The Hidden Risk of a Meltdown in the Cloud

Technology Review (03/13/12)

Despite the rising popularity of cloud-based computing, the risks of a full-scale cloud migration have yet to be properly explored, says Yale University professor Bryan Ford. He notes that in the worst-case scenario, a cloud could experience a full meltdown that could seriously threaten any business that relies on it. “This simplistic example might be unlikely to occur in exactly this form on real systems–or might be quickly detected and ‘fixed’ during development and testing–but it suggests a general risk,” Ford says. He notes, for example, that a lack of transparency between different cloud providers could lead to conflicting internal control loop cycles. “Non-transparent layering structures … may create unexpected and potentially catastrophic failure correlations, reminiscent of financial industry crashes,” Ford warns. A more general risk occurs when systems are complex because unrelated parts become intertwined in unexpected ways. He notes that only recently have industry experts begun to realize that bizarre and unpredictable behavior often occurs in systems consisting of networks of networks. “We should study [these unrecognized risks] before our socioeconomic fabric becomes inextricably dependent on a convenient but potentially unstable computing model,” Ford says.

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