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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 New York All-Star Speakers Included

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CHOU
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KHAN
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CodeFutures

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BOSTOCK
IndependenceIT

DE MENO
CommVault

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Adobe

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Rancher Labs

CRISWELL
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COTY
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JACOBS
SingleHop

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JACKSON
Softlayer

SINGH
IBM

HAZARD
Softlayer

GALLO
Softlayer

TAMASKAR
GENBAND

SUBRA
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Emcien

LEVESQUE
Windstream

IVANOV
StorPool

BLOOMBERG
Intellyx

BUDHANI
Soha

HATHAWAY
IBM Watson

TOLL
ProfitBricks

LANDRY
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PILUSO
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HOLT
IBM Cloudant

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CTS

PICCININNI
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BRON-
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Modulus

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Cognitive Scale

MILLS
Green House Data

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SLOPER
CenturyLink

SRINIVAS
EMC

TALREJA
Cisco

GORBACHEV
Systems Services Inc.

COLLISON
Apcera

PRABHU
OpenCrowd

LYNN
CodeFutures

SWARTZ
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MOSHENKO
CoreOS

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SIOS

WILLIS
Stateless Networks

MURPHY
Gridstore

KHABE
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NIKOLOV
GetClouder

DIETZE
Windstream

DALRYMPLE
EnterpriseDB

MAZZUCCO
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RIVERA
WHOA.com

HERITAGE
Akana

SEYMOUR
6fusion

GIANNETTO
Author

CARTER
IBM

ROGERS
Virtustream
Cloud Expo Silicon Valley All-Star Speakers

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HP

BHARGAVA
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RILEY
Riverbed

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HINKLE
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Bigdata

BEACH
SendGrid

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PATTATHIL
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Aria Systems

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YEO
OrionVM

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Transparent Cloud Computing

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Databricks

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Pivotal Software

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@CloudExpo Blogs
The Federal Government’s “Cloud First” policy mandates that agencies take full advantage of cloud computing benefits to maximize capacity utilization, improve IT flexibility and responsiveness, and minimize cost. The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) is a mandatory government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. Advantages for business include being able to market to many federal agencies after a single FedRAMP review following the government’s “approve once...
If we look at slow, traditional IT and jump to the conclusion that just because we found its issues intractable before, that necessarily means we will again, then it’s time for a rethink. As a matter of fact, the world of IT has changed over the last ten years or so. We’ve been experiencing unprecedented innovation across the board – innovation in technology as well as in how people organize and accomplish tasks. Let’s take a look at three differences between today’s modern, digital context for enterprise IT as compared to conventional wisdom – wisdom that may have applied only a handful ...
In the middle of World War II, very basic and primitive computers were designed to improve accuracy for naval gunfire. The first computers ran complex mathematical applications to calculate trajectories and gunfire from large battleships. The size of the computer was huge and was made up of vacuum-tube technology. You could literally walk into the computer. (And needed to, when a tube went bad and you had to replace it.)
The (re?)emergence of Microservices was especially prominent in this week’s news. What are they good for? do they make sense for your application? should you take the plunge? and what do Microservices mean for your DevOps and Continuous Delivery efforts? Continue reading for more on Microservices, containers, DevOps culture, and more top news from the past week. As always, stay tuned to all the news coming from@ElectricCloud on DevOps and Continuous Delivery throughout the week and retweet/favorite to get your favorite pieces featured in our weekly recap.
Adding public cloud resources to an existing application can be a daunting process. The tools that you currently use to manage the software and hardware outside the cloud aren’t always the best tools to efficiently grow into the cloud. All of the major configuration management tools have cloud orchestration plugins that can be leveraged, but there are also cloud-native tools that can dramatically improve the efficiency of managing your application lifecycle. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Alex Lovell-Troy, Director of Solutions Engineering at Pythian, will present a roadmap that can be l...
Microservices are a type of software architecture where large applications are made up of small, self-contained units working together through APIs that are not dependent on a specific language. Each service has a limited scope, concentrates on a specific task and is highly independent. This setup allows IT managers and developers to build systems in a modular way. In his book, “Building Microservices,” Sam Newman said microservices are small, focused components built to do a single thing very well.
2016 will be the year of the data lake. But I expect that much of 2016 data lake efforts will be focused on activities and projects that save the company more money. That is okay from a foundation perspective, but IT and Business will both miss the bigger opportunity to leverage the data lake (and its associated analytics) to make the company more money. This blog examines an approach that allows organizations to quickly achieve some “save me more money” cost benefits from their data lake without losing sight of the bigger “make me more money” payoff – by coupling the data lake with data scie...
Earlier this week it was reported that researchers at Boston-based security company, Rapid7, identified several security flaws in an app connected to a new toy from Mattel's Fisher-Price brand. The news of the security vulnerability caught our attention for a few reasons: The name of the toy - Smart Toy Bear - is strangely close to the name of our company SmartBear Software. More importantly, the story caught our attention because the security vulnerability brought up an important reminder about the important issue of security in today's connected world
The Net Neutrality fight has been all over the news this year with the latest installment on Net Neutrality coming in from T-Mobile. Private and public companies alike are tuned into to this continual saga to see how the eventual outcome will affect business and ultimately their online lives. But whether the FCC’s recent ruling on Net Neutrality stands the test of time or not, there is a new technology that will provide customers fast, reliable Internet services at much lower costs than private business lines.
With the proliferation of both SQL and NoSQL databases, organizations can now target specific fit-for-purpose database tools for their different application needs regarding scalability, ease of use, ACID support, etc. Platform as a Service offerings make this even easier now, enabling developers to roll out their own database infrastructure in minutes with minimal management overhead. However, this same amount of flexibility also comes with the challenges of picking the right tool, on the right provider and with the proper expectations. In his session at 18th Cloud Expo, Warner Chaves, Princ...
Enterprises across all industries are in the midst of difficult, bet-the-company changes we call digital transformation. And yet, there remains broad confusion about the scope of the word digital. While the rise of mobile technologies are the impetus for many such transformations, digital goes well beyond the choice of user device. In fact, digital transformation reflects the fact that customer preferences and behavior are driving enterprise technology decisions – and such technology decisions impact the entire organization, from innovative, customer-focused efforts all the way to the traditi...
Here in the US, the Super Bowl is more than just a football game - it's a national holiday, with its own traditions, festivities, and food and drinks. One of the most important aspects of super bowl is the commercials. Every year, brands spend millions of dollars to get the attention of the more than 120 million Super Bowl viewers. The Wall Street Journal created this brilliant interactive chart of past ad spending. We are sure that the all industries outdid themselves in terms of spending again this year.
I sat down with Michael Rösch, COO of POOL4TOOL, to chat about cloud computing. With a lot of buzz about the impact of the cloud on business, it was a chance to get a perspective, as well as a few hints and tips, from someone who has been at the coalface of procurement cloud services for the past 15 years. Michael has been at POOL4TOOL since 2000, becoming COO in 2012, and has worked on projects with German giants like Behr, Hansgrohe, Heidelberger Printing Presses, Carl Zeiss and ThyssenKrupp Presta in that time.
Once again, the boardroom is in a bitter battle over what edict its members will now levy on their hapless IT organization. On one hand, hybrid cloud is all the rage. Adopting this option promises all the cost savings of public cloud with the security and comfort of private cloud. This environment would not only check the box for meeting the cloud computing mandate, but also position the organization as innovative and industry-leading. Why wouldn’t a forward-leaning management team go all in with cloud?
The arrival of the Microsoft Azure Stack Technical Preview marks a turning point in the cloud-computing market and forms a leading indicator of how dramatically Microsoft has changed in the past two years. The cloud turning point comes because the path to hybrid-cloud capabilities and benefits has a powerful new usher, one with the enterprise, developer, and service-provider presence, R and D budget, and competitive imperative to succeed in a market still underserved and nebulous.