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11 min read

Cloud Outages: Causes & Risks (and How to Handle Them)

Cloud Outages: Causes & Risks (and How to Handle Them)

This post has been co-authored with Matt Ledger.

One big problem with moving your business to the Cloud: What if the Cloud goes down?

Just like on-site hosting and storage, Cloud hosting can and does fail.

For example, in 2017, Amazon Web Services (AWS), went down for just four hours. Even that relatively brief period of downtime cost companies in the S&P 500 index an estimated $150 million. Losing access to your data means losing productivity, sales, and face. And for some businesses, a four-hour cloud outage can be crippling. However, the benefits of cloud migration are still very real, and the threat of an outage shouldn’t deter you from taking your business there.

While you can’t control when a cloud provider’s systems will go down, you can control your outage preparation. You can create a redundant system that allows you to access mission-critical systems and data regardless of your connection to any one cloud.

In this post, we’ll discuss the reasons behind cloud outages, their associated risks, and a few practical strategies to help you handle them.

What is a Cloud Outage and Why Does it Happen?

A cloud outage occurs when cloud computing services and applications hosted on the Cloud become unavailable or experience disruptions (such as slow response times).  

A cloud server outage for your business translates into significant financial losses, operational inefficiencies, reputational damage, and potential legal consequences.  

But what are the reasons behind these disruptions? 

1. Security Breaches 

Did you know that, in 2022, about 80% of companies reported at least one security breach?  

Such breaches compromise the integrity of your data and lead to serious service interruptions. 

For example, in cyber-attacks such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), hackers can overload your system with Internet traffic, making your service inaccessible to legitimate users. By exploiting hidden vulnerabilities in the security systems, they can even leak sensitive data and completely disrupt the service.  

To minimize cloud migration security risks, consider investing in advanced security protocols, real-time monitoring, and threat detection. 

2. Misconfiguration and Human Error 

Even with stringent protocols and systems in place, a single incorrect command or configuration mistake can bring down an entire IT infrastructure service.  

That's because tasks like storage provisioning and new server deployment are usually done through manual configuration processes and the use of command-line interfaces (CLIs), leading to an increased likelihood of error. 

The good news? 

While certain tasks cannot be fully automated, you can still implement rigorous error-checking policies to minimize the risk of misconfiguration and human error. 

3. Hardware and Physical Damage 

Back in the day, accidents like backhoes slicing through cables during network expansions were pretty common, leading to major outages. Nowadays, there are fewer such accidents as better safety measures have helped cut down these oops moments.  

On the other hand, natural disasters remain a wild card for data centers. Despite all the tech and planning, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires can still wreak havoc. They can damage power equipment and major data centers. 

While your hardware can't be fully protected from extreme weather conditions, having a disaster preparedness plan could minimize the impact of such accidents. 

4. Software and Technical Issues 

Cloud outages can be triggered by glitches, bugs, and other technical problems. These are more common in enterprise-grade data centers that support organizations of all sizes and industries.  

The worst part? 

Such issues might stay under the radar or be underestimated until they manifest as service incidents affecting end-users. Remember that sometimes fixing these tech hiccups isn't straightforward or quick, and that's when services can be down for longer periods.  

5. Power and Network Issues 

The demand for electricity in data centers is substantial, as they consume 10 to 50 times more electricity per square foot than typical commercial buildings.  

Despite efforts to secure abundant electricity sources, cloud providers still struggle with power-related outages (which account for 43% of all data center outages).  

Such power and network issues can have far-reaching consequences, so having robust backup power systems and network resilience measures is necessary for cloud service providers. 

6. Cascading or Secondary Dependencies Impact 

Modern cloud services often rely on complex dependencies, creating a web of interactions. When a single component experiences an outage, it can trigger a domino effect, disrupting various interconnected services and applications. This means that a seemingly minor issue can quickly escalate into a major outage, affecting multiple aspects of cloud operations. 

If a cloud provider's critical infrastructure experiences downtime, this can affect core services like identity and access management, authentication, and authorization. As a result, organizations relying on these services might be unable to perform essential tasks, leading to productivity losses.

Risks and Repercussions of Cloud Outages 

When the cloud experiences an outage, it's not merely a minor inconvenience – it can have significant consequences for businesses. Here's a closer look at the risks and repercussions:  

  • Financial impact: Cloud outages can lead to substantial financial losses. On average, every minute of downtime costs businesses $5,600, and for enterprises, this figure skyrockets to $9,000. These costs can quickly accumulate during extended outages, impacting your bottom line. 
  • Reputational damage: A cloud server outage can tarnish your company's reputation. Customers expect uninterrupted service access, and any prolonged downtime can erode trust. This can lead to negative publicity and customer dissatisfaction, harming your company's image.  
  • Compliance breaches: In regulated industries, cloud outages can result in compliance breaches. For instance, if an outage leads to a data breach or leakage, you may face legal fines and penalties for failing to protect sensitive information.  
  • Operational disruption: Business operations come to a halt during cloud outages. This means you can lose access to critical data, applications, and services. The result? Lost productivity, delayed projects, and disrupted customer service.  
  • Data loss: In some cases, cloud outages can lead to permanent data loss, which can have long-term repercussions. Usually, the severity of data loss depends on your backup frequency and recovery strategies.
  • Cost of recovery: Recovering from a cloud outage can be expensive. Implementing disaster recovery plans, data restoration, and service reinstatement all come with costs that add to the overall financial impact. 
 Next, let's explore the most effective strategies you can use to tackle cloud outages. 

How to Effectively Handle Cloud Outages?

Cloud outages can happen to even the most reliable cloud service providers, and when they do, businesses need to be prepared.  

Whether it's minimizing downtime, ensuring data recovery, or maintaining business continuity, these approaches will help you navigate the challenges that come with cloud service interruptions: 

1. Assess and Identify Important Data 

Creating redundant data access costs money; we know you can’t spend a fortune on data storage.  

That’s part of why you wanted to move to the Cloud in the first place, right?  

To ensure you back up only essential data and applications, we recommend splitting your systems into:  

  • Mission-Critical Systems: For each system, ask yourself, is this truly critical? If it went down for a few hours, could your company make do? If it went down for a day, could you make do? If you answer “No” to either of these questions, you’ve found a mission-critical system you need to back up.  
  • Nice to Have Systems: When identifying a non-critical system, ask yourself whether it’s important enough to merit backing up anyway. Would your company gain more by backing up the system than you’d lose by having the system fail during an outage? If so, you’ve identified a Nice to Have system.  
  • Not Needed: If a system doesn’t meet the above guidelines, classify it as Not Needed. Backing this system up would likely be a waste of money. 

After you’ve classified your systems, consider how much you can spend on redundancy. You should aim to back up your Mission-Critical systems at least once. If you have more money to work with, you can look at backing up your Nice to Haves or creating extra layers of redundancy for your Mission-Critical systems.  

The good news is that data storage is cheaper than ever, especially in the Cloud. You can use the ubiquity of Cloud-based storage to your advantage, creating a multi-cloud infrastructure that protects you in the event one cloud service provider goes down. 

2. Go Multi-cloud and Leverage Failover Processes 

The most efficient way to protect yourself from cloud outages is to store your data in more than one cloud service. This cloud migration strategy, called multi-cloud, assumes it’s unlikely multiple cloud providers will fail at once.  

So, when one provider goes down, you can switch the load and traffic to another cloud service containing the same data, reducing or eliminating downtime. However, remember that there are a couple of kinks in the multi-cloud strategy:  

  • Keeping your multiple clouds in sync: Always synchronizing all your data across the different cloud platforms is critical. You can manage this synchronization through cloud control platforms or do it in-house. If you decide to manage cloud synchronization in-house, ensure your IT team can drive data to all your clouds simultaneously so you don’t lose anything in an outage. This might require revamping some of your business processes to ensure they align with each cloud provider’s storage methods. In this case, consider updating your system by converting pieces of it into easily accessible APIs 
  • Implementing a failover method: This is vital for kicking your system from one cloud to another when an outage strikes. Ideally, failover should be automated so the switch is seamless.   

In addition to protecting you from cloud outages, multi-cloud architecture protects you if any one cloud provider goes out of business completely. Different clouds are better suited for different processes, allowing you to optimize access to your system.  

However, extra cloud storage isn’t enough for some critically important data. After all, what happens if your Internet connection itself goes down? We recommend storing this data on-site but connecting it to the Cloud through hybrid cloud migration. 

3. Leverage Hybrid Cloud 

Local data storage is still a good option to create redundancy. It allows you to keep a copy of mission-critical data and systems, which you can rely on no matter whether your cloud services go down.  

However, in our increasingly connected world, you’ll want to make sure your local data is accessible over the Internet and through the Cloud as well. This strategy, known as the hybrid cloud, protects you from cloud outages by allowing you to access and update your data locally during an outage and then push those updates out to the Cloud after service resumes.  

The hybrid cloud strategy requires you to make your local data easily accessible and retain enough local storage to back up your mission-critical systems and data.  

What you get in return is a system that’s completely cloud-outage-proof. The entire Internet could go down, but you’ll still have access to your essential data and systems, so you can keep working in-house while you wait for your cloud providers to come back up. 

4. Choose a High SLA Agreement with Your Cloud Provider 

To enhance your resilience against cloud outages, consider opting for a higher Service Level Agreement (SLA) with your cloud provider.  

SLAs define the availability and uptime guaranteed by the provider, and selecting a more robust SLA can significantly minimize the impact of outages. For instance, an SLA guaranteeing 99.999% uptime allows for only 5.25 minutes of downtime per year.  

While higher availability SLAs may come at a premium, they prioritize the continuity of your services. Here are a few tips: 

  • Evaluate your critical tasks: Identify which tasks are business-critical and cannot tolerate prolonged outages. Allocate higher SLAs to these mission-critical services while optimizing costs for less critical ones. 
  • Understand refund policies: Familiarize yourself with your cloud provider's SLA refund policies. Some providers offer partial or full refunds based on the downtime experienced, providing cost-effective solutions to mitigate losses.  
  • Regularly review SLAs: Cloud service agreements may change over time. Stay informed about updates to your SLA and adjust your strategy accordingly. 

5. Implement Backup and Recovery Strategies 

Most cloud migration best practices involve implementing robust backup and recovery strategies. These strategies are vital for ensuring business continuity and minimizing downtime. Here's how to do it:  

  • Create regular backups: Establish a routine for backing up your data and applications. Ensure that backups are comprehensive and include all essential data. This will help you safeguard your most critical information.   
  • Distribute mirrored backups: To further enhance resilience, distribute mirrored backups across separate regions. This minimizes exposure to potential threats and prevents cascading effects that could disrupt other applications.  
  • Backup frequency and testing: Review the frequency of your backups and testing procedures. Ensure that backups are up to date and regularly validate their integrity. This practice guarantees that vital data remains safe and accessible during unexpected events. 

You’re not the Only One: Global Cloud Outage Statistics and Cases 

Cloud outages are a common challenge organizations worldwide face. Let's explore some real-life examples and statistics to understand the impact of these incidents and the lessons learned from them. 

1. Oracle Cloud Outage (February 2023) 

In February 2023, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure faced a major outage 

The issue stemmed from a faulty update to the cloud's DNS configuration. This affected Oracle's Ashburn data center, disrupting services for several hours for both Oracle's internal operations and its customers worldwide. 

2. AWS Cloud Outage (June 2023) 

In June 2023, AWS experienced an outage, which affected a wide range of services and websites, including the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Boston Globe. The issue was related to a subsystem responsible for the capacity management of AWS Lambda, a serverless computing service.   

3. Cloudflare Outage (June 2022) 

In June 2022, Cloudflare experienced an unplanned outage lasting an hour and a half. The outage affected popular sites like Discord, Shopify, Fitbit, and Peloton. It resulted from a network configuration change in 19 of Cloudflare's data centers. 

4. Atlassian Outage (April 2022) 

One of the largest Atlassian outages occurred in April 2022 and lasted almost two weeks for some users. The outage resulted from some cloud infrastructure issues and poor communication, showing just how important a solid plan and clear updates are during such tech hiccups. 

5. iCloud Outage (March 2022) 

Apple's iCloud suffered a four-hour outage in March 2022, affecting major services such as the App Store, Apple Maps, and Apple TV. The outage was attributed to a problem related to the company's DNS. Corporate and retail systems were also affected. 

6. Slack's AWS Outage (February 2022) 

In February 2022, Slack experienced a five-hour outage of its AWS cloud resources, impacting over 11,000 users.  

Users could not send messages, upload files, join channels, or use the desktop app. The root cause was a configuration change, and users were advised to restart the app and clear their cache upon recovery. 

7. IBM Outage (January 2022) 

IBM encountered two separate outages in January 2022.  

The first one disrupted cloud services in the Dallas region for over five hours. While the in-house team resolved the problem, they inadvertently caused an hour-long second outage with virtual private cloud services, affecting users globally. 

8. AWS Outage (December 2021) 

In December 2021, AWS experienced a significant outage that affected various services, including API Gateway, Fargate, EventBridge, and EC2 instances.  

The outage, which lasted for nearly 11 hours, disrupted businesses and services across the globe. It was caused by an automated system error in AWS's "us-east-1" region, leading to network congestion resembling a DDoS attack. 

9. Google Cloud Outage (November 2021) 

Google Cloud suffered a two-hour outage in November 2021, impacting popular services like Home Depot, Snapchat, Etsy, Discord, and Spotify.  

The root cause was identified as a network configuration glitch affecting load balancing. Users encountered 404 errors while accessing affected websites during the outage. 

10. Microsoft Azure Cloud Outage (October 2021) 

In October 2021, Microsoft Azure experienced a six-hour disruption, affecting virtual machine services. Users faced difficulties deploying new VMs or updating extensions, and basic service management operations resulted in errors. 

The outage resulted from a software-based issue during a VM architecture migration. 

Lessons Learned from Cloud Outages 

All these instances of real-life cloud outages have taught us valuable lessons in maintaining the reliability and resilience of digital services. Here are the key takeaways: 

  • Implement redundancy and failover systems for resilience.  
  • Prioritize rapid and clear incident response.  
  • Regularly test backup and recovery plans.  
  • Proactively monitor and use automated alerts.  
  • Communicate transparently with users during outages. 
  • Consider multi-cloud strategies for resilience. 
  • Analyze and address root causes to prevent recurrence.  
  • Prioritize high-impact service recovery. 
  • Continuously improve infrastructure and processes.  
  • Maintain strong security to prevent cyberattacks. 

Navigate the Challenges of Cloud Migration with Mertech 

From Desktop to Cloud: Freight Management Systems (FMS) Case Study 

In the world of cloud computing, FMS stands out as a prime example of a successful transition to an optimal cloud infrastructure, minimizing the risk of cloud outages.  

To modernize its transportation management software from Windows desktop to cloud-based SaaS, FMS partnered with Mertech - an expert in application modernization. Using Mertech's Thriftly platform, FMS efficiently shifted to a web-based model, adapting to industry changes and offering enhanced customer experiences.  

Conclusion

Regardless of how you do it, preparing for cloud outages is extremely important by creating a redundant data access system that won’t go down if any cloud provider does. It will allow you to fully reap the financial benefits of moving to the cloud, but also preserve your customer base. 

If you want to migrate your legacy system to the Cloud, don't hesitate to reach out and learn more about our cloud migration services and support.  

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is downtime in cloud computing?
Downtime in cloud computing refers to when a cloud service or application is unavailable or experiences disruptions. It can occur for various reasons like maintenance, technical issues, or cyberattacks.  
2. What makes a cloud service stable and safe against cloud computing outages?
A stable and safe cloud service relies on redundancy and disaster recovery mechanisms. This way, you can spread data across multiple servers and data centers, ensuring that if one goes down, your service stays up.  
3. What are the types of cloud outages?

Cloud outages can be:  

  • Planned: These outages are like scheduled maintenance – your cloud provider gives you a heads-up, and you prepare for a short break.  
  • Unplanned: This type of outage happens due to technical glitches, hardware failures, or unexpected events, catching you off guard.
4. What cloud providers have the least cloud outage occurrences?

While no one's perfect, some cloud providers have better track records than others. Providers like AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure have invested heavily in infrastructure and redundancy, making them more resilient to outages.  

But remember, it also depends on how you configure and manage your cloud services. 

5. Are public cloud outages more common than private cloud?

Statistically, public cloud outages tend to make more headlines, but it's not about commonality – it's about control.  

With a private cloud, you have more control over your environment, reducing the risk of outages caused by other users. In contrast, public clouds are shared spaces, meaning that while outages may appear more prevalent, they often impact multiple users simultaneously. 

6. How do you detect cloud outage vulnerabilities?

Vulnerabilities can be sneaky, but you can catch them by monitoring performance metrics and setting up alerts. Keep an eye on resource utilization, network traffic, and response times. If something starts acting fishy, your monitoring tools will give you a heads-up. 

7. How can cloud monitoring tools help prevent cloud outages?

Cloud monitoring tools keep track of your cloud resources 24/7. Examples like AWS CloudWatch, Google Cloud Monitoring, and Azure Monitor provide real-time insights into your cloud environment.  

They track performance, detect anomalies, and can even automate responses to keep your cloud running smoothly.

 

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