Are Acts of God All That Can Slow Amazon?

Mother Nature put the inherent fallibility of Amazon Web Services’ offerings front and center this week, but the pros of Amazon’s cloud computing subsidiary still far outweigh its cons. Every lightning strike that takes the service down for four hours, is balanced by Amazon’s introduction of new features that make the service even more difficult to resist. And it’s not done tempting you yet.

Most important among the new features, at least as far as lightning-strike reactionaries are concerned, is Amazon’s Availability Zones. By running instances across Availability Zones, users can be confident (or as much as they can be in the cloud) that their apps will remain up, even if one location is hit by an act of god. There may always be a sense of danger when entrusting an application and its associated data to mysterious virtual machines running god-knows-where by a company that views all customer apps as equal, but Amazon makes it relatively easy to mitigate the damage of physical failures, at least.

That’s not the only move designed to help users sleep better at night, though: It appears the company also is seeking security and compliance certifications and accreditations to match those of more traditional hosting providers. Although Amazon’s cloud offerings arguably put those of managed hosting providers to shame flexibility-wise, compliance with SAS 70 and other auditing and security regulations make the latter more appealing to customers concerned with data security, auditing and the like. Acquiring these credentials would ease a lot of minds and could prove a huge boon to AWS’s bottom line.

But Amazon’s draw isn’t a result of its own initiatives alone and, indeed, it goes beyond availability and security. Aside from its growing number of usability and management features, EC2 also is the go-to cloud platform for all types of ISVs. Nowhere else, for example, do users with intense data analysis needs have the choice between Aster Data’s SQL + MapReduce solution and the just-announced Cloudera Distribution for Hadoop on Amazon EC2.

Yes, another lightning strike may take down some AWS instances, and that is a concern to take very seriously. But Amazon seems determined to make its suite of cloud offerings as reliable, safe and flexible as possible — even if they’re not infallible.

Question of the week

How concerned should we be about reliability of Amazon EC2?