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Light and dark in the Cloud: Amazon fails, Rackspace punts

In a succint one-day recap of the mouth-watering prospects of using cloud computing and the legless terror it can engender, website gdgt.com autoscaled gigantic traffic, and Amazon’s flagshp EC2 service went dark for hours in the night after an electrical storm.

That’s right- according to Amazon (mouse over the teeny little ‘i’s), “A lightning storm caused damage to a single Power Distribution Unit (PDU) in a single Availability Zone.” That means that one of its data centers in the US popped a cork and shut down an unspecified number of racks after a lightning strike.

The outage lasted from detection at 6:39PM PT on 6/10 to full availbility at 1:20AM PT on 6/11. That’s five hours of unexpected downtime, kids. Anyone running real-time applications or large batch jobs when their server got slammed? Any lost revenue/time/work? Lets check the SLA shall we? Graciously, Amazon will not be charging affected customers for services that went dark.

Amazon’s public stance on this so far? A pop-up window on their status page (see above).

On the other side of the coin, currently-quite minimalist gdgt streamed the keynote from Apple’s legendary dog-and-pony show, the Worldwide Developers’ Conference and incurred the expected Japanese-monster sized traffic spike. Reportedly traffic averaged 656 page views per second throughout the event, serving up something like 4.7 million total veiws by the end.

gdgt did this on Rackspace’s “Cloud Sites”, a scalable webhosting platform that starts small and charges users for extra capacity as needed. No word so far on exactly HOW much money they spent or saved, but it is presumably significantly less than if they had planned ahead and bought/rented the capacity that they needed. “Significant” in this context means “statistically observable”, by the way. Webhosting isn’t exactly a super-premium market at this point, this stunt probably didn’t ring up a staggering total.

We did try for comment; look for updates if the gdgt guys come through. Anyway, collective “good job!” for the penny-pinching whiz-bang, boys.

UPDATE: it was a few hundred bucks total according to Rackspace spokespeople.

Yet despite this cheerful little story of a moveable feast of web delivery, Amazon’s memento mori still sits at the head of table, an uncomfortable reminder that real-world “cloud delivery” means lightning, damaged data centers, and unexpected, unpreventable downtime with no recompense.

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