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Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

The animated movie and children’s book of that title is an amusing tale and I thought it was fun. In the movie adaptation, according to IMDB.com, “A local scientist is often regarded as a failure until he invents a machine that can make food fall from the sky. But little does he know that things are about to take a turn for the worst.” Not an apocalyptic tale by any means, but a technology-gone-astray tale nonetheless. Technology is always viewed as a way to solve problems and sometimes these are problems we didn’t know we had. This results in many changes; in our language, in our way of doing business, in our expectations.

In technology, terms come and go with sometimes dizzying rapidness. Bits and bytes may still be common but what about baud? Are you old enough to remember measuring your internet connection in baud? Way back in the dark ages, I worked on a teletype terminal that connected at 300 baud so when we upgraded to one that connected at 1200 baud, it seemed like we jumped light years ahead. So how blazingly fast was that? At worst, 1200 bits/second and at best 9600 bits/second.  Round that off, because we are all friends here (I hope), to 10,000 bits per second. That converts to the head-snapping rate of .01 Mbps. These days 25 Mbps is considered an average or even minimum requirement for a household. Imagine trying to stream video at 0.01 Mbps. It would feel like an excruciatingly slow slide show. Yet at the time, we could actually get some work done over that connection.

The Dependence on High Speed Internet

The pandemic highlighted the value of a high-speed connection. Around the world, businesses moved to video conferencing and schools moved to virtual classrooms. Most of us take a good internet connection for granted. Perhaps you have been on a Zoom call where one of the participant’s videos was reduced in size (This becomes most obvious if you are set up with speaker view). When this happens you will notice a caption above the video saying “John Doe’s connection has limited bandwidth”. You still get video and you still get sound. If the situation were to degrade more, you might see choppy video or video that freezes on occasion. Annoying, but it can be tolerated.

Relying on responsive internet (and especially taking it for granted) can have some interesting consequences. The most ubiquitous complaint that can be found relates to ‘lag’ when someone is participating in online gaming. If the internet is not responsive for one person, they find themselves being outmaneuvered or blasted into oblivion before they can react. While not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it can be extremely irritating to a gamer. On the other hand, there is this article from the Philippines where the internet is not quite as reliable as we have come to expect. Due to a lagging connection, a little girl wound up placing 42 of the same food orders. Forty two times she placed an order and got an error. Fortunately, when 42 orders appeared, her neighbors helped her out by buying some of the extra forty one. The lesson that app designers could take from this is not to take consistent connectivity as a given.

Cloudless With a Chance of Dust Bunnies

Uneven performance can have its consequences. What happens when there is no performance? We might immediately think about the lack of email or social media. If you are making use of a current technology commonly called ‘the cloud’, what happens when it is a cloudless day? November 25, 2020, was one of those days. This article offers some of the side effects of the outage. If you had a Roomba vacuum, it stopped working, hence dust bunnies doing what bunnies do, leading to more dust bunnies! If you had a Ring doorbell, porch pirates could have their way with your packages without fear of identification for prosecution.  Some people could not turn on their Christmas lights. In this case, the internet was fine but a service provider in ‘the cloud’ was not. It probably came as somewhat of a shock to people that something like a vacuum was so dependent, not only on the internet but on a cloud-based service provider there.  Other services including Adobe Cloud Software, 1Password, and Flickr were affected as well.

What caused the outage? This article offers some insight into the incident.

While dozens of AWS (Amazon Web Services) services were affected, AWS says the outage occurred in its Northern Virginia, US-East-1, region. It happened after a “small addition of capacity” to its front-end fleet of Kinesis servers.

As it turned out, adding the capacity allowed more data to flow to the backend, but that overwhelmed those servers and thus the outage. In an ironic twist, Amazon could not notify customers:

With an event such as this one, we typically post to the Service Health Dashboard. During the early part of this event, we were unable to update the Service Health Dashboard because the tool we use to post these updates itself uses Cognito, which was impacted by this event,

Do You Have a Backup Plan?

Things got back to normal fairly quickly, but this raises an important question, especially for businesses. Do you have a backup plan? What happens if you don’t have a connection to the cloud but that is where your data lives? How do you carry one? If the problem isn’t the connection to the cloud but a mission-critical service that lives in the cloud and is unavailable? What do you do then? This is a conversation the Ashton team has on a regular basis with clients and prospects.  The cloud is not the right solution for every business, especially if you can’t live without an internet connection. At the very minimum, a business reliant on the cloud should have a secondary (fail over) internet connection.  And if you can’t get that, it might make more sense to bring those important tools (Quickbooks, Adobe, your CRM) back on premise.

For the home user, and that is most of us these days, do you know how much of your life is dependent on a connection to the cloud and services running in the cloud? You might be surprised. I’m pretty sure the folks that couldn’t vacuum, see who was at the door, or get the password to their bank account were very surprised when they couldn’t do those things.

Business or home, make sure you know how to carry on if the day turns cloudless.  If you’re not sure, give Ashton Technology Solutions a call at 216 397-4080.

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