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In the Storm Clouds

Brian Podolsky

2 min read

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Friday evening, while a severe storm system was making it’s way through the Mid-Atlantic states, you may have tried to stream your favorite movie from Netflix, pin to your favorite recipe on Pinterest, or snap a picture of your dinner and post to Instagram — but you couldn’t.  All three services were down.  As an avid Instagrammer, and husband to an avid Pinner, I was disappointed to say the least.  How could three distinct and huge environments all be down at the same time?


Turns out that all these services (plus thousands and thousands of others) all use Amazon Web Services in the Cloud.  Yes, the Cloud.  The be-all-end-all buzzword of modern infrastructure.  The severe electrical storm knocked power out at Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) datacenter in Northern Virginia.  According to Mashable‘s Sam Laird, the various EC2 datacenters include a service known as Elastic Load Balancing (ELB), which, from the Amazon web site:

“…distributes incoming application traffic across multiple Amazon EC2 instances. It enables you to achieve even greater fault tolerance in your applications, seamlessly providing the amount of load balancing capacity needed in response to incoming application traffic.”

But according to Wired‘s Robert McMillan, the ELB service didn’t kick in properly.  So what’s the lesson here?  Even if you were to purchase as much availability as possible in the Cloud, anything can happen.  Is it better for a law firm to have its own responsibility for uptime?  If your systems go down, you only have yourself to blame.  Or is it better still to be able to pass the blame to a datacenter provider?

Or is the lesson to simply avoid Amazon until they can prove their ELB service works?  Then again, if it did work, would we even know?

I’m afraid decisions of whether or not to move to the Cloud just got more complicated.