Let’s talk about responsibility in cloud computing

Cloud services might make your tech somebody else's problem, but risk and resiliency are still your responsibility.
10 January 2020

The solutions providers are the first to be blamed when something goes wrong. Source: Shutterstock

Just months after UK MPs condemned the increasing number of IT failures at banks, New Year celebrations were dampened for millions of banking customers when a wide-scale IT outage left them without access to their accounts.

Last year, meanwhile, network congestion was responsible for an outage at Google which took down YouTube, Gmail and Shopify.

These high-profile disruptions highlight the dangers of a centralized internet. But it’s our own naivety around risk and resiliency that also needs to be in the spotlight as we increasingly take sophisticated technologies for granted.

We are now managing our entire life using a smartphone that fits inside our pocket— whether it’s banking or the check-in process of our next flight, it all seamlessly works on whatever device is in our hand.

However, nobody seems to care about how things work until they stop working despite us becoming so reliant and trusting of this technology becoming a critical part of infrastructure.

Amazon Web Services famously went offline in 2017, taking popular tools such as Grammarly, Medium, Slack, and Trello down with it. There was a realization of how businesses of all sizes have become entirely reliant on a handful of third-party providers of on-demand computing power and data storage.

Inevitably, any IT outage will trigger the unattractive human trait of blame culture. When something goes wrong wholesale, someone must be accountable and, in many cases, nowadays the most obvious subject is the tech giants we now blindly rely on. Of course, when normal service is restored, the outage is quickly forgotten about.

In a world of technology built on simplification, it seems we have lost our respect for the complex technologies that make our lives easier. Cloud computing originally arrived in a shroud of mystery and intrigue until it was described merely as someone else’s computer.

Most offices today are void of rooms full of blinking lights and the sound of cooling fans. The living, breathing server room has become invisible and detached from the business— the technology required for most businesses to serve their customers and remain operational has become somebody else’s problem.

Even the biggest cloud service vendors can become overloaded with client requests, or face technical problems that will cause your apps, data, and servers to be inaccessible. IT teams in 2020 are much more likely to be waiting for updates on a helpline than running around with a mouse and keyboard under their arm.

When businesses made a collective decision to ship their IT infrastructure out to the likes of AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, they did it for a good reason. The inconvenient truth is that, for the most part, these tech giants live and breathe by the specialist resilience that they provide.

Although we often look back at our IT past through rose-tinted glasses, the workplace has dramatically changed in the last five years. In-house teams would struggle to match Amazon’s 99.9 percent service level agreement (SLA)— especially as we continue to add new solutions via a never-ending stream of IT projects.

It was these attractive and affordable SLAs that initially tempted businesses across the globe to place their infrastructure into the virtual hands of a few companies. When things go wrong it is the service providers who stand accused of being the significant source of systemic risk, not internal IT teams.

The quest for accountability will place the companies selling cloud-based services under regulatory scrutiny. But in their rush to make IT issues somebody else’s problem, there is an argument that business leaders also need to step up to their responsibilities and accept that they too are to blame for lack of resilience.

Cloud service redundancy plays a critical role in building resilient architectures for your application estate. SaaS technologies and cloud services are all vital components that keep the doors to your business open— but they can and will fail.

Cloud infrastructure has revolutionized the world of business and ushered in an era of transformational change. Bringing risk and resilience into the conversation at this relatively late stage of the game highlights how, for the most part, we are all guilty of taking essential technology for granted.