Amazon’s Cloud Goes Dark & the Cloud-Haters Go Nuts

Early this morning, server problems hit one of Amazon’s EC2 datacenters. These are the facilities that power Amazon’s cloud computing infrastructure services — and those, in turn, power thousands of websites and online services.

The outage is a pretty big deal. Reddit is in “emergency read-only mode” at the moment. Foursquare, Quora, and Hootsuite, among many others, are offline. The downtime will be expensive for these companies, and it’s sure to be expensive for Amazon, too.

Even a minor outage riles up the usual bunch of cloud-hating suspects. A major outage like this one whips them into a mouth-foaming, rug-chewing frenzy.

They think this proves that cloud computing is unreliable and dangerous. As usual, they’re wrong.

If you run a huge global enterprise, maybe it makes sense to keep your IT services in-house and to run your own datacenters. Maybe you can deliver better uptime than Amazon. It really boils down to how much money you care to spend along the way.

But if you run a small or medium-sized business, it’s a very different matter. Your budget won’t buy the kind of reliability a world-class datacenter can deliver. No matter how hard you hug those servers, one of them will croak occasionally — and you’ll have to clean up the mess.

Amazon’s cloud services can’t deliver perfect uptime. Neither can any other cloud service. In absolute terms, they will always be less than perfect. Always.

That’s irrelevant. There’s a word to describe anyone who promises 100 percent system uptime: a crank. Pat them on their pointed little heads, pin their mittens to their sleeves, and send them on their way.

Uptime is a matter of minimizing risk, not eliminating it. And the smaller the business, the harder it will be for you to minimize risk. Being able to hand off your technology needs to a company that does this for a living and that spends a fortune to manage and minimize risk is a blessing, not a curse. Why is this so hard for some people to understand?

Amazon will recover from this outage in a few hours, and it will learn some hard lessons from the experience. Life will go on, and cloud computing will still be the safest and most efficient option, by far, for the vast majority of the businesses that use it. If there’s any lesson for small business owners to take away from this incident, there you have it.