Amazon outage -the view from the mainstream press

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

When a story that gets the IT world excited actually makes it into the mainstream press – then for once the IT world was right to get excited.

So when The Economist covered Amazon’s and Sony’s problems last week, it was proof that cloud computing (and its teething problems) had broken out of the IT world and into general business consciousness.

Interesting to note that The Economist main recommendation was that SaaS vendors should not rely on just one hosting supplier, as I prescribed in my last blog.


More on Amazon outage – SLAs are not the point

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

While we await Amazon’s  autopsy on why their EC2 PaaS (Platform as a Service) went down the toilet for 36 hours, there has been a lot of talk on making sure that users check their hoster’s SLA (Service Level Agreement) to see what uptime they guarantee. But that is missing the point. SLAs are basically an insurance policy that pays out if you site goes down, but in the same way that life insurance doesn’t bring the insured back to life, if the hoster doesn’t meet their SLAs that doesn’t bring your site back online. And like many insurance policies, the small print will always get you when you try and claim.

Meanwhile, let’s just check the maths again on what needs to happen if you want the magic “five nines” of uptime:

36 hours down a year=99.59% uptime
53 minutes down a year=99.99% uptime
5 minutes down a year=99.999% uptime

No matter what Amazon does to learn from this outage, and no matter what SLA you negotiate you them, there is no way that EC2 is going to get to 99.999%. In fact, there is no way ANY one hosting solution will achieve 99.999%. The only way to get to 99.999% is to have (at least) two hosting solutions from different suppliers and to be able to fail over automatically, be they PaaS or your own servers.

Amazon Cloud Outage – The lessons

Friday, 22 April 2011

Over the past couple of years, well meaning people in the cloud industry have told me “You ought to host on a PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) like Amazon or Google. Your customers would be reassured by having such a big name behind you, and it solves all the scalability issues”. And I’ve replied that, call us old fashioned, but we like to know where our customers’ data is and we like to have control of the technical environment we’re running on, and you only get both if you own and maintain your own servers. There is also the mostly-completey-ignored issue of complying with UK & European law and not holding data on EC citizens outside of the EC.

This blog post is not about schadenfreude, rejoicing in Amazon EC2’s two day outage that has taken a swathe of major cloud applications down, including some of our competitors. This is a plea (yet again!) for simplicity in IT design.

It is a truism that the more complex a system, the greater the chance that something will go wrong. The more firewalls, load balancers, routers and software layers between the customer’s browser and your application, the greater chance that something will fail, be it as simple as an engineer in the datacentre pulling out the wrong cable (as happened to us a few months ago).

The other reason we like hosting our own servers is that, if they go down, we have a team of our own people working flat out focussed 100% on getting our system back and not 1,000 other systems at the same time. Which is a lot easier job, especially as we’ve made sure that we have as few layers between our boxes and the outside world.

We also have a backup system on standby with real time data sync so that if our main datacentre does go down, we can fail over in about 20 minutes.

So, cloud developers! Rack your own boxes and keep the IT simple. Maintaining servers is not that hard, you’ll get much better scalability and efficiency by specifying your own software and hardware platform. And your customers won’t be left without an application that they have paid for.

Just make sure there are no Armenian old ladies near the building.

Thunder in the Clouds

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I’m sure you’ve read about the IBM’s Open Cloud Manifesto, Microsoft’s reaction to it and then the press reaction to both. If you haven’t, see Paul Greenberg’s summary. Even the worthy Economist covered the story, so it must be big news.

“Open” initiatives are always launched by a consortium of second tier vendors who want to challenge the first tier vendors’ grip on the market. Unix v Open VMS, CORBA, the Open Software Foundation, we’ve all been here before. The market leaders will have their own “open” systems that are open as long as you use their products, whether their platform is Amazon’s, Google’s, SAP’s or And there is no way any of those vendors will want to make it easy for users to use products outside of the fold. Not surprisingly, the loudest noises are coming from Microsoft, the vendor with the most to lose from the whole concept of cloud computing – not just the application revenue, but the whole stack of client and server operating systems, middleware and databases.

When playing the “Open” card, vendors have to tread a fine line between making their systems sufficiently “open” so that customers are attracted to them, but not so “open” so that they can leave easily. Think lobster pot and you get the idea.

As always, the market will decide, despite different vendors’ attempts to set the agenda. Thank goodness!