How many legs should a cloud have?

The RightScale State of the Cloud Report 2017

At the end of February, AWS experienced an 11-hour outage of its East Coast S3 data centre, impacting numerous websites and apps. Mashable was one such affected site, forced to tweet, “We can’t publish our story about AWS being down because, well, AWS is down”.

Public cloud adoption continues to grow while the use of private clouds has begun to slow, according to the Global RightScale 2017 State of the Cloud Report. Yet, despite the greater reliability, scalability and flexibility of public cloud, things can clearly still go wrong. Amazon Web Services is one of the most trusted and reliable public clouds in the world, but an 11-hour outage can still happen. And it can be a financial and reputational disaster for those enterprises reliant on that East Coast data centre.

It wasn’t the first major outage for AWS and it won’t be the last – but that’s not a criticism of AWS. No single cloud, no single data centre, no single server can ever be 100% reliable from here to eternity. In short, when working with even the best technology currently available to us, we should assume it will malfunction occasionally.

Clouds break – deal with it!

Way back in 1999, Douglas Adams wrote an article for the UK’s Sunday Times called ‘How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet’. I’ve returned to it often over the years, partly because I’ve always loved Adam’s witty writing but mostly because it has stayed so terribly relevant. Just replace ‘internet’ with ‘cloud’ and much of the same points still apply today.

“Another problem with the net is that it’s still technology, and technology, as the computer scientist Bran Ferren memorably defined it, is stuff that doesn’t work yet.”

Technology breaks: newer and more innovative technologies even more so. That’s why they call it the ‘bleeding edge’; there’s always a risk you’ll get scars along the way.

“We no longer think of chairs as technology,” continued Adams. “We just think of them as chairs. But there was a time when we hadn’t worked out how many legs chairs should have, how tall they should be, and they would often crash when we tried to use them.”

Most consumers want to believe the apps and websites they use every day are like chairs. We want to – in many cases have to – trust that the newer digital technologies we rely on are as consistent as clockwork.

They certainly aren’t pondering how many ‘legs’ support their favourite or most used applications. A large percentage isn’t even aware of the complex technologies powering their trusted cloud-based application. Only when something breaks and the app crashes in front of them are some drawn into considering the complexities of cloud servers and bandwidth, DDOS attacks and hackers, while others simply blame the brand without realising there may be a number of third party vendors and numerous points of failure.

Even the most comprehensive SLA or uptime guarantee with your cloud provider doesn’t mean much to your customers who just want to get on with whatever they’re doing. They placed their trust (and dollars) in you, not your providers.

But while the public cloud still isn’t infallible, the risk of something going wrong isn’t a reason to hold back and stay with a more tried and trusted approach, such as a private cloud or legacy infrastructure. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality doesn’t quite work when your existing technologies are still less than perfect.

Each new improvement to a technology attempts to solve the problems that may not have even been issues when older versions or previous practices were devised. Sure, the bleeding edge can cut you, but staying with what you have may be even riskier! If you’re still sitting on a three legged chair out of caution, you may be at greater risk of a crash than if you sought out the latest four legged designs.

After all, a private cloud may be even riskier than moving to the public services. It’s still a data centre, most likely on a smaller scale with fewer resources than AWS has at its disposal – so there’s just as much (if not more) likelihood of your cautious approach resulting in exactly the same scenario. Technology breaks.

No wonder enterprises are increasingly adopting the proverbial wisdom of not putting all of their assets in one digital basket, factoring in the unknown and unexpected when building their cloud strategies. The State of the Cloud Report reveals that 85% of enterprises now have a multi-cloud strategy, continuing to grow year on year. Some use different clouds for different projects or functions, but among the most reported benefits of a multi-cloud approach are scalability (61%) and higher availability (56%).

In short, going multi-cloud means you’re less likely to suffer performance or outage issues when the unexpected does happen. But, this does pose a different challenge, as managing data and processes across multiple clouds naturally introduces even more complexity and many more potential issues.

This has seen a rise in multi-cloud management platforms, such as RightScale, connecting multiple clouds together into a single, stronger and more reliable structure. Just as chair legs can be strengthened by linking them together, the cloud management platform becomes the crossbar between the various legs of your infrastructure (I’m stretching this chair analogy to breaking point now). The overall result is an infrastructure that is more stable, more redundant (capable of one leg becoming wobbly or even snapping without crashing to the floor) and even more efficient and cheaper to run.

When most business, from small to enterprise, can see their fortunes rise or fall based on the reliability of their cloud infrastructure, a manageable multi-cloud strategy rapidly becomes a necessity. If the new RightScale State of the Cloud Report is any indication, a manageable multi-cloud strategy has rapidly become a necessity as more businesses and organisations see the potential for their fortunes to rise or fall based on the reliability of their cloud infrastructure.

2017 ANZ State of the Cloud Report.PDF

ANZ State of the Cloud Survey Results: How are you managing your oganisation's clouds?

In February 2017 we surveyed 168 technical professionals in Australia and NZ
across a broad cross-section of organisations about their adoption of cloud computing.
The 2017 State of the Cloud Survey for Australia/New Zealand (ANZ) provides data
on how organisations in ANZ are adopting cloud computing. We also compared the data from
the ANZ survey with our global survey data to identify areas where ANZ organisations differ.

Sponsored by Offis Multi-Cloud Services and Telstra

2017 ANZ State of the Cloud Report.PDF

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