Why the Amazon Web Services Outage is a Cautionary Tale for All SMBs

Updated 05/10/2017


Using the biggest cloud service available will not guarantee continuous uptime, as many retailers and consumers found out on February 28th when Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) went down for four-hours, “…crippling significant portions of the web” (citation).

According to Ceyence, a startup that models the economic impact of cyber risk, this downtime cost S&P 500 companies $150 million (citation).

Amazon identified that the source of the outage was human error.

An employee, who was tasked with updating the company’s S3 cloud-storage billing system, needed to take a few servers offline. He inadvertently mistyped a command that caused more servers to come offline then intended, and eventually took out the S3 and other Amazon servers.

Mitigating Human Error: Preparing for the Inevitable

Most business owners would agree that human error is a company’s biggest source of unplanned downtime. In fact, according to BakerHostetler’s 2016 Data Security Incident Response Report, 24% of outages are caused by human error. If you add in employees being fooled by phishing scams or accidentally downloading a malicious virus then the number increases to nearly 30%.

Of course there is much you can do to mitigate human error in your organization, but the reality is that people inadvertently delete files, cause damage to servers, and click on infected websites. Your best offense is to anticipate downtime and bulletproof your backup by adding business continuity.

Your Two Best Options

1. One way to provide business continuity is to consider a hybrid environment for data storage.

For your small enterprise or medium sized business, having a hybrid IT environment where your data is stored locally and in multiple data centers is the best case scenario.

If the cloud is in accessible or visa versa, then you can use your local backups to continue business as usual.

However, for this to be truly effective you need a system where your entire business is backed-up and accessible, including your servers, network, software, and applications. Having a few external hard-drives won’t be much help if you have to spend hours or even days to restore.

2. Another option, could be to follow a strategy similar to Zappos. Zappos wasn’t affected by the S3 outage because they, “…spread themselves across multiple Amazon geographic zones, so if a problem crops up in one zone, it doesn't hurt them. This is, naturally, the recommended way to use a cloud service, even for those using only the 800-pound gorilla of the cloud market, Amazon.” (citation)