What If the Cloud Went Down?

A fire at a data center in France last month created a lot of havoc, with millions of news sites, government agencies, banks, shops, and more websites reportedly knocked out.

Such disasters remind me of the implications of over-dependence on the cloud without a proper backup plan in case it goes offline. These stories highlight our vulnerability as a society as we increasingly access data and services in the cloud.

In many countries where digital adoption is high, almost everything we do is via an online or cloud-based service. We use smartphone-based apps for everyday banking, we use online software such as Office 365 or Gmail at work, and almost all service businesses, including retailers, can be accessed and used only after connecting and registering on their websites.

Even in the last 12 months, the pandemic has shown how difficult it has been to get food and essential supplies when supermarkets crashed as the demand for online shopping exploded due to stay-at-home orders.

Imagine if a disastrous event like the data-center fire in France was magnified on a larger scale. Basically, it would “shut down” the cloud because data would either be inaccessible or destroyed.

This conjures up the image of a doomsday scenario in the not-too-distant future, when nothing works. Our smart cities would become dumb. Our intelligent transport systems would go haywire. Self-driving cars would be going nowhere. Even essentials like food would be hard to get if they were tied up in warehouses managed by enterprise IT systems connected to the cloud and unable to connect into ordering and delivery systems since all are interconnected and interdependent. And banking systems would be hit, too.

The precursors to these scenarios have already been witnessed, and not just in France. Just over two years ago, a major mobile network in the U.K. was brought down by a software glitch, which cut off over 30 million users for almost a day: No phone calls could be made or received and no internet access via the phones. The recent massive power outage in Mumbai, India, which some suggest was caused by a cyberattack, almost shut down the entire financial capital of the country — a city of 20 million people — for most of the working day.

One would hope that lessons would be learned from such outages. And that the human race has a backup plan should the cloud go down.

Source: Nitin Dahad, EETimes article

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