Noticing that some of your favorite sites have been missing over the last two days? While high profile sites such as FourSquare have recovered from a lengthy outage, many other sites, such as the popular video game blog, Giant Bomb, are down as of this post. Surprisingly, Amazon — which, like Google, makes few server missteps — is to blame.
Cloud computing is a wonderful thing on paper. (Digital paper stored on a server somewhere, of course.) Instead of relying on a hard drive and being chained to a piece of hardware, your data — your games, movies, music and so on — lives in the "cloud," meaning that it exists on server farms all over the world for you to access anywhere. You could, in theory, access all of your digital possessions from any computer. An MP3 player, too, could stream your music to you, meaning that the device could be super small and yet have a hypothetically limitless capacity.
Of course, we're not there yet, but that's the dream.
Similarly, companies can buy into cloud services offered by Amazon and the like to host site data and take care of IT management. It cuts down on a site's back end and makes it easier to run.
Like any dream, though, there are a lot of concerns. If some of those servers crashed and the cloud went poof, what would happen to your data? Or, for that matter, a site's? In most cases, there are backups in place, the ability to download your data again from where you purchased it (iTunes or Steam, for instance) or simply an assurance that the servers you rely on won't go down. Well, as Amazon is painfully finding out, that last assurance can't be a guarantee.
A critical failure has caused a widespread interruption for sites plugged into Amazon's web services meaning that sites that rely on Amazon's servers starting dropping like flies yesterday. As of today, many of these sites remain down, relying on Twitter (which is prone to failure itself, though not because of Amazon) to reach customers and fans. You can find a pretty comprehensive timeline of the events here.
Just look at what folks are telling The New York Times:
"Clearly you're not in control of your data, your information," said Campbell McKellar, founder of Loosecubes, a Web site for finding temporary workspace that was not available Thursday. "It's a major business interruption. I'm getting business interruption insurance tomorrow, believe me, and maybe we get a different cloud provider as a backup."
So, companies may or may not be too quick to forgive Amazon #8212; especially with competitors such as Microsoft out there ready to step in — but what about the rest of us? Just think, if anything on your computer suddenly disappeared, would you stick with Amazon's cloud computing? Even if all you had to do was redownload your stuff?
It'll be interesting to see how this all develops, especially with Amazon pushing its new Cloud Drive service, which gives you an online storage locker starting at 5GBs.
[Image: Rain cloud source]