April 26, 2011, 3:34 PM — The servers are back up and users can once again check in on Foursquare and ask questions on Quora, but the legacy of last week's Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) outage will live on and provide important lessons for businesses as they look to cloud computing for their IT future.
While there have been high profile cloud outages before, the scale and length of Amazon's unexpected downtime, as well as the profile of some of the clients that were dragged down with it, make it all the more impactful. So while Amazon scrambles to find out what went wrong, here's how to make sure you're ready for turbulence on the way to the cloud.
Amazon structures its cloud data center into Availability Zones to provide a level of redundancy. It's like designing a ship with multiple water-tight compartments, so that if one or two are damaged, the ship remains afloat. However, history has shown us no "unsinkable" ship is truly unsinkable, and to believe so is folly. Trust in your design, but always have enough lifejackets on board.
Even with a major hole poked in its credibility by nearly two days of downtime, cloud computing in general and Amazon EC2 in particular still offer compelling benefits to the small business community--most notably, the capability to offload the management of complex compute demands.
There are ways to mitigate some of the potential challenges of an outage like Amazon's. With some care and forethought, small businesses can still turn to the cloud as a way to reduce the time and money they stay on the "keeping the lights on" part of IT management, and increase the amount of effort they spend on innovation through technology.
What Is Mission Critical?
Businesses that depend on Internet connectivity, like Foursquare and Quora, are more attracted than most to the value proposition of cloud computing. The capability to scale their environment (and their bill) up or down with usage is huge. However, these are also the companies that stand to lose the most when there's downtime, as the Internet-based service literally is the business.
But unless you're launching the next hot-button social media property, you're a little bit more fortunate. You can pick and choose the parts of your IT infrastructure you want to keep on-site, and outsource others to maximize profitability.