Cirtas and Amazon is not that the cloud is failing but rather on the road to the cloud you ignore those flashing caution lights at your peril.