Make us your home page
Instagram

Physical storms can hurt virtual cloud, as Amazon found out

Thanks to the cloud, websites and apps around the world can tap into vast, remote stores of data and computing power.

And thanks to the cloud, one good blow to one of those vast, remote storage centers can take down websites and apps around the world.

That's what happened this past weekend. A ferocious lightning storm in northern Virginia took down Netflix, Instagram, Pinterest, Heroku and more — not because any of those companies are based in northern Virginia, but because they all apparently rely heavily on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud facility there. Amazon said the storm, for reasons not immediately explained, took out both its main power supply and its backup generator.

The outage brought to mind a similar incident a year ago, in which an outage at the same Amazon facility felled Reddit, Quora and several other sites.

Does the ability of one local weather pattern to affect Web users around the globe point to a fundamental flaw in the cloud? Have we entered a world in which Internet users in Palo Alto, Johannesburg and Taipei must watch the weather report for northern Virginia?

Not necessarily, but it does highlight the reality that the cloud is as much a physical system as it is a virtual one. And as with most physical systems, redundancy is essential to reliability.

Amazon already has U.S. facilities in Oregon and Northern California in addition to northern Virginia, and it encourages major customers to take advantage of its Elastic Load Balancing service, which is supposed to shift traffic from one cloud center to another to keep things running smoothly. In the past, some of the companies affected by outages have admitted that they didn't sign up for this option, which costs extra. Everyone whose business depends on reliability by now should know that it's worth the price.

But in last weekend's case, it seems that some of the companies affected were in fact using Elastic Load Balancing — and it failed too.

If that's true, this latest outage could spur a different kind of diversification in the cloud. Namely, companies might take a harder look at using providers other than Amazon, the industry leader. Rackspace and Microsoft Windows Azure have been the two closest competitors. But in a timely development, Google announced last week, the day before the outages began, that it is poised to enter the field as well.

The increase in competition will put pressure on Amazon to beef up its reliability. If it doesn't respond, its customers will.

Physical storms can hurt virtual cloud, as Amazon found out 07/02/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 2, 2012 9:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Slate.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Study: Tampa Bay a top market for homebuyers on the move

    Real Estate

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, ATTOM Data Solutions says.

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, a survey found.
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA

    Airlines

    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants the Constitu?tion Revision Commis?sion to ask voters to repeal the state’s system of partial financing of statewide elections.
  5. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]