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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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CHOQUETTE
RackN

MARTIN
Security

HURWITZ
Hurwitz & Assc.

Cloud Expo Silicon Valley All-Star Speakers Include

KOWALL
AppDynamics

VAN TUIN
Red Hat

DEMMER
Jut

COHEN
Netflix

MUCHANDI
Red Hat Inc

BORELLO
Sysdig

GILPIN
Conjur

KANADE
Harbinger
Systems

GORBACHEV
Systems
Services Inc.

SUSSMAN
Coalfire

KHAN
Solgeniakhela

CHOKSI
Harbinger
Systems

DE MENO
CommVault

BLOOMBERG
Intellyx

BUGWADIA
Nirmata

COTY
Alert Logic

FLETCHER
Alert Logic

CAUTHRON
NIMBOXX

LYNN
AgilData

WAGNER
Cloudyn

ANAND
Appocito

WEISS
Pythian

BRODY
Webair

JACKSON
Softlayer

DAVIDSON
Juniper

HOFFMAN
Pivotal

VERVAET
HGST

Murthy
CloudRaxak

FRANCISCO
Evolute

LETCHIN
Nexenta

SIMON
JFrog

BONIFAZI
Solgenia

WEISS
ProfitBricks

HOLT
IBM

HANNON
SoftLayer

GALLO
SoftLayer

SAYEGH
Codero

BIMMU
Clouber

SRINIVAS
IBM

CHAVAN
IBM

HEDGES
Clouddata

AHUJA
Cloud

MEINER
Oracle

SWARTZ
Ericsson
Cloud Expo New York All-Star Speakers Included

DE SOUZA
Cisco

POTTER
SafeLogic

ROBINSON
CompTIA

WARUSA
-WITHANA

WSO2 Inc

MEINER
Oracle

CHOU
Microsoft

HARRISON
Tufin

BRUNOZZI
VMware

KIM
MapR

KANE
Dyn

SICULAR
Basho

TURNER
Cloudian

KUMAR
Liaison

ADAMIAK
Liaison

KHAN
Solgenia

BONIFAZI
Solgenia

SUSSMAN
Coalfire

ISAACSON
RMS

LYNN
CodeFutures

HEABERLIN
Windstream

RAMA
MURTHY

Virtusa

BOSTOCK
IndependenceIT

DE MENO
CommVault

GRILLI
Adobe

WILLIAMS
Rancher Labs

CRISWELL
Alert Logic

COTY
Alert Logic

JACOBS
SingleHop

MARAVEI
Cisco

JACKSON
Softlayer

SINGH
IBM

HAZARD
Softlayer

GALLO
Softlayer

TAMASKAR
GENBAND

SUBRA
-MANIAN

Emcien

LEVESQUE
Windstream

IVANOV
StorPool

BLOOMBERG
Intellyx

BUDHANI
Soha

HATHAWAY
IBM Watson

TOLL
ProfitBricks

LANDRY
Microsoft

BEARFIELD
Blue Box

HERITAGE
Akana

PILUSO
SIASMSP

HOLT
IBM Cloudant

SHAN
CTS

PICCININNI
EMC

BRON-
GERSMA

Modulus

PAIGE
CenturyLink

SABHIKHI
Cognitive Scale

MILLS
Green House Data

KATZEN
CenturyLink

SLOPER
CenturyLink

SRINIVAS
EMC

TALREJA
Cisco

GORBACHEV
Systems Services Inc.

COLLISON
Apcera

PRABHU
OpenCrowd

LYNN
CodeFutures

SWARTZ
Ericsson

MOSHENKO
CoreOS

BERMINGHAM
SIOS

WILLIS
Stateless Networks

MURPHY
Gridstore

KHABE
Vicom

NIKOLOV
GetClouder

DIETZE
Windstream

DALRYMPLE
EnterpriseDB

MAZZUCCO
TierPoint

RIVERA
WHOA.com

HERITAGE
Akana

SEYMOUR
6fusion

GIANNETTO
Author

CARTER
IBM

ROGERS
Virtustream
Cloud Expo Silicon Valley All-Star Speakers

TESAR
Microsoft

MICKOS
HP

BHARGAVA
Intel

RILEY
Riverbed

DEVINE
IBM

ISAACSON
CodeFutures

LYNN
HP

HINKLE
Citrix

KHAN
Solgenia

SINGH
Bigdata

BEACH
SendGrid

BOSTOCK
IndependenceIT

DE SOUZA
Cisco

PATTATHIL
Harbinger

O'BRIEN
Aria Systems

BONIFAZI
Solgenia

BIANCO
Solgenia

PROCTOR
NuoDB

DUGGAL
EnterpriseWeb

TEGETHOFF
Appcore

BRUNOZZI
VMware

HICKENS
Parasoft

KLEBANOV
Cisco

PETERS
Esri

GOLDBERG
Vormetric

CUMBER-
LAND

Dimension

ROSENDAHL
Quantum

LOOMIS
Cloudant

BRUNO
StackIQ

HANNON
SoftLayer

JACKSON
SoftLayer

HOCH
Virtustream

KAPADIA
Seagate

PAQUIN
OnLive

TSAI
Innodisk

BARRALL
Connected Data

SHIAH
AgilePoint

SEGIL
Verizon

PODURI
Citrix

COWIE
Dyn

RITTEN-
HOUSE

Cisco

FALLOWS
Kaazing

THYKATTIL
TimeWarner

LEIDUCK
SAP

LYNN
HP

WAGSTAFF
BSQUARE

POLLACK
AOL

KAMARAJU
Vormetric

BARRY
Catbird

MENDEN-
HALL

SUPERNAP

SHAN
KEANE

PLESE
Verizon

BARNUM
Voxox

TURNER
Cloudian

CALDERON
Advanced Systems

AGARWAL
SOA Software

LEE
Quantum

OBEROI
Concurrent, Inc.

HATEM
Verizon

GALEY
Autodesk

CAUTHRON
NIMBOXX

BARSOUM
IBM

GORDON
1Plug

LEWIS
Verizon

YEO
OrionVM

NAKAGAWA
Transparent Cloud Computing

SHIBATA
Transparent Cloud Computing

NATH
GE

GOKCEN
GE

STOICA
Databricks

TANKEL
Pivotal Software

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Testimonials
This week I had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at Cloud Expo New York. It was amazing to be back in the great city of New York with thousands of cloud enthusiasts eager to learn about the next step on their journey to embracing a cloud-first worldl."
@SteveMar_Msft
General Manager of Window Azure
 
How does Cloud Expo do it every year? Another INCREDIBLE show - our heads are spinning - so fun and informative."
@SOASoftwareInc
 
Thank you @ThingsExpo for such a great event. All of the people we met over the past three days makes us confident IoT has a bright future."
Yasser Khan
CEO of @Cnnct2me
 
One of the best conferences we have attended in a while. Great job, Cloud Expo team! Keep it going."

@Peak_Ten


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Business Executives including CEOs, CMOs, & CIOs , Presidents & SVPs, Directors of Business Development , Directors of IT Operations, Product and Purchasing Managers, IT Managers.

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@CloudExpo Blogs
Advances in thin clients, desktop virtualization (VDI), cloud management services, and mobile delivery networks are allowing both increased security and edge applications performance gains. The next BriefingsDirect thought leadership panel discussion focuses on the heightened role of security in the age of global cloud and mobile delivery of apps and data. As enterprises and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) alike weigh the balance of apps and convenience with security -- a new dynamic is emerging. Security concerns increasingly dwarf other architecture considerations. Yet advances ...
IDC estimates that the digital universe is doubling every two years. That means the need for data storage is increasing at the same rate. This exponential demand is no match for traditional vertical-scaling storage architectures. The resulting bottlenecks significantly reduce performance, and trying to store so much data would require prohibitively expensive server scale-out.
IoT networking requirements are vastly different from those supported by today's cloud network. The processing and transport levels are multiple orders of magnitude higher than ever seen before. More importantly though, societal economic and the safety ramifications of making mistakes during this transition are off the scale. This is why system engineering of the cloud computing network is now an immediate global imperative.
Big Data automation can mean writing dozens of scripts to process different input sources and aligning them in order to consolidate all this data and produce the required output. Why exactly do you need Big Data for your enterprise projects? Many industry observers have been noting that although a lot of enterprises like to claim that their big data projects are aimed at "deriving insights" that replace human intuition with data-driven alternatives, in reality though, the objective appears to be automation. They point out that the role of data scientists at a lot of organizations has got litt...
Cloud Expo 2016 New York at the Javits Center New York was characterized by increased attendance and a new focus on operations. These were both encouraging signs for all involved in Cloud Computing and all that it touches. As Conference Chair, I work with the Cloud Expo team to structure three keynotes, numerous general sessions, and more than 150 breakout sessions along 10 tracks. Our job is to balance the state of enterprise IT today with the trends that will be commonplace tomorrow. Mobile Computing, Big Data and Analytics, the Internet of Things, Platforms and Microservices and Containe...
Karen Field, Penton Communications' IoT Institute director, in her article "Start Small to Gain Big," postulated an oil drilling platform with 30,000 sensors would generate about 1 Terabyte of data per day. She also stressed that only 1% of that data would likely be used. From a systems engineering point of view this data flow is multiplied by the trillions of other IoT sensors in the cloud, introducing unprecedented data processing and data transport stress. Industries and competing companies within those industries will also be forced to weigh the economic impact of paying for this transport...
xMatters for the Enterprise DevOps toolchain stitches together the disparate operational tools to help orchestrate hand-offs between the tools and team members. Customers like us because we understand the need for DevOps or NoOps automation at enterprise scale and recognize that humans are still involved when something goes wrong.
Security is one of the most controversial topics in the software industry. How do you measure security? Is your favorite software fundamentally insecure? Are Docker containers secure? Dan Walsh, SELinux architect, wrote: "Some people make the mistake of thinking of containers as a better and faster way of running virtual machines. From a security point of view, containers are much weaker." Meanwhile, James Bottomley, Linux Maintainer and former Parallels CTO, wrote: "There's contentions all over the place that containers are not actually as secure as hypervisors. This is not really true. Para...
Information security has become a critical priority for many businesses over the past decade, and for good reason. It seems like a new breach is exposed on nearly a daily basis, impacting another organization and its patrons. However, some companies believe that they're safe because they're either too small or too big to be affected by any of these cyberattacks. The truth is that groups of all sizes from Target to your local dentist are being hacked or having their data compromised, and it's causing a major upheaval in the security community.
Too many myths and hypes create the confusion around digital transformation. Digital transformation isn't a technology change matter, it's primarily about transforming business models: infrastructure and operating model. Digital transformation when tackled with proven methodologies and approaches isn't as complex as it seems, they provide the step-by-step guide, the logic, and the tools to make it easy.
One of the greatest challenges facing business and government organizations is how to store and move sensitive data around the world while maintaining security. Storing and securing critical data held within data centers (whether physical or virtual) is top of mind from the boardroom to the remote data center. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Cloud IT Infrastructure Tracker, spending on private cloud IT infrastructure in 2015 will grow by 15.8 percent year over year to $12.1 billion, while spending on public cloud IT infrastructure will increase by 29.6...
Fog Computing is being touted as the data communication solution our Internet of Things (IoT) devices are asking for by bringing the power of cloud computing closer to the end user. The fact is, the number of connected devices is going to continue to grow exponentionally. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020 IoT will include 26 billion connected things. Consider the impact that amount of data collected and processed will have.
Organizations are experiencing a new emphasis when it comes to cybersecurity. They are moving from securing the perimeter to securing the data within it, which is the result of the proliferation of connected devices in organizations today: smartphones, tablets and the IoT. Organizations used to focus their efforts on keeping attackers outside the perimeter, because just a few years ago, the network perimeter was much more static and limited. Today, the perimeter is everywhere – and constantly moving.
Consider the following integration scenarios: Moving medical records between EMR systems; financial information between banking systems; HR information between ERP systems; and software development information between SDLC tools. At first glance the approaches required for these integrations may seem the same. But if you look slightly deeper you will realize that this can’t be the case because of impedance mismatch. I’m defining impedance mismatch as the friction that occurs when trying to align two things or concepts that don’t naturally/actually match. Because many of the hardest impedance ...
Although we often write about and discuss digital transformation, we often fail to identify the end goal we are really trying to achieve. We talk at great length about data, analytics, speed, information logistics systems and personalized user experiences, but none of these are the end goal. Ultimately we must digitally transform so we can remove the “fog of war,” and have clear visibility and insights into our businesses and the needs of our customers. The end goal of digital transformation, however, is the ability to rapidly act and react to changing data, competitive conditions and strat...