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April 13, 2015

From Cloud 9 to cloud catastrophe – 9 calamities to hit the industry

A new technology is bound to have some teething problems, but these are some of the most significant cloud blunders that have happened.

By James Nunns

In its early days cloud technology was met with many suspicious glances, with slow adopters citing concerns over security and stability as a reason not to adopt.

Now, as cloud technology matures, the benefits are starting to be realised and concerns over security and stability are fading.

However, it hasn’t been completely smooth sailing and to highlight this, CBR has compiled a list of some of the blunders and failures with cloud technology over the past few years.

1. Knight Capital

This was a particularly expensive and catastrophic cloud failure. Knight Capital had been looking to take advantage of the "Retail Liquidity Program" that was due to go live on the 1st of August, where companies had amonth and a half to write code to take advantage of the feature.

The feature would find individual investors the best price, even if this meant that the trade would be diverted away from the NYSE. It was basically a cloud-based stock-trading software.

Despite eagerness to implement this from investors, it backlashed horribly. The software was based on an incorrect algorithm and when it went live on August the 1st, the company lost $440 million in 45 minutes.

This huge error lead to 75% of Knight Capital’s equity being wiped off and, to rub salt into its wounds, the company was fined $12 million by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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2. Apple iCloud Hack

The iCloud hack is perhaps one of the most well publicised cases of a security breach in the cloud. Hundreds of celebrities, such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, found that their iCloud accounts had been hacked and personal photos were being published on the internet.

It was alleged that flaws in the security of the Find My iPhone feature may have allowed hackers to access the iCloud accounts.

Hackers reportedly used phishing and brute-force guessing to be able to access the accounts, while claims that Apple had flaws in its security were refuted by the company.


3. Google Wave

This real-time collaboration platform was launched in 2009 and was effectively shut down a year later. Google claimed that the technology from it would be put into other parts of its business.

Google Wave was an example of a product being overly complicated, with email, instant messaging, blogging, wikis, multimedia management and document sharing all rolled into one.

It only gained a million users and many of them didn’t particularly enjoy the experience, as the platform required too much from them.

By the time users had figured out how to make it work, they also figured out that it wasn’t that great.


4. Microsoft Azure

In 2014, Microsoft Azure suffered from almost 54 hours of downtime. By comparison its main competitors Google and Amazon suffered well under 10 hours of downtime.

The big issue is that when you are competing so heatedly with Amazon and Google, you can’t really afford any major slip ups.

The major outage which Azure suffered in November 2014 came about due to the failure to follow the correct process for deploying updates in small and manageable chunks.

Only time will tell if Microsoft has learnt its lesson, no doubt it will be closely watched through 2015 to make sure no more major outages occur.


5. Adobe

Adobe has suffered from a few problems, one of which saw the company hurt by a major security breach which saw as many as 38 million accounts being compromised.

The route of the attack came through Adobe IDs, which gave them access to encrypted customer credit card records and login data.

Adobe has also had access issues with its Creative Cloud that has affected millions of its users. The issue was apparently caused by a malfunction with the database which stores Adobe Live account logins.

Adobe has started to get a bad reputation for these issues, and while the products may be good, customers won’t stick around through continued outages.


6. Nirvanix

This early pioneer of cloud shut down completely in 2013, giving its customers just 2 weeks to migrate any date held with them.

The company filed for bankruptcy and panic ensued.

The failure of the company came as a surprise due to some powerful partners and a healthy dose of funding, however, deep problems with its business model clearly caught up with it.

One of the nails in its coffin was its simplification of customer billing, which although good, left the company constructing its own physical infrastructure. This meant that the company built several storage nodes for storing customer data – at great expense.

The company was spending money on renting floor-space in datacentres, buying hard drives, enclosures, racks and everything else that is required for large storage systems.

All at the same time as trying to compete with Amazon, Google and Microsoft for big customers – it was doomed to fail.


7. Ubuntu One

Ubuntu One, a cloud storage service which launched in 2009, was offering a small amount of storage for a relatively high price, compared to the likes of Dropbox, Google Drive and the likes.

Simply put, the price war between the top cloud vendors created an environment which Ubuntu One and its parent company, Canonical, felt it could not exist in.

Jane Silber, Canonical’s CEO wrote in the company blog to say: "The free storage wars aren’t a sustainable place for us to be, particularly with other services now regularly offering 25GB-50GB free storage."

"If we offer a service, we want it to compete on a global scale, and for Ubuntu One to continue to do that would require more investment than we are willing to make."

"We choose instead to invest in making the absolute best, open platform and to highlight the best of our partners’ services and content.

8. Dropbox

In 2011, a number of users found that they could access their accounts when they entered the wrong password.

Which, if you are a big cloud service provider that wants to offer a secure and safe way of storing data, isn’t the best way to go.

The problem was apparently caused due to a code update which introduced a bug that affected the authentication mechanism.

The company was quick to resolve the issue and claimed that less than 1% of its users were affected, however, the time that the accounts were vulnerable could have still been plenty of time to cause damage.


9. Microsoft office

In 2011, Microsoft users suffered a major failure which left them unable to access some of its services overnight – Hotmail, Office 365 and Skydrive were all affected.

At the time it was not only significant for the company, but also raised questions over the reliability of cloud computing versus local storage.

The problem was tracked to a DNS address system error, wiuth the company later stating on its blog: "We have completed propagating our DNS configuration changes around the world, and have restored service for most customers."

"Depending on your location you may still experience issues over the next 30 minutes as the changes make their way through the network. Thank you for your patience as we have worked to address these issues."


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