Public cloud is bursting at the seams. That seems odd, doesn’t it? Isn’t the promise of cloud one of infinitely flexible resource? Well, as we are now discovering, it isn’t infinite. Like any other platform, it is underpinned by hardware, and that hardware is reaching its limits, writes Simon Ratcliffe, Principal Consultant, Ensono.
The coronavirus pandemic has put the cloud, as a whole, through a stress test like nothing it has seen before.
As most of the world sends employees home to work remotely, they’re using Zoom, Skype, Slack, WebEx, and other collaboration tools at unprecedented levels to do their jobs. And with the majority of countries shutting bars, theatres, cinemas, and sports stadiums, recreational use of the cloud in the evenings and during the weekends is spiking too.
Amongst some cloud platforms, this extreme demand is taking its toll. Popular collaboration tools are already showing signs of strain, with reports on social media over the last couple of weeks of downtime.
By and large, public cloud providers are faring well, and there have yet to be any major issues with cloud crashes just yet. This isn’t surprising, given that the big cloud providers have plenty of experience in handling spikes in demand, and their systems are designed for automated recovery. Nevertheless, public cloud isn’t out of the woods yet.
The idea that public cloud services might be nearing boiling point is a scary thought for many of society’s most critical organisations. For healthcare systems and other public sector functions, like medical dispatchers, and those working at civil service departments like the Department of Work and Pensions, downtime at a moment like this would be devastating.
For small businesses, too, which are having to build up their digital capacity to simply survive – often in the form of an e-commerce platform running on the public cloud – service interruptions could be catastrophic. Small firms are the lifeblood of all modern economies, and they will need reliable cloud service to have any hope of staying afloat in this challenging business environment.
Stepping Up to the Challenge
Who, ultimately, has responsibility for rectifying this situation? Cloud providers, of course, must endeavour to increase their capacity and ensure that their data infrastructure is prepared to support data at these scales. And by all available indications, they are.
“We have taken measures to prepare, and we are confident we will be able to meet customer demands for capacity in response to COVID-19,” says AWS. “We are working closely with first responder organizations and critical government agencies to ensure we are prioritizing their unique needs and providing them our fullest support. We are also partnering with governments around the globe to ensure our local datacentres have on-site staffing and all functions are running properly,” says Azure.
But even though public cloud providers are doing their all, businesses still have a vital responsibility to act responsibility themselves. Many organisations out there are, often without realising it, ‘hoarding cloud’; they have spare capacity they aren’t using but are effectively blocking others from using it.
The more unnecessary demands businesses put on the public cloud, the more likely the public cloud will struggle to support everyone. Damaging drops in connectivity or even outages could be a stark prospect if the affected user is a healthcare system – and it’s up to us, the IT community, to act as responsible corporate citizens and ensure this doesn’t happen.
Relieving the Pressure on Public Cloud
Searching for this unused cloud capacity requires analysis of what workloads are running across an organisation. IT departments should be examining purchases and looking for areas where it may have ringfenced capacity in the cloud. Perhaps there are reserved virtual machine instances lying dormant for test and dev or in anticipation for a project; perhaps there is replicated architecture on public cloud; perhaps there are workloads that can be pulled it back into an owned data centre or one run by its managed service provider.
All businesses, large and small, owe a duty of care to free up any critical resource that can be used in the fight against coronavirus. Although it may be counter-intuitive, cloud capacity is one of those resources. It supports the vital data-intensive work being undertaken by scientific researchers, doctors, and governments to chart a path through this pandemic. IT needs to play its part here – and that part could help save lives.