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AWS Sydney's outage shows the value of a walk in the cloud

Telecoms cables just above sea level? They'll be just fine in a flood! NOT.

By Simon Sharwood, 8 Jun 2016

To understand the lessons of this week's Amazon Web Services outage in Sydney, which took down the local AWS cloud for a few hours, take a walk down Huntley Street, Alexandria, an unlovely street in a light industrial suburb.

Huntley Street is interesting because its footpaths are riddled with an unusual concentration of telecoms duct covers that hide the wires and fibres bringing data into the Equinix data centre around the corner.

Another feature of Huntley Street is a bridge, currently under repairs, over a stormwater drain that feeds into a waterway called the Alexandria Canal. The Canal is at sea level, so Huntley Street is maybe a meter or two above the water. It's almost certainly below the hundred-year flood line.

When Equinix opened the data centre it knew about the canal and the hundred-year line, because it told us servers there are all five metres off the ground so they don't get wet in a really big wet.

The telecoms ducts don't have that luxury: they have to go down and under Huntley Street.

I don't know if Huntley Street flooded during Sydney's weekend deluge and Amazon Web Services has in no way suggested that Equinix is in any way to blame for the Sydney outage.

But I do know that a stroll down Huntley Street, and probably its equivalents around the world, is a fine way to learn a little more about the reliability of the clouds we're increasingly taking on trust as a source of uninterruptible computing services.

Equinix, after all, has to take precautions. Cloud operators like AWS are also very careful. But Equinix, or AWS, or any other cloudy concern can only control so much of what goes on outside their fences.

Sometimes, as on Huntley Street, weak points that could cause disruption, or at the very least suggest interesting questions, are blindingly obvious.

So when considering a cloud, bring comfortable shoes. A few minutes pounding the pavement near the bit barn you're contemplating has the potential to change your buying decisions for the better. ®

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