Thursday, September 19, 2013

Engineering a Single Point of Failure with AWS. Users Beware.

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Much has been written about the fragility of Amazon Web Services‘ US-East-1 region. Every time AWS has an outage it seems to be the Eastern zone that brings the service down. Eastern has the oldest infrastructure and this, in part, explains why it’s often the center of attention. Given the fact that US-East is the least reliable of all of Amazon’s zone, one would have thought that AWS would move to limit the critical services running there. If a blog post recently by my friend Rene Buest is correct, AWS in fact builds many of its higher level services on top of US East, thus exacerbating the impact of problems. Let’s dig in to what Buest uncovered in his post.

Buest’s concerns centered around the apparent existence of a single point of failure for a number of its more sophisticated services. We need to circle back a little here – one of the key findings from historically AWS outages has been the fact that designing for failure, in the way Netflix approaches its infrastructure, can give an organization protection over point failures. Admittedly a service can go down if the entire breadth of the providers infrastructure fails, but this is far less likely than point failures. Spreading the risk across multiple geographies and zones is a logical approach for users.

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