Cool Celtic Clouds

Posted: September 23, 2011 in Analysis

Well, it’s been quite a month of weather, as it were, from the US, across the Atlantic, through Ireland and the tail end of Hurricane Katie reached us most recently. Along this journey, it seems some interesting damage has been done and lessons learnt.

Early in August, a lightning strike in Dublin knocked out Amazon’s European cloud services. This was most interesting to me as I had heard a senior executive of the company speaking at a dinner in June and he seemed to need convincing of quite how important to the critical national infrastructure (CNI) providers such as Amazon needed to be considered, given the reliance of so many SMEs and others on their service provision. So I was keenly interested in this story about what can be learnt from the Amazon outage.

The outage lasted for more than 24 hours which, in the world of all things online, ‘everything everywhere’, is a significant portion of time to not be able to access key information or to be trading.

High availability solutions for disaster recovery are the latest trend and this is certainly where Amazon needed to be with their customer response. However, primary and secondary power supplies were knocked out in the Dublin lightning strike – the electricity supplier and the backup generator were both taken out by the strike – which seems crazy to have had such vulnerability. BCP and DR work is often about considering the absolute worst case and imagining beyond your average scenario to ensure you are prepared for all eventualities.

Amazon weren’t the only ones to be affected, obviously. But there has been such a hard sell on all things cloud in the last 12 months or so, it is a wake-up call for remembering the impact of not having the systems and services available to you and what the business impact analysis (BIA) actually comes out at once you really experience it.

Data replication is another option and needs to be considered within the realms of both the ICT issues and the records and information management requirements of each individual organisation. There are many tax, legal, regulatory and audit requirements for records retention and management and these need to be borne in mind when data is being stored, replicated or otherwise.

All of this is best encapsulated by the question: ‘how many cloud failures have to happen before consumers take notice?’ as Microsoft and OOMA suffered recently too. Having all your eggs in one basket has never been a good risk management strategy and yet there is still a headlong charge towards the white fluffy clouds without clear contract clauses, rules of engagement or service level agreements that hold sufficient water to keep you afloat in the event of a ‘disaster’. That said, I heard a law professor speaking recently who said that ‘factual functional controls matter more than contracts and labels’. Either way, people will need to know their respective responsibilities and to act accordingly. The same speaker introduced my brain to the term ‘sharding‘ in this context and a whole world of consideration with regard to encryption of data which could ultimately make data storage and handling centres immune from any requirement to comply with data protection related legislation. Such dichotomy thoughts and conundrums to be worked through…

Cloud services will continue to progress and the correlation can be drawn with electricity, when first Thomas Edison tried to ‘sell’ the notion of an always-on (scalable and elastic) service that did not require a great deal of staffed support. ‘The Cloud’, in all its forms, will continue to deliver the modern day equivalent.

I also heard about the intention to set up data-barges off shore to Ireland – choosing the wee island because its base weather is generally sufficiently colder than other known usual data centre choices. The barges are designed to generate free electricity from the water upon which they are sat and this is then re-circulated to provide the cooling. It’s all clever environmentally friendly stuff. But by the time you factor in the implication of you needing to now learn about Maritime law, you know that there’s still work to be done in this area of Cloud Computing! It is definitely becoming a case of C3 (not C3PO yet though!) – Cloud Computing Compliance.

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