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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

A Cautionary Incident


Recently, Amazon's cloud service failed for several customers, and has not come back fully for well over 24 hours. As of the time I write this, Amazon has not commented as to what caused the problem, why it took so long to fix, or how many customers it affected.

It seems a client of Amazon was not able to contact support, and posted in a support forum under the heading "Life of our patients is at stake - I am desperately asking you to contact." The body of the message was that "We are a monitoring company and are monitoring hundreds of cardiac patients at home. We were unable to see their ECG signals"

What ensued was a back-and-forth with others incredulous that such a service would not have a defined disaster plan and alternate servers defined, with the original poster trying to defend his/her position. At the end, as the Amazon service slowly came back, the original poster seemed to back off from the original claim, which implies either an attempt to evade further scolding (and investigation), or that the original posting was a huge exaggeration to get attention. Either way, the prospect of a mission critical system depending on the service was certainly disconcerting.

Personnel from Amazon apparently never contacted the original poster, despite that company having a Premium service contract.

25 or so years ago, Brian Reid defined a distributed system as "...one where I can't get my work done because a computer I never heard of is down." (Since then I've seen this attributed to Leslie Lamport, but at the time heard it attributed to Reid.) It appears that "The Cloud" is simply today's buzzword for a distributed system. There have been some changes to hardware and software, but the general idea is the same — with many of the limitations and cautions attendant thereto, plus some new ones unique to it. Those who extol its benefits (viz., cost) without understanding the many risks involved (security, privacy, continuity, legal, etc.) may find themselves someday making similar postings to support fora — as well as "position wanted" sites.

The full thread is available here.


Posted by Joe Lund
on Friday, May 6, 2011 at 02:17 PM

Our company had 3 website hosted with Amazon that went down for 6 hours related to this incident. We’ve call customer support but no respond so far.

Posted by jens@heli simulator
on Friday, May 6, 2011 at 09:34 PM


I can not believe that I haven;t heard about this! What I can say is that is does not surprise me with Amazon. Just getting support contact for general issues is absurd.

Cloud is such a new technology, I anticipate many more problems like this. Great article.



Posted by Igor Reyes
on Monday, May 9, 2011 at 11:39 PM

Actually the customer support services are important and necessary. Good care makes a reliable website or company. Without this service can be disastrous for a company, or even have a bad service will allow users to comment negatively on the company itself.

Posted by David
on Monday, May 16, 2011 at 11:58 PM

I don’t get by here much so I was trying to catch up on what you had going on. I seen this and broke out laughing…

25 or so years ago, Brian Reid defined a distributed system as “...one where I can’t get my work done because a computer I never heard of is down.”

LOL I love it and dang its sooo true.  I had 2 instances today where that excuse was used

I’m a web designer my self and have had to deal with many network problems.  This is one of my current projects, <a >mobile marketing agencies </a>,  but for Amazon’s cloud service to fail and put lives at risk is not good.

Hope they fix it fast and put in some backup solutions.

Posted by Luke Wright
on Friday, June 3, 2011 at 05:29 AM

Customer support services are important and necessary obviously. Without this care a company could become unfamiliar and unfriendly to all. And the company could lose their reputation. So the company should be more serious about their care.

Posted by Campus Explorer
on Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 12:42 AM

Thanks for the share..

Posted by Chris
on Saturday, July 2, 2011 at 12:20 AM

I thought that was pretty funny to David.

Also I don’t think that guy who wrote that was serious at all. Would they really risk peoples lives on Amazon’s cloud service?


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