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See Clouds? Look for Rain.

April 22, 2011

We’ve been talking for some time about the potential issues associated with cloud computing, and particularly public cloud service providers.  While most of our discussion has been based on direct security threats, we now have an example of a cloud service provider that has experienced an outage: Amazon.  Now, to be clear, Amazon’s cloud service provision is considered one of the best in the industry.  However, even in the largest, most well-managed data center environments, bad things happen.  This week, it was an issue with block storage device allocation and management that occurred in at least one Amazon DC (in northern Virginia), and affected some major Web 2.0 company names, including  Reddit and Quora; as of this morning (Friday, 4/22/11), Quora is sporadically up, while Reddit is operating in “emergency mode”.

What does this tell us?  Well, first it tells us that, from the subscriber’s perspective, an outage is an outage, regardless of whether it was caused by a malicious attacker, a malware outbreak, or a dead hard drive.  In all cases, business is affected.  Second, it tells us that in understanding performance and capacity metrics is yet another critical component of knowing what’s going on across your environment (i.e., situational awareness).  Often the concepts of business continuity planning and disaster recovery (BCP/DR) are kept separate from traditional information security; we think that, from an IT perspective, that’s a mistake.  Organizations — especially B2B service providers like cloud vendors – need to be able to constantly monitor their assets, determine if and when unusual security and performance characteristics appear, and most importantly, identify the root cause of how these issues occur, so that action can be taken right away.

From the cloud service buyer’s perspective, BCP/DR considerations should always be part of an cloud service evaluation, and should be a critical variable in determining which provider is selected.  Otherwise, your cloud may turn into an unwieldy storm.

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