There has been a lot of noise this week on the major failure suffered by Amazon EC2, with the press quick to denounce the whole cloud computing model. But does this failure mean that Cloud Computing should not be trusted?
This concern has existed since long before the term ‘Cloud Computing’ was coined. Businesses have been outsourcing their hosting for years, and outages in any IT solution are inevitable. With Cloud they tend to affect more customers simutaneoulsy than with traditional hosting models, but it’s true to say that IT infrastructure has come a long way in recent years, so such outages are now few and far between.
The frequency of outages does not however stop customers from rightly being concerned about how their data and applications will be managed – availability, security and data loss being the key concerns raised by most prospective clients. It’s impossible for clients to cover all the bases when selecting a provider, but by asking a few key questions before committing, and comparing the answers, you should be able to get a feel for how they compare. In addition to using the answers to compare and contrast different cloud providers, you should compare against your own infrastructure – if a cloud provider is not going to do a better job than you – either in terms of enhanced flexibility/availability or reduced cost – then you must ask yourself why you are bothering?
At StratoGen we get asked all sorts of questions about our Cloud Hosting platform, but here I’m going to list 5 that I think everyone should ask of their Cloud provider, which cover off most of the key concerns. Sure there are plenty more questions you could ask, but these are the ones I think you should ask,
- What happens to my servers or applications in the event of a hardware failure or a total datacentre blackout?
Your Cloud Provider should be using a self healing infrastructure so that failure of any individual hardware compenent should in the very worst case only result in a automated reboot. Not all cloud providers will offer geographic resilience as standard, but datacentre blackouts are rare and tend to be of short duration. You should however check that your data is backed up to another site, should the worst happen.
- How is my data secured?
Security requirements vary from client to client so there is no one size fits all solution. You should consider network security, data security (you’ll be on shared storage) and don’t forget portal security – it’s no use having a great firewall in place in front of your servers, if you can log on to your cloud account with an insecure password and console directly onto your machines!
- Where is my data stored?
Data Location is a big issue for many businesses, and often personal data is goverened by local laws – you should check that you are not breaching any laws by storing your data in a prohibited country.
- How is my data backed up?
Check data backup is included, and that the frequncy and retention period is suitable for your needs. Ask about application awareness, restore procedures, time to initiate restore etc. Most businesses can tolerate some downtime, few can tolerate loss of data and it is up to you to ensure that the backup procedures offered by your cloud provider will adequately protect your data.
- Please can you give me a list of outages or problems experienced in the past 12 months?
Every provider has issues, big and small. From disk failures to network outages to power failures, we all suffer from time to time. If your provider tells you they have had no issues, they are probably lying. Get them to tell you about the issues and how they affected other clients – this will give you a feel for their openness – you could also check this with their reference customers.
Whichever provider you choose, plan for failure, as you would when building your own IT infrastructure.