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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.

Presentation Slides
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GetClouder

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EnterpriseDB

MAZZUCCO
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WHOA.com

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6fusion

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Author

CARTER
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SendGrid

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@CloudExpo Blogs
The benefits of efficiency and lower cost have been the primary drivers toward the cloud and SaaS deployments, but this is just the low-hanging fruit of a much greater body of potential. According to a Cisco-sponsored IDC report, a second wave of cloud adoption now targets a much more strategic set of benefits, with 54 percent of businesses surveyed expecting cloud to allow them to allocate IT budgets more strategically, and 53 percent looking to cloud solutions to increase revenues. According to the Cisco study, cloud and SaaS adoption takes place along a spectrum, with ad hoc deployment on...
The cloud provides two major advantages to load and performance procedures that help testing teams better model realistic behavior: instant infrastructure and geographic location. Cloud-based load testing also lowers the total cost of ownership, increases flexibility and allows testers to understand the impact of third-party components. So you’re sold on using the cloud; here’s what you should look for in a cloud-based load testing solution.
Data persistence has a way of sneaking up on developers. You start out with a simple, straightforward database that can functionally hold the data you’re working with and the data you need to work with later. But as your needs change, you start to modify it here and there, until it becomes a brittle tangle of tables and keys and indexes. You need something more dynamic, but you need to retain the ability to retrieve your persistent data. Now, you’re miles from where you started, and staring down the possibility of having to adopt a whole new system. That persistent data is fundamental to nearl...
Digital means customer preferences and behavior are driving enterprise technology decisions to be sure, but let’s not forget our employees. After all, when we say customer, we mean customer writ large, including partners, supply chain participants, and yes, those salaried denizens whose daily labor forms the cornerstone of the enterprise. While your customers bask in the warm rays of your digital efforts, are your employees toiling away in the dark recesses of your enterprise, pecking data into arcane screens as they struggle to retain a thread of sanity under the onslaught of management prac...
As we have seen the growth in security challenges across the organization, we have also seen the growth in security spending and number of products that an enterprise buys. But have we, as an industry, been able to show that we are better off or worse? There is no clear yardstick to measure if a certain security product is making an enterprise more secure and if it I delivering the ROI that it promised. How do we get out of this FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) driven spending and get to a point where we measure impact based on risk and assess value more objectively.
It’s a well-known adage, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’. These days we generally don’t toss our bathwater out the window, nor do we make a baby take the last bath – but we should probably still heed this advice. Especially when we consider adopting and transitioning to new technologies.
Incumbent storage vendors such as EMC, Netapp, and Nutanix have built their rich code base on the block layer. This means that the only viable option to use Persistent Memory as a storage tier is to wrap it up with an abstraction layer that will present it as a block device.
The EMV liability shift that began in October 2015 is likely to reduce card present payment card fraud. That’s a double-edged sword for retailers with an online presence and those who accept mobile payments, as fraudsters are seeking easier routes to ill-gotten gain. Add to this the ongoing data breach environment that has become the new normal, and securing payment transactions has never been more significant.
Initially, we came across ransomware which exploited the entire system and just restricted you from interacting with your own device, later on requiring you to pay dollars if you want to go back and use your computer. And then it started becoming obsolete because an end-user. People were asking themselves: “That is my computer, would I pay $100 for it? If I don't really have data, I’d better format my PC and start all over again.” So, that strategy – locking access to computers, started becoming obsolete. What did the bad guys do? They realized that the previous strategy was only good whe...
Technical decisions around data persistence are hard, which is why we surveyed 583 IT Professionals on everything from current DBMS and ORM usage to modern database engines’ data structures and access patterns to storing data on a mobile device. The two most mature commercial DBMS offerings (Oracle and MySQL) are used in production by 51% and 49% of respondents, respectively-significantly ahead of the third-ranked DBMS (SQL Server, at 34%). The top three, and the tight race between the top two, have not changed in years, among our survey respondents as well as on the DBMS ranking aggregator d...
The notion of customer journeys, of course, are central to the digital marketer’s playbook. Clearly, enterprises should focus their digital efforts on such journeys, as they represent customer interactions over time. But making customer journeys the centerpiece of the enterprise architecture, however, leaves more questions than answers. The challenge arises when EAs consider the context of the customer journey in the overall architecture as well as the architectural elements that make up each customer journey. After all, dividing up the world into familiar layers like process, data, and tec...
Much of the discussion around cloud DevOps focuses on the speed with which companies need to get new code into production. This focus is important – because in an increasingly digital marketplace, new code enables new value propositions. New code is also often essential for maintaining competitive parity with market innovators. But new code doesn’t just have to deliver the functionality the business requires. It also has to behave well because the behavior of code in the cloud affects performance, cost, reliability, and scalability. For developers to write code that behaves well, they need gr...
According to a study the rising number of cloud-specific security attacks are likely to propel the demand for cloud security systems to 20 percent CAGR over the next four years. Adoption of cloud computing services has risen and so have the security risks associated with them. According to a study published by Technavio Research, the rising number of cloud-specific security attacks are likely to propel the demand for cloud security systems over the next few years. Growth has been pegged at 20 percent CAGR over the next four years. According to the study, the usage of cloud-based services requ...
Performance is the elusive butterfly of API development. Everybody is intrigued with its beauty, yet few know how to capture it. In the old days, the approach of many shops to ensure a performant API was to create some code and then pass it over to the wall to QA to do load testing. Later some integration testing took place. As long as the API worked and it was met some marginal performance benchmarks, things were good. This worked well when a public, HTTP based API, consumed by a wide variety of distributed devices was more the exception than the rule. However, today APIs are a big deal a...
The goal of any tech business worth its salt is to provide the best product or service to its clients in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. This is just as true in the development of software products as it is in other product design services. Microservices, an app architecture style that leans mostly on independent, self-contained programs, are quickly becoming the new norm, so to speak. With this change comes a declining reliance on older SOAs like COBRA, a push toward more sustainable API approaches and fewer monolithic development and deployment models.