What to do when your cloud crashes

Outages are a fact of life, but most are short-lived

Aug 19, 2014 @ 11:51 am

By Liz Skinner

Even the cloud isn't crash-proof.

That's the message that Monday's outage of some Microsoft Corp. cloud-based services should send to advisers.

Many financial advisers are seeking to move their business to the cloud, expecting that storing and managing cloud-based data and services will boost efficiency and make new applications available to clients.

But what if the cloud storage that replaces the internal servers that advisers are used to goes down, as it did on Monday when Microsoft reported a limited failure of its Azure cloud-based platform. Azure is used to create and maintain online applications like websites and web-based applications, and the company said the outage affected only a “small subset of customers.”

The outage lasted a few hours and hit only certain regions of the world. It's unclear how many people sat around unable to fully function at their jobs during that time because they rely on those systems.

Greg Friedman, co-founder and chief executive of Private Ocean, and president and CEO of the Junxure, said it would take a significant disaster for any cloud-based platform to experience a delay of more than a couple hours. And that's typically a lot shorter amount of time than when internal servers stop functioning.

“No system is going to be 100% reliable,” Mr. Friedman said. “It's definitely an area that advisers should be concerned about, but compared to a server sitting in the office, the cloud is better.”

(Don't miss: How to use the cloud securely)

The most important thing an adviser can do to protect their business is to ascertain from their cloud provider what monitoring systems and redundancy precautions the company has in case of an outage, he said.

Advisers may have to work “with pen and paper like the old days” for a short time, but usually any data that was saved to the cloud before the outage will be safe and waiting for the adviser after the failure, Mr. Friedman said.

If faced with an outage, advisers should let the provider know, but don't panic and don't “pound away on the company by having everyone calling them,” he said. “Chances are it's going to be an all-hands on deck situation there.”

Outages such as the one Microsoft experienced have happened to other high-profile platforms, including Amazon Web Services. In fact, cloud-based failures aren't even rare.

Cloutage.org, which tracks cloud-based service outages, has documented thousands of incidents, including those involving Twitter Inc., HSBC Bank, HBO, Research In Motion and many others. Many outages are quickly resolved, most the same day.

Microsoft's own chief reliability strategist, David Bills, wrote earlier this month that cloud service failure is “inevitable.”

“In this rapidly changing world of ours, this is the new face of reliability. It is no longer about preventing failure. It is about designing resilient services in which inevitable failures have a minimal effect on service availability and functionality.”


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