Cloud Technology Under Scrutiny After Service Disruptions

Sony's Playstation Network and Amazon suffered outages on the remote system Wednesday and Thursday.

Service interruptions in Amazon's cloud computing web services that began on Thursday as well as Sony's PlayStation Network that began on Wednesday raised questions about the promise of cloud services just a week after the subject grabbed huge amounts of attention at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show.

Cloud computing essentially means that information and services are stored on shared remote computers and accessed via the Internet -- the "cloud" -- theoretically reducing a company or individual's storage requirements and costs.

There is already wide use of such services. For instance, in the entertainment industry, services such as Netflix employ cloud usage. For consumers, email services such as Hotmail are cloud-based.
Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other such entities offer public cloud services for a wide variety of customers.

But service interruptions from Amazon --a leader in this space -- late this week brought down or disrupted websites for ventures such as Reddit and Hootsuite.

The incident brings into question the ability of a cloud service customer such as Reddit to afford redundant services as backup for times when the cloud fails, according Al Kovalick, strategist and fellow at Avid Technology, as well as a fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

"It's a budget story: How much reliability can I afford? That's the bottom line," Kovalick told The Hollywood Reporter. "Netflix uses Amazon and they had no problems at all because they have redundancies. ... In this particular case, a lot of companies that didn't have problem had redundancies in other domains, because they could afford to have other systems working in parallel. Startups, which were mostly affected, couldn't afford (backup)."

Kovalick is an active speaker, educator and author in the areas of IT and cloud computing. He wrote a textbook titled "Video Systems in an IT Environment" and is go-to thinker on this topic in entertainment technology circles.

For Kovalick, the Amazon episode was not an isolated one, though it underscores a need for redundancies as the entertainment industry moves toward increased use of cloud services. "They have all had outages over the last couple years," he said of public cloud-based services. "They all had different reasons for them--file corruption, networking problems, storage fault--none have been without their problems. ... It's impossible to think this isn't going to happen, it's just a matter of how severe it will be when it does happen.

"You have to have reliability--as much as you need for your business model," he suggested. "If you are a broadcaster and care about ultimate reliability, you probably have systems working in parallel."

He noted that cloud providers from Amazon to Microsoft have Service-Level Agreements that essentially say that they will be probably offline some of the time. Amazon, Kovalick explained, offers service 99.95% of the time over 365 days. "That is basically 4 1/2 hours a year. ... This has been more than 4 ½ hours, so unfortunately for Amazon, they will have to pay (clients) back some money."

In related news, Sony's online PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are having problems of their own.

The latest update on the Playstation blog, dated April 22, explains that "an external intrusion on our system" had affected these services.

The PlayStation blog post explained: "In order to conduct a thorough investigation and to verify the smooth and secure operation of our network services going forward, we turned off PlayStation Network & Qriocity services ... Providing quality entertainment services to our customers and partners is our utmost priority. We are doing all we can to resolve this situation quickly."

During Sony's Consumer Electronics Show press conference in January, Howard Stringer reported that the Playstation Network had more than 60 million registered accounts.