Blog post

Pain is weakness leaving the cloud

By Kyle Hilgendorf | April 22, 2011 | 2 Comments


The AWS outage was sad for me to see. As a research analyst that covers cloud computing, I have a vested interested in the success and viability of the cloud.

Amazon is a major bellwether for the cloud. They’ve set direction, driven innovation, and challenged status quo. Cloud providers everywhere either try to emulate Amazon or look to shoot holes in Amazon’s boat. Many in the industry, analysts included, give Amazon little slack and a tough time. This happens to leaders and those on top. It’s a fact of life and I am sure there are many out there taking joy in this outage. Do not count me among those people.

But I do want to find some positives in this outage. A common sign in gyms and workout rooms around the world says, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” With the AWS outage, we might just find ourselves saying, “Pain is weakness leaving the cloud.”

The outage has been painful for customers, Amazon, and other cloud providers. The cloud concept, technology, and movement took a big hit. However, I believe this pain will lessen some cloud weaknesses. Let me highlight just three examples.

1. Transparency – if customer due diligence and transparency demands were real before, they’ll be even more elevated now. I don’t know of a single enterprise customer that won’t perform more due diligence and demand more in terms of transparency as a result of this outage. Cloud providers like Amazon will have no choice but to better respond than they did before. Brand is at stake. Outages happen as technology does fail. The cloud is no exception. But for customers to architect around potential outages, they have to better understand architecture and limitations at the provider. The good news? Amazon has been pretty transparent with this outage on their health dashboard. Let’s hope that continues with both Amazon and other providers. It might have been a wakeup call.

2. Liability – many legal experts have said that it is going to take a major cloud outage to bring lawsuits, rulings, and ultimately precedents on cloud liability and responsibility. Is this the outage to do that? It’s too early to tell, but I’d be surprised if zero lawsuits come out of this. Customers and providers need better understanding on how courts will rule. The waterfall effect on those rulings could be enormous and lead to more or less cloud adoption. Simply clearing legal uncertainty, in itself, is a big step.

3. Hybrid clouds – with very few exceptions, the industry is nascent and undefined in terms of architecting solutions across clouds or between the cloud and the enterprise. Many enterprises already understood the need or were asking for innovative solutions to help with this. As a result of this outage, there will now be a heightened awareness on service level, application, and data protection against any one cloud or provider. “How can I architect my solution to be resilient against any one cloud provider?” ISVs, orchestration software companies, and venture capitalists will siege this opportunity and more development will be aimed at these solutions. I am sure it is already occurring in strategic planning sessions among many software companies today. “How can we help customers avoid an outage like this?” The net result will be improved solutions for customers.

We should never like to see an outage like this happen, but every once in a while an alarm is necessary to set the ship back on course. The cloud is not invincible and was never sold to be. In many ways, shame on any one that was starting to believe that. Customers and providers alike have no choice but to make the best out of this situation, and use it to improve the overall industry.

Comments are closed


  • Jay Heiser says:

    I agree that the uptime and status is a form of transparency, but it doesn’t provide a huge amount of information to someone making a risk management decision about the relative risks of using AWS. What a customer really wants to know is whether or not their data is safe in AWS. How likely is it to be stolen, and how likely is it to go missing?

  • Kyle Hilgendorf says:

    Jay, I agree. We can only hope that AWS increases their transparency as a result of this outage. I think customers will demand it more than ever. AWS was at least being honest with what the issues were during the outage. We will have to wait for the postmortem to see how forthright they really are and will have to monitor to see if a new behavior emerges out of this. Count me as someone that hopes postive (transparency) comes out of this.