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Is Space Weather a Threat to Cloud Computing?

It is no big secret that I am a huge believer in cloud computing, so much so that I think enterprise-owned or -managed datacenters or infrastructures will be the exception in the next 10 years, with enterprise datacenters existing only for very specific use cases.

From a technical and cost perspective, cloud computing is a great model. But one of the things I failed to factor into my relentless excitement about cloud computing is the fact that now that we have taken computing into the clouds, we have little to no control over natural disasters and our ability to recover from them.
Now, I'm not talking about earthly natural disasters, those we can somewhat protect against by building redundancy, geo-replication etc. Instead, I'm talking about the unearthly ones, such as space weather that could disrupt and destroy, like solar flares.

At a recent customer meeting while I was raging on the benefits of cloud computing and preaching like the good apostle that I am. One executive caught me off-guard and asked me about solar flares and how that could pose a potential risk to cloud computing. Here I am talking for the last 35 minutes about the cloud unchallenged, so how dare he throw out that question! My mind was working at 1000 MPH and I did not really have a good answer. My response basically was, we have bigger things to worry about with a solar flare that's powerful enough to knock out your cloud data.

In any event, I was not satisfied with my answer and he honestly got me thinking, not only had this guy stumped me, but he also made me doubt my cloud faith. So, I began researching and to my surprise I had answered his question pretty accurately. A sigh of relief rushed through my entire body -- "Relax, Eli, you are still 'the kind'!" -- and my ego was restored.

On a more serious note, I found out later that this executive had read a CNN report on the top 4 things that could bring down the Internet and he correlated the Internet to also mean cloud computing. It's a valid point, and the truth is that we have experienced solar flares in the past and they have disrupted our communications systems and the Internet. That being said, the kind of solar flare that could bring down cloud computing and the Internet as a whole would have to be so powerful that it will essentially fry all electronics on earth.

Riddle me this: In the event a solar flare with such power strikes, do you believe that your private on- or off-premise datacenter will survive it? With a solar flare of such power, do you really think that your backup tapes will be of any value? And lastly, do you think you will be thinking about your job, your data and your clouds?

I have maintained for years that the Earth is a single point of failure, so while our extravagant disaster recovery plans can protect us against earthly disasters, at some point you just have to throw in the towel and say this is the best we can do.

With my faith in cloud computing restored, I am now researching other risks to cloud computing that are a little less "doomsday" and a lot more practical and I must admit I am finding challenges I never thought of. I'd like to start a conversation about the potential risks to cloud computing, so please share your insights and thoughts but please steer clear of the obvious.

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 07/23/2012 at 12:49 PM


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