Can you Trust a Cloud?

November 11, 2015 | 02:37
So that's where all the data goes
So that's where all the data goes
The UK National Grid earlier this week issued a Notification of Inadequate System Margin (NISM) as a result of multiple energy plant breakdowns. The forecast of low surface wind and darkening skies meant that renewable energy sources were unlikely to make up for the anticipated 500 MW shortfall. A situation like this last arose back in 2012.

If you are lucky enough to enjoy reliable mains power you assume it will always be there when you need it. It comes as a shock when it isn’t. As systems become more interconnected and networked using different providers it becomes evident that a failure in one of these interconnected services can have a domino effect. Recently Skype suffered global meltdown for almost a day due to a ‘change in its service configuration’ while Facebook was non responsive for more than an hour twice in one week. This meant that users were unable to access other services that need Facebook accounts for authentication. Other web services such as Instagram and Tinder, depend on a Facebook account to share data and there are loads of websites that rely on users having a Facebook account so that they can log in and post comments.

Cloud storage services in particular must be designed to keep data secure and have mechanisms in place to protect the system from external power outages. There is an old saying that lightning never strikes the same place twice so Google must have been really unlucky in August when the power supply to its European data centre in Belgium suffered four successive lightning strikes. Despite all the safeguards they had in place including battery backup and redundant storage, some data was located on storage systems ‘susceptible to power failure from extended or repeated battery drain’ which resulted in Google’s Compute Engine losing an estimated 0.000001% of disk space. Doesn’t sound like much to worry about to me but for Google that represents a few gigabytes of data, gone forever. Their advice was to ensure we all keep local copies of all our important data. That’s the trouble with clouds, they can be so fickle; first they want to know all your secrets, then they send down thunderbolts to destroy it all.
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