How Reliable is Cloud Computing?

Is it sensible to trust the cloud?

Data security is the issue of the moment, as the digital world becomes saturated with important information. However, it’s not all about protecting against cybercriminals. Sometimes the tech itself can malfunction, seemingly without any external influence at all. That’s exactly what happened to Amazon Web Services last month, when the company’s S3 service broke down causing mass performance issues for thousands of apps and companies. Amazon’s customers were affected to varying degrees – Trello was rendered completely useless, whereas professional messaging site Slack only experienced some file sharing issues. It’s not the first time this has happened. In 2015, Amazon’s cloud based DynamoDB service experienced problems that impacted numerous companies including Netflix. Many businesses are now heavily invested in web services, but considering the negative effects of a breakdown, is it wise to rely on cloud computing?

What is cloud computing and how has it disrupted businesses?
Cloud computing basically refers to shared computer processing. Most people use it every day in apps for social media and banking, for instance. When it comes to businesses, cloud based services have aided the expansion of digital disruption as more and more processes move online. The three standard models associated with cloud computing are Infrastructure as a Service, Software as a Service and Platform as a Service. Most of these services are provided by a handful of tech giants including Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Google. Rather than relying on a local server or personal computer, clients use remote servers hosted via the internet to store and manage data. It’s flexible, collaborative and enables users to access data anywhere provided there’s an internet connection.

For businesses, it saves the hassle of changing computer infrastructures, which can be costly and time consuming. Companies can then invest in improving their strategies, confident that they have a scalable solution in place. It’s no wonder that demand is so high.

Cloud computing has completely disrupted traditional IT infrastructure solutions” says Mike Bainbridge, Chief Digital Technologist at Rackspace. “The nature of cloud servers means environments can be deployed much more quickly. This time saving allows for rapid testing, prototyping and development. It gives product management teams the ability to work in an agile fashion.”

However, when these services don’t run according to plan, the disruption is far from positive. The Amazon Web Services crash is a stark reminder that digital solutions are by no means infallible. . . and if it can happen to Amazon, the biggest supplier of internet-based computing services in the world, then it can happen to anyone.

Can businesses rely on cloud based services?
When cloud based services fail, the effects can be incredibly damaging. For a start, there’s the monetary cost of sorting out the issue, whatever it may be. Then there’s the time spent trying to fix the problem, which again equates to lost revenue. System breakdowns also damage the provider’s image, encouraging clients to switch to a competing provider. But it’s not just the provider that suffers. The Amazon incident impacted thousands of businesses in a worrying domino effect that highlighted the risk of committing so much processing power to digitalisation. In other words, if a major provider goes down, so do their clients.

Mike Bainbridge says that it is as much their responsibility to find a solution, “When services live on the cloud, some companies forget to take the necessary steps to reduce incident downtime. As was highlighted last week, some feel they can transfer that responsibility. Saying ‘We went down because AWS had an outage’ is not an excuse which customers should put up with.”

Although the aftermath of a system breakdown is detrimental to suppliers and clients alike, it’s worth noting that Amazon got S3 running as normal on the same day. Whilst it’s very unlikely that malfunctions can be completely avoided, businesses can protect against experiencing similar issues for their own good and to the benefit of their customers. For example, by investing in multilayered strategies, organisations avoid putting all of their eggs in one basket. In many ways, it’s a case of common sense – just like making copies of important documents, it’s important to have backup systems in place. On the whole, cloud based solutions are clearly efficient, effective and reliable for the vast majority of the time. . . but they should not be solely relied upon.

As damaging as cloud computing malfunctions can be, they’re a rarity. Sporadic though they are, breakdowns will undoubtedly happen – but this doesn’t mean that everyone should abandon cloud computing and go back to their own personal systems. Instead of discouraging businesses, the Amazon Web Services crash should stand as an affirmation of how secure cloud computing really is, most of the time – especially as S3 was working again within a matter of hours. Considering the effectiveness of cloud computing, the odd breakdown is perhaps a small price to pay.

Does your business rely heavily on cloud based services? What other measures could companies take to ensure the security of their web services? Are web service breakdowns really ‘inevitable’? Share your thoughts and opinions.