System Outages Cast a Cloud Over Amazon

System Outages Cast a Cloud Over Amazon

By Bob Aiello

Banking and financial services firms are among those companies required to provide secure and reliable platforms, both to comply with regulatory requirements and to meet their own business objectives. It has become common for many of these firms to embrace cloud-based service providers as they offer highly scalable and elastic services, often at a significant cost savings. Such choices are not without their own dangers, though, as banks and other firms recently discovered in Sydney, Australia. According to published reports, a number of firms were impacted by an Amazon Web Services outage. Those adversely affected included banking services and retailers, among others. It was also reported that “Amazon Web Services, a web hosting platform popular with several banks and retailers, has been blamed for many of the ATM and Eftpos problems which have affected a number of banks and their customers, including ME Bank and Commonwealth Bank”. Among those hit were ATMs from ME Bank and Commonwealth Bank. Millions of Australian banking customers were unable to access ATM and Eftpos services … after severe storms on the east coast caused widespread damage, including a major outage at a cloud computing service used by several banks. While the banks blamed the weather and their cloud service provider, Amazon itself focused on their platform’s ability to provide consistent and reliable service. As reported, Amazon itself blamed the clouds (this time the real clouds). Amazon provided additional details saying “that bad weather meant that… our utility provider suffered a loss of power at a regional substation as a result of severe weather in the area. This failure resulted in a total loss of utility power to multiple AWS facilities.” Amazon was quoted as explaining that its backups employ a “diesel rotary uninterruptable power supply (DRUPS), which integrates a diesel generator and a mechanical UPS.” Amazon’s supposedly uninterruptable power supply was consequently interrupted.

Amazon was not the only company which suffered outages due, in part, to inclement weather and no one can say that the impacted banks would not have suffered outages if they had not been using Amazon Cloud Services. But this much is certain: banks and other financial services firms have regulatory requirements to provide secure and reliable platforms. When a storm, hurricane or other natural disaster hits, consumers want to be able to get access to their money. Most regulatory experts would agree that banks cannot just blame their cloud service providers when their systems are not available. In the banking industry, this is pretty close to a “dog ate my homework excuse”. The cloud has many advantages, but firms may want to have an “on-prem” [2] disaster recovery capability – just in case.


[1] Additional technical detail included “a set of breakers responsible for isolating the DRUPS from utility power failed to open quickly enough.” That was bad because these breakers should “assure that the DRUPS reserve power is used to support the datacenter load during the transition to generator power.”

[2] – On-prem means “on premises” instead of outsourced cloud-based providers.