For those lucky few on the US East Coast who did not lose power and do not need Internet connectivity, the massive storm was just another inconvenience. For the rest of us, not only has it been a major disruption, causing noticeable slow network connectivity for days, but it also brought down many major websites, including Huffington Post, Reddit, and Gawker.
Many of the websites were either located in a single data center that was unluckily located in the strike zone of lower Manhattan, or they were not architected to withstand a complete data center outage. From what can be seen from this amazing map of the data centers that have been affected, there are far too many data centers and network peering points located in lower Manhattan, which just so happens to also be a major hub of international data and telecommunications.
While one can argue all day whether the storm was caused by global climate change or not, there is little doubt that the storm again uncovered the lack of real high availability for most online companies and supposedly outage-proof cloud systems. As the recovery from Sandy slowly continues, the October 31, 2012, OnPoint Broadcast on the supposed death of the desktop highlights the increasing dependence by companies and consumers alike on the illusion of anytime and anywhere access to data and systems located in the cloud.
When you get down to it, tablets and smartphones are just dumb terminals with color screens; the real computing is going on in powerful servers in the cloud. If those computers are not reachable, either because the data center is off-line or network access to them isn’t there, the devices might as well be door stops.
Disasters of various degrees of devastation will always be with us, but there are things that companies and consumers can do to mitigate the risks. One cloud-ready data center operator that offers real high availability across multiple global data centers reported that they have signed up three new customers this week alone. Of course, this approach is more costly, but for companies that derive all their revenues from the Internet, it might seem like a small price to pay for peace of mind.
For the rest of us, the Luddites who still download their email and keep their data files on their local system, we might be on to something right for a change.
Beth Cohen is a senior cloud architect for Cloud Technology Partners, delivering solutions to help enterprises leverage the efficiencies of cloud architectures and technologies. Beth was director of engineering IT for BBN Corporation, was involved with the initial development of the Internet, and worked on some of the hottest networking and web technology protocols in their infancy.