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Lessons Learned from the Amazon Web Services Outage
The only surprising thing about this AWS outage was that anyone was surprised by it

On Monday, Amazon Web Services — the leading provider of cloud services — suffered an outage, and as a result, a long list of well-known and popular websites went dark. According to Amazon’s Service Health Dashboard, the outage started out as degraded performance of a small number of Elastic Bloc Store (EBS) storage units in the US-EAST-1 Region, then evolved to include problems with the Relational Database Service and Elastic Beanstalk as well.

AWS outage takes down Reddit

WEBSITE DOWN: AWS outage takes down Reddit and other popular sites

The only surprising thing about this AWS outage was that anyone was surprised by it. It wasn’t the first time AWS had a major outage or problems with this data center. If you remember, back in June a line of powerful thunderstorms knocked the power out at a major Amazon hosting center. The backup generator failed, then the software failed, and, well, you know the drill. A corollary of Murphy’s Law is that if multiple things can go wrong, they will all go wrong at once.

In both of these instances (and in all Amazon Web Services outages, in fact) some customers were knocked “off the air” while others continued running without a hiccup. You would think that eventually companies will learn to anticipate the inevitable AWS outages and take active steps to prepare for them. There are best practices and solutions on how to reduce vulnerability to an outage, but they’re rarely implemented. That’s because people don’t think that anything could happen to Amazon — obviously, things happen.

Instances like this are a learning opportunity if we take the time to think about why they happened and what could have been done to prevent them. Here are six lessons that I think we can learn from the Amazon Web Services outages.

Lesson 1 — Clouds are made of components that can fail. When people think of the cloud, they think that there is some amorphous and untouchable blog up in the sky. And while that’s a nice bit of marketing, it is not a useful model for operational planning. Be mindful of your cloud provider’s architecture and how it is built to manage failure of a component or a zone blackout. Then anticipate that failures can happen at any point in the cloud infrastructure.

Lesson 2 — The stress of failure will trigger a cascade of other failures. After reading a description of the outage, you get the sense that it was just one thing after another. What started as a small issue affecting one Northern Virginia data center quickly spread, causing a chain reaction and outage that disrupted much of the Internet for several hours. Remember Murphy and his law?

Lesson 3 – -Spikes matter. When a cloud fails, hundreds of customers are impacted. As they try to recover, they will be stressing the cloud provider’s infrastructure with a peak load that is guaranteed to cause even more problems. If you get these transition spikes, they get worse and worse. Every time you reboot, it takes longer and longer. If you have ten servers doing that, that’s bad. If you spike a thousand servers, that’s really bad. Something that would have taken five minutes to fix will now take five hours when you get into that transition type of syndrome.

Lesson 4 — Cloud providers provide the tools to manage failure, but it is up to you to put your own failover plans in place. AWS, for example, is broken into zones. If a component in the Virginia zone goes down and the whole matrix is dead, then (in theory) you should be able to move all your data to another zone. That other zone might be hosted, unaffected, in Ireland and then you are up and running again. This is one of the big differences between the cloud and more traditional approaches to IT. It is up to the application (and by extension, the application’s designer) to manage its interaction with the cloud environment, up to and including failover. Most cloud providers offer tools and frameworks to support failover, but you are responsible for implementing that best practice into your system operation and into the applications.

Lesson 5 — You need to put your failover plans through a full-blown load test. It’s not enough to have a strategy in place for failover. You have to test it under real-world conditions. Even the best laid failover plans, once implemented and designed, might have hiccups when a real outage occurs. A full-blown cloud load test can help you see how long the failover process will take to kick in and what other dependencies might need to be sorted out. Obviously this isn’t easy. If it was, Reddit, Foursquare, Airbnb and others wouldn’t have been impacted by the AWS outage.

Lesson 6 — Conduct fire drills. While a load test will confirm that your failover plan works as you expect, it will also give your team some real experience in executing the plan. Remember the fire drills you used to do in school? Fire drills help train students, teachers, and others to know exactly what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to go in the event of an emergency. All the bugs in the process are worked out during the fire drill, and the more everybody does the drills, the more comfortable there are with what they need to do. And if a real emergency happens, everybody knows how to leave the building calmly. You want to do the same thing with your failover plan, and load testing can help you get there. Fire drills save lives and load tests save cloud apps.

Is your failure worth more than $28?

Amazon offers reimbursement to its customers based on the amount of downtime the customer experiences. The last time our Amazon Web Services went down, we got a $28 reimbursement. So my final lesson learned (I guess this makes for seven lessons) is this: The cost of downtime for your organization — in lost revenue, poor customer experience, etc. — is far, far greater than just what you are paying your cloud provider. $28 is not going to save your day. You have to make sure that you have a failover solution that’s ready and working. Don’t wait for Amazon to solve this problem for you, because it’s only a $28 problem for it.

The biggest lesson learned from these AWS outages is that you need to configure properly and you need to train your people. These types of events will always happen, and when they do, you need to be trained ahead of time. Load testing itself is a good way to validate and train. That way when a real emergency occurs, your team can react in a calm, collected manner to a situation they’ve experienced dozens of times before.

Read the original blog entry...

About Sven Hammar
Sven Hammar is Co-Founder and CEO of Apica. In 2005, he had the vision of starting a new SaaS company focused on application testing and performance. Today, that concept is Apica, the third IT company I’ve helped found in my career.

Before Apica, he co-founded and launched Celo Commuication, a security company built around PKI (e-ID) solutions. He served as CEO for three years and helped grow the company from five people to 85 people in two years. Right before co-founding Apica, he served as the Vice President of Marketing Bank and Finance at the security company Gemplus (GEMP).

Sven received his masters of science in industrial economics from the Institute of Technology (LitH) at Linköping University. When not working, you can find Sven golfing, working out, or with family and friends.

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Cloud Expo 2013 East Opening Keynote by IBM
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Lisa Larson, Vice President of Enterprise Cloud Solutions of Rackspace Hosting Live From New York City
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@CloudExpo Blogs
IT planning is an imprecise science that allows IT experts to increase the flexibility and agility of IT environments while reducing the bottom line. In an ideal world, where time and budget are not limiting factors, upgrading an organization's infrastructure happens on an ongoing, as-needed basis. In the real world, IT administrators have to make decisions about the hardware they put in place and how to maintain acceptable service levels over the course of the equipment's expected life. Most businesses do not have the luxury of replacing their current storage systems when IT demands outpace ...
More than 95 percent of the world’s enterprises rely on SSH user keys to provide administrators and developers an effective means of gaining encrypted access to critical infrastructure: operating systems, applications, payment processing systems, databases, human resource and financial systems, routers, switches, firewalls and other network devices. It is a lifeline of traffic flow within our data centers, our cloud environments and how our third-party vendors and supply chain access our environments. It has done its job quietly and efficiently over the last two decades. Unfortunately, the acc...
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Yes this post is about the #Brexit, but it's about your data more importantly! As a company that has a large customer and open source user community in the EU, I thought a quick note on some considerations following the Brexit vote were in order. This is not an opinion piece, as that would seem to be casting stones at this point. The vote is done and the process will move forward as it was voted, but I do think the impacts of this decision are going to be incredibly disruptive and likely felt for a long time to come in many ways well outside the economic or political realms. There is no secto...
The Dean of the University of San Francisco School of Management, Elizabeth Davis, recently asked me to sit on a Big Data panel at the Direct Sales Association conference. I was given a 5-minute slot to “demystify” Big Data to a non-technical group of about 1,000 people; to help them understand where and how this thing called “Big Data” could help them. Well if you know me, I can barely introduce myself in 5 minutes. But this was particularly challenging for me, as I’m used to talking about Big Data with organizations with at least some level of Big Data experience or understanding (maybe the...
The data warehouse and data lake are two different types of data storage repository. The data warehouse integrates data from different sources and suits business reporting. The data lake stores raw structured and unstructured data in whatever form the data source provides. It does not require prior knowledge of the analyses you think you want to perform. A data lake is a storage repository that holds a vast amount of raw data in its native format until it is needed. While a hierarchical data warehouse stores data in files or folders, a data lake uses a flat architecture to store data.
Are you still pondering whether to integrate cloud computing services into the structure of your IT network? You are not the only one. Most IT professionals are very concerned about data security, so they aren’t that willing to switch to cloud computing solutions that easily. It’s a fact that even advanced services like Amazon’s EC2 aren’t ready to cater to all privacy needs of data-sensitive companies.
More than with previous technological (r)evolutions a side effect of cloud computing seems to be an increase in the degree of centralisation and concentration, not just within company organisations, but particularly in the wider commercial market. This is the most obvious with Software as a Service, where providers such as AirBNB, Uber, but also earlier cloud services such as LinkedIn and Google Search quickly established a ‘winner takes all’ distribution of market share and thus market power. And also in Infrastructure as a Service, we see an quickly diminishing number of suppliers still hav...
It feels like the barbarians are continually at the gate. We can’t seem to go more than a week before a new data breach is in the news, impacting potentially millions of individuals. The targets range from companies like Omni Hotels, which had been breached affecting up to 50,000 customers whose personal and credit card information was exposed, to North Carolina State University, where over 38,000 students’ personal information, including their SSNs, were at risk. As I mentioned in a recent blog ‘Internet of Things and Big Data – who owns your data?’, we have been storing our personal and cred...
Clouds are typically classified into four different topologies: private, public, community and hybrid clouds. Let’s focus on hybrid clouds: what are the use cases that require this topology, what are the challenges, and who stands to benefit from the hybrid cloud trend? First off, a definition: A hybrid cloud is a topology in which more than one cloud infrastructure is utilized to solve a particular problem.
Tangerine Bank in Toronto has improved end-user experiences for online banking and made data more secure across its lifecycle, speeding the delivery of a new credit card offering. We'll now learn how improving end-user experiences for online banking and making data more secure across its lifecycle has helped speed the delivery of a new credit card offering.
Opining about the future of AI at the recent Brilliant Minds event at Symposium Stockholm, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt rejected warnings from Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking about the dangers of AI, saying, “In the case of Stephen Hawking, although a brilliant man, he’s not a computer scientist. Elon is also a brilliant man, though he too is a physicist, not a computer scientist.” This absurd dismissal of Musk and Hawking was in response to an absurd question about “the possibility of an artificial superintelligence trying to destroy mankind in the near future.” Schmidt went on to sa...
Continuous testing helps bridge the gap between developing quickly and maintaining high quality products. But to implement continuous testing, CTOs must take a strategic approach to building a testing infrastructure and toolset that empowers their team to move fast. Download our guide to laying the groundwork for a scalable continuous testing strategy.
This is part one of a two-part series of posts about using some common server storage I/O benchmark tools and workload scripts. View part II here which includes the workload scripts and where to view sample results. There are various tools and workloads for server I/O benchmark testing, validation and exercising different storage devices (or systems and appliances) such as Non-Volatile Memory (NVM) flash Solid State Devices (SSDs) or Hard Disk Drives (HDD) among others.
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Past SYS-CON Events
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2011west.sys-con.com

 
    Cloud Expo East
cloudcexpo
2011east.sys-con.com

 
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2010west.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo West
virtualization
2010west.sys-con.com
    Cloud Expo Europe
cloudexpoeurope2010.
sys-con.com

 
    Cloud Expo East
cloudcomputingexpo
2010east.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo East
virtualizationconference
2010east.sys-con.com
    Cloud Expo West
cloudcomputingexpo
2009west.sys-con.com

 
    Virtualization Expo West
virtualizationconference
2009west.sys-con.com
    GovIT Expo
govitexpo.com
 
    Cloud Expo Europe
cloudexpoeurope2009.sys-con.com
 

Cloud Expo 2011 Allstar Conference Faculty

S.F.S.
Dell

Singer
NRO

Pereyra
Oracle

Ryan
OpSource

Butte
PwC

Leone
Oracle

Riley
AWS

Varia
AWS

Lye
Oracle

O'Connor
AppZero

Crandell
RightScale

Nucci
Dell Boomi

Hillier
CiRBA

Morrison
Layer 7 Tech

Robbins
NYT

Schwarz
Oracle

What The Enterprise IT World Says About Cloud Expo
 
"We had extremely positive feedback from both customers and prospects that attended the show and saw live demos of NaviSite's enterprise cloud based services."
  –William Toll
Sr. Director, Marketing & Strategic Alliances
Navisite
 


 
"More and better leads than ever expected! I have 4-6 follow ups personally."
  –Richard Wellner
Chief Scientist
Univa UD
 


 
"Good crowd, good questions. The event looked very successful."
  –Simon Crosby
CTO
Citrix Systems
 


 
"It's the largest cloud computing conference I've ever seen."
  –David Linthicum
CTO
Brick Group