Monday, 4 March 2013

The Perils of Cloud Analogies

Moving your operations to the cloud is like... a dream for those who love analogies.  All sorts of things have been claimed, but there is only one reality.  It's like outsourcing, because that's exactly what it is.

The biggest business risk with outsourcing is that you replace technical controls with contracts, and while a move from tactical operation to strategic management looks excellent in a business plan, it can fail badly when interacting with the real world.  The claim that "insert-vendor-here" should be better at running the infrastructure because they developed it, is much more an article of faith than a well-reasoned position.

Consider the failure of the Windows Azure platform over the last weekend.  I noticed it when I couldn't play Halo 4.  As a gamer it didn't occur to me that there was anything deeper than the Halo servers weren't working, but it turns out they were hosted on a cloud infrastructure.  And the cloud had failed.  Completely.  The reason: "Storage is currently experiencing a worldwide outage impacting HTTPS operations due to an expired certificate."  In 2013.

Information security is a people business, and the people failed.

As Sony previously discovered, the total failure of their game platform is a pain, but it isn't going to threaten the company.  To Microsoft's credit they had it all restored in about 8 hours.

But Windows Azure doesn't just host games - it hosts businesses.  And the same failure happening in the middle of the week would mean that businesses that had fully moved to the Microsoft cloud could do nothing.  No backup.  No failover.  No disaster recovery.  Because all the availability controls were outsourced.  And it is very unlikely that the clients using the service are big enough to make any contractual claim for loss.

This isn't just a Microsoft problem, Amazon had the same sort of outage last year.  Every cloud hosting provider will have these problems.

So here's my cloud analogy: it's like putting all your eggs in one basket - a basket you've never seen and can't locate - along with everyone else's eggs, and having faith that this will be managed well by the fox.

Phil Kernick Chief Technology Officer