Having trouble streaming Disney+? Amazon or its products like Alexa or Ring security cameras? Tinder? Venmo? What’s up with your Roomba?
Websites and applications that use Amazon Web Services were knocked offline Tuesday by another outage. Amazon says it’s working on the problem.
What can we all do? Apparently, get used to it.
Such outages, which wreak havoc with our everyday lives, are the norm these days.
With more data and services moving online amid a growing network of computer hubs across the U.S. and the world, problems will arise because of glitches and mechanical failures – or worse, from bad actors such as hackers and ransomware purveyors.
Still, we continue to adopt an increasingly digital life, with more functionality on mobile devices – Apple putting driver’s licenses, as well as home and car keys, into iPhones. And most of us don’t really think about or understand the technology behind it all.
And our connected existence is not as robust, reliable and secure as you might think. Just as subways can run slower than expected or trains can derail, so too can incidents arise on the information highway.
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“It’s a scary reminder of the double-edged sword around the digital transformation,” said Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “It’s just a few dominoes that could shut everything down.”
Amazon Web Services provides cloud computing services to a wide range of companies as well as government agencies and colleges and universities.
Amazon said it was “actively working towards recovery.” It did not say what caused Tuesday’s outage which began midmorning on the East Coast.
Over the years, we have grown to expect Netflix to almost instantaneously deliver “True Story” with a click.
“We just assume all this stuff is here all the time. I think the purveyors of our digital lives have gone out of their way to made us feel like it’s always there,” said Shelly Palmer, CEO at The Palmer Group, a tech strategy advisory group, and author of “Blockchain – Cryptocurrency, NFTs & Smart Contracts: An executive guide to the world of decentralized finance.”
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos “has reduced every ounce of friction from you buying something. Mark Zuckerberg has reduced every ounce of friction they can about you posting something on a social network,” Palmer said. “The only time people think about this experience is when it goes away.”
Amazon Web Services has redundancies built into its networks, but problems can arise. An AWS outage in November 2020 took down the video game “League of Legends” and Sirius XM satellite radio; it also affected Roku and Amazon’s Ring doorbell. AWS had similar outages in 2015 and 2017.
“I think that these crash so infrequently, it’s news when it happens,” Palmer said. “The goal here is speed. … You want to see your video immediately pressing a button. You want everything to work beautifully and smoothly. The way you do that is you cache (or store) content as close to the user as possible. That’s what a content distribution network does.”
All this works as it should more than 99% of the time. How much more would a company have to spend to improve that to nearly 100%? Probably too much, Palmer said.
“Everybody has some way they calculate high availability of services,” he said. Banks, for instance, must try to get as close to 100% as possible, Palmer said. But if you are “delivering a movie or you are a social network where the ‘like’ button has to work, seriously, how important is it?”
While the scale and scope of the outage were “jaw-dropping,” Ives said, the damage appears to be “contained.”
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, “we are just that much more reliant on the cloud and a few providers from a data center perspective,” he said. “The worry is what happens next time. And bad actors and malicious attackers have definitely taken note” of the outage and assessed potential vulnerabilities, Ives said.
Each of us should use the outage to consider our own situation. Think about how often online outages could affect you. Connectivity programs such as Microsoft Teams and Slack have had outages recently. So have social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. (Do you have phone numbers or emails for co-workers, friends or family you might need to contact during downtime?)
Many of us store personal files in the cloud, and those networks, such as Google Cloud and Apple’s iCloud, can have outages, too. You might want to have multiple ways to save important files, photos and other data. In addition to storing them in the cloud, have them on an external drive or USB drive.
If you have more than one computer, have copies on both devices in case one is down. And consider encrypting files for added protection.
That could come in handy should you become a victim of ransomware or malware, as major fuel supplier Colonial Pipeline and meat producer JBS S.A. have recently. “It’s all the same thing,” Palmer said. “These are teachable moments about how vulnerable we are … and how deeply we have come to rely on our connectivity and how out of control of it we really are.”
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