Risk & fragility: Cloud redux

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Just in case you missed my earlier post about cloud fragility, we have this from the New York Times on October 22, 2012:

Amazon’s data centers in Northern Virginia crashed Monday afternoon, taking with it a number of popular Web sites, from Someecards, the quirky e-card company, to mobile applications like Flipboard and Foursquare.Amazon reported having problems with the data centers in Northern Virginia. Those problems appear to have had a ripple effect across the Internet with several sites hosted on Amazon’s popular EC2 cloud hosting service also reporting problems.

Several frustrated customers took to Twitter Monday to complain that they could not get access to Web sites including Foursquare, turntable.fm and Flipboard. It appears that some of the affected services then affected services that, in turn, ran on them. Because they are all hosted on Amazon’s cloud service, there is a ripple effect. They all go down when the original hosting servers go down.

Last June, an electrical storm caused problems at the same Northern Virginia data centers and took down sites including Netflix, Pinterest and Instagram for a weekend.

"Like many other services, we’ve been taken down by the outage," said Erin Gleason, a spokeswoman for Foursquare, the mobile check-in service. "Both the site and the app are inaccessible right now."

Ms. Gleason said the company was still awaiting guidance and updates from Amazon about when its service might be restored.

"Hoping to get things back up and running ASAP," she said.

This story reinforces that it is crucial not to succumb to the herd mentality through an uncarefully studied rush towards new trends. New trends are usually accompanied by a promise of significant improvement on the current mode of operation. The goal, most of the time, is an improvement in  efficiency or quality. Entirely ignoring the trends can, in many times, result in a loss of competitive advantage. But blindly copying the masses, is not an option either. As I tried to show in an earlier post: risk is subjective. You have to analyze your own risk profile, and follow a risk mitigation strategy that addresses the specifics of that profile.

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Maged Tawfik

Financial Risk Specialist

Financial Risk Specialist SAS Institute, Cary, NC Cornell University, PhD

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