Tech Expert Warns Against 'Unreasonable Fear' of Cloud Technology

Amazon, Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity have suffered outages on the remote system.

An entertainment technology industry vet warned against "unreasonable fear" of the cloud on Monday, following service interruptions last week in Amazon's cloud computing web services, as well as the downing of Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity online services.

Cloud computing often 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. Businesses and services that use the cloud range from Netflix to Hotmail.

The term cloud, however, can be used in varying ways, and in the broad sense, it could include Sony's PlayStation Network and Qriocity online services, which were down for a fifth straight day Monday.

"It's been a wake-up call. A lot of people assumed the use of the cloud was kind of a magic bullet," said John Footen, a respected media technology consultant and author of the book "The Service-Oriented Media Enterprise: SOA, BPM, and Web Services in Professional Media Systems," for which he is coincidently preparing a second edition that will include a section on how to deal with issues of the cloud going down. "The lesson is that you have to treat your cloud like any aspect of your IT infrastructure and you have to architect appropriately for it.

"The PlayStation Network looks like it is a hack of some sort. ... Honestly, I'm shocked," Footen, whose industry affiliations include the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers and the Advanced Media Workflow Association, told The Hollywood Reporter. "The Sony situation sounds like they got access to administrator accounts, so the full damage is not yet known. It is possible, in theory, that they got access to credit card information. It is possible that they got access to content."

The Sony online services were suspended April 20 due to "an external intrusion on our system," said Patrick Seybold, senior director, corporate communications & social media, in a post on the PlayStation network blog.

"[A hacker group known as] Anonymous has targeted Sony," Footen said. "But my understanding is that Anonymous has denied group involvement in this particular hack, although they could have inspired it to be done by individual hackers."

Seybold has not offered when Sony expects service to resume. He explained on a weekend blog post: "Our efforts to resolve this matter involve re-building our system to further strengthen our network infrastructure. Though this task is time-consuming, we decided it was worth the time necessary to provide the system with additional security."

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

Meanwhile, Amazon offers public cloud services -- which are maintained at multiple data centers in various cities and countries -- that are used by a wide variety of businesses and customers. Service interruptions late last week that originated at its Northern Virginia data center brought down or disrupted websites for clients such as Reddit and Hootsuite.

The incident brought into question a need for redundancies and backup. "In some of these cases, the sites that went out did not avail themselves to all the backup capabilities that Amazon offered," Footen said.

"I think the biggest lesson I'm seeing in this is that even if you use clouds as part of your strategy in IT -- and there is no reason not to do that -- even if you have your own local system, it can be insecure. If you are going to use external providers, you still have to architect for these situations. If that system is going to go down or be compromised, you need to have a backup plan. Either you need to pay for what these services (such as Amazon) offer for backup -- and even then I'm not sure it is sufficient -- or you need to be prepared to operate in multiple clouds using multiple vendors. Or, you need to have a combination of private cloud and public cloud.

"Another lesson in contracting with these companies, it may be appropriate to have a liability clauses so that if something does go wrong, you have recourse," Footen added.

"You have to have backup, that is the point," he said. "All of these things (hacking, technical problems) could have happened if you don't use the cloud. I wouldn’t recommend saying ‘don’t use the cloud.’ The cloud is an amazing resource. (Users) just have to be realistic about these type of failures."

Worldwide revenue from public IT cloud services are forecast to reach $55.5 billion in 2014, according to research firm IDC.