Amazon Web Services is one of the greatest successes of modern business and technology, leveraging its first-mover advantage in the public cloud to empower companies with capabilities that they couldn’t build on their own, and creating a lucrative business for itself in the process.
It sure didn’t feel so dreamy on Tuesday.
Outages are nothing new, and this wasn’t the worst we’ve seen, but the problem experienced by the widely used AWS US-EAST-1 Region was remarkable for its widespread impact, illustrating the extraordinary reach of the cloud.
The fallout was apparent everywhere you looked, from McDonald’s kiosks to Tinder hookups to NPR podcasts. Seattle startup Intelus had the bad luck of launching its company on Tuesday morning, with a website hosted on AWS.
Amazon itself was far from immune from the challenges. The company’s employees were unable to use its Chime communication app on their computers for several hours. Amazon Music was unavailable to many users. COVID-19 test results weren’t accessible for hours through the company’s mail-in testing service.
Customers of the company’s Ring subsidiary were cut off from their cameras.
It got worse. In the company’s core e-commerce business, product pages didn’t load, and orders didn’t go through. Customers couldn’t order groceries. Delivery drivers sang karaoke and ultimately went home for the day after the outage severed their ties to the app that coordinates their deliveries.
This couldn’t have come at a worse time for Amazon, during a holiday season that was already challenged by supply chain bottlenecks.
All of this leads to an obvious question: Has the world become too dependent on Amazon’s cloud?
“I think so,” said Corey Quinn, the chief cloud economist at The Duckbill Group, when I asked that question in a Twitter direct message on Tuesday evening. He pointed out that it could have been a lot worse: “A full outage of that region (not the partial one we saw today) means a massive economic event.”
Quinn elaborated on his thoughts in a Twitter thread that’s worth reading in full.
What can be done? What happened to redundancy?
In a post about the AWS outage, Forrester senior analyst Brent Ellis laid out a strategy for companies to minimize their vulnerability. Part of his advice: “Diversify your risk by building applications and services that can be shifted between multiple cloud providers or private infrastructure automatically as a service fails.”
In terms of a broader solution to the world’s reliance on AWS, there may be no clear answers at this point, but as Quinn notes, these are important questions to ask.
Ultimately, the solution could come from Amazon itself, and with the former AWS chief Andy Jassy at the head of the company now, Amazon should better-positioned than ever to address this challenge.