Cloud Computing


The Perils of Cloud Computing

The cloud may be the future, but it’s not a bed of roses. The Amazon Cloud had a meltdown on Christmas Eve, affecting many customers who use the service. Companies that use Amazon as their cloud, their customers and workers were all affected. What should we learn from this high-profile meltdown?

It may be the talk of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, but the Cloud may not be the panacea they told us it was. Over the last several years, companies of all types have been steering us into the cloud. The arguments they offer seem to make sense. However, there is also a dark side, and that side bit Amazon and its cloud customers in the rear end.

First it’s important to understand what we mean when we use the term “cloud.” It actually means different things to different people and companies. It’s a larger, more generic term. Then there are sub-sections.

Many Clouds

One example is when you log on to any retail site like Amazon and sort through its online catalog to shop. Think of an online version of that giant Montgomery Ward catalog, but quicker.

Another type is when you buy books or songs or movies from online sites like Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Google. You shop on their online cloud, then store all your purchases on your separate cloud space, which happens to be on their servers.

Yet another is when you store everything on your wireless device to their cloud like the Apple iCloud for the iPhone.

Still another is the cloud service offered by wireless carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless. This is actually a different type of cloud meant to save you money or give you a more manageable way to have a wireless cloud for all your devices, or your family’s devices rather than a separate cloud account for each.

The newest example is using cloud services to store your personal data online instead of on your hard drive on your devices. You simply set up a cloud account at a company like Apple iCloud, Google Cloud, Microsoft Cloud or Amazon Cloud.

Multifaceted Meltdown

Amazon works in many of these cloud spaces, and its serious meltdown on Christmas Eve had a powerful effect on those who use it.

Netflix is one such customer. Millions of Netflix customers from Canada to Brazil were unable to stream video from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day.

This outage, along with others, means companies are now rethinking their reliance not only on Amazon, but also on the whole cloud-computing shebang.

The cloud is like medicine. It may solve one problem, but there is always a little poison in any pill.

The story is Amazon servers in Northern Virginia had the problem, and that created problems and outages for users. Netflix said its outage came from a problem with AWS, or Amazon Web Services.

AWS also manages the online operations for many companies. That is a growing part of Amazon that many don’t know about, and now it’s left with egg on its face.

Amazon has not explained what happened, so that says to me either it’s management doesn’t know or doesn’t want to say yet.

The Risks

Timing was good for some and horrible for others. Christmas Eve meant lots of companies were closed, but it also meant many others wanted to use the service to shop, watch movies and listen to music, and simply could not.

We are early in this cloud revolution, but it is important to recognize and discuss not only how it can improve business, but also the risks involved.

This is not the first cloud outage. They seem to occur more often than most realize.

This risk could also affect your files and data that you store on the cloud. Imagine sitting down to use your computer and not being able to access your files. That is what a cloud problem could mean to a growing number of users who store their information on the cloud rather than on their device.

There are real benefits to the cloud, like storing your data then being able to access it on a number of devices. Sure this sounds very convenient. But this benefit is not without risk. Will it be accessible every time you need it?

Another risk is security. I have written about this before. If others get your password they can access your data. That’s never a good thing. All your data just sitting there, in the cloud, waiting for the bad guys.

Another is this outage problem like Amazon had and the suffering its customers experienced. Outages earlier in the year affected others like Netflix, Pinterest and Foursquare.

Caution Urged

We are still early in this cloud revolution, but there are reasons to tread carefully, whether you are an individual saving your personal data and files, or whether you are a company using the cloud to interact with all your employees or customers. There are real benefits and dangers and, you should be aware of them all.

So what is the solution? Is there a backup for the cloud that you can sign up with as a corporate or individual customer? I am a protection freak, so maybe a backup for the backup?

The cloud is here to stay, but just realize we are still in the early stages of this revolution, so caution is advised. There is plenty of good, but don’t ignore the risks. OK, for now, it’s back to the drawing board.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is an industry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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