Sandy, the Frankenstein of hurricanes, will also be a proving ground for cloud services.
At least two big cloud providers -- Apple and Google -- have datacenters located in North Carolina, in the hurricane's path. Facebook, while not a cloud provider directly, also has a datacenter there.
Two other cloud bigshots, Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, have facilities in Northern Virginia, also in Sandy's path.
Are these cloud companies ready for the storm? Will they be able to continue services despite power outages, absent technicians, and possibly the destruction of their southeastern facilities?
At press time, as the storm wends its way up the US coast, these questions remain unanswered. A call to Apple's Maiden, NC, data center produced only a busy signal -- always a bad sign during emergency weather conditions. Calls and email to the media contacts at Apple, Facebook, and Google produced only silence.
AWS responded to my inquiry with the following statement:
We are monitoring Hurricane Sandy and making all possible preparations, e.g., generator fuel, food/water, flashlights, radios, extra staff. Our infrastructure teams are following our storm response plan that we have developed and utilized during major storms over a multi-year period.
Please stay tuned to our Service Health Dashboard at http://status.aws.amazon.com for any additional updates.
AWS in particular has been hit by outages recently, and the latest one caused disappointing downtime last week, thanks to internal memory problems. Whether AWS can cope better with acts of nature than it has with internal snafus is now a question.
Rackspace issued a blog stating a range of measures the hosting provider is taking to meet storm conditions, including the following:
Currently, the generator fuel tanks in both IAD1 and IAD2 [Northern Virginia datacenters] are full and the generators can run for roughly 60 hours -- that’s 2 ˝ days -- without refueling. If needed, we can refuel the generators while they are running. Our emergency fuel provider is on notice that we may require additional fuel, which will be delivered within 24 hours of a service call. Additionally, our facility partner stands at the ready and maintains its own emergency fuel delivery contracts. We have also contacted our generator maintenance and repair vendor, which will place a diesel engine specialist on site at IAD1 if required.
All this sounds great. Still, one wonders whether 2.5 days of generator power can carry Rackspace, given the week- to 10-day estimates being bandied about by municipalities in the storm's path.
Sandy will be a stern taskmaster for every cloud provider in its wake. AWS and the others listed here chose these southeastern locales for cheap energy and tax breaks -- a strategy that got them a lot of criticism from environmental groups such as Greenpeace, who noted the use of coal in some of these rural regions.
There has been plenty of advice from experts about how to ensure proper failover and disaster recovery for cloud services. Now these may be put to the test, as service providers and enterprise customers struggle through the next several days.
— Mary Jander , Executive Editor, Internet Evolution