Amazon outage sparks frustration, doubts about cloud

On-going problems could scare businesses away from cloud adoption

Amazon's prolonged outage of cloud services has the potential to set back cloud adoption by giving businesses -- especially those already on the fence -- a strong reason to go slow.

And for those companies that sell cloud services, it means they now have to sell against a new benchmark in unreliability.

Amazon is suffering a partial outage, now in its second day, that is affecting what may be a large number of sites, as well as some prominent ones .

Thanks to Amazon, supporters are going to have a tough time arguing that the uptime delivered by cloud services is superior to anything corporate IT can deliver. That's a problem compounded by Amazon itself. Its users aren't certain just what the problem is or when it'll be fixed.

One person who knows about the problems ahead is Tref Laplante, the CEO WorkXpress, who says the Amazon outage "is going to be devastating."

WorkXpress is a platform as a service. It has created an entirely visual drag-and-drop development environment using Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP to allow app development without writing code. Its users, which include many businesses, have built apps used in medical, real estate, manufacturing and other industries.

Laplante says he has one customer -- a small manufacturer whose core business application was built on WorkXpress and running on Amazon -- who has been knocked offline. "They are fired up and they are very angry," he said. The customer now wants the app hosted on a server in their shop.

Laplante said the Amazon outage, which began Thursday morning, is going to make it difficult to sell cloud approaches. "I'm going to have to sell against this outage."

For some, the Amazon outage may reinforce beliefs that cloud services aren't ready for businesses.

"We don't use Amazon or any other public cloud services and we won't, perhaps ever, or at least until there is much more transparency about where the data lives, who controls where it lives and when/where it moves, and lots of other things," said Jay Leader, the senior vice president and CIO of iRobot, whose products include the Roomba vacuum cleaner. Amazon's outage "just highlights why these are issues - just try to ask them what happened and what the impact was on your data, and even if they tell you, how do you know it's true and/or accurate?"

Paul Haugan, CTO of Lynnwood, Wash., said his city has been looking at Amazon's cloud offerings, but "the recent outage confirmed, for us, that cloud services are not yet ready for prime time."

Haugan's view, which stems not just from Amazon's outage alone, is that "cloud services need some more maturing and a much more hardened infrastructure and security model prior to our adoption."

One company that has been using some of Amazon's services is Consona Corp., a CRM and ERP provider. Kristen Hayes, director of global information systems for Consona said she still doesn't know what's behind the outage. "The most frustrating thing about it is either they (Amazon) are still in the dark about what's going on, or they are just keeping us in the dark about what's going on, but it's costing us money," said Hayes.

She said communications from Amazon about the outage have not been good.

Even before the outage, Consona was moving more of its services away from Amazon to either Bluelock, a cloud infrastructure as a service provider, or to its own internal data center. One reason for that is Bluelock's support of VMware. (Consona has VMware expertise in-house; Amazon doesn't use VMware.)

Using VMware's vCloud Connector, for instance, Hayes said she can manage her Bluelock environments via her IT shop. "It's just as though they are sitting in my data center," she said.

Bluelock also has flat predictable, pricing -- unlike the variable pricing Amazon charges, said Hayes, who noted that Consona will continue to have some customer services on Amazon run by a business group.

Dan Schoenbaum, chief business development officer and cloud evangelist for Tripwire, an IT security and compliance services firm, said the outage "may seriously impact the adoption rate of cloud among business users."

There remains a lot of interest in cloud services, particularly from venture capital backers that require start-ups to use them instead of investing in hardware. But to combat broader uncertainties, Schoenbaum expects cloud providers will have to offer up greater assurances about their services and raise the bar on what they provide.

WorkXpress's LaPlante said the outage will likely force Amazon to build out its infrastructure to prevent similar outages in the future. "The sad irony is that Amazon will emerge from this much better," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

Read more about cloud computing in Computerworld's Cloud Computing Topic Center.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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