Could Multi-Cloud have mitigated the Fastly issue?

Is cloud resilient enough for public services?

It’s not the first, and it certainly won’t be the last time that a technology failure has made front page news due to the widespread impact that is caused.  Diverse services, ranging from online retailers, through to media sites as well as government services were rendered either unavailable or severely limited. This was because of a failure within a cloud service offered by one of the leading global Content Delivery Networks (CDN). Such a behemothic outage and subsequent impact will naturally force commercial organisations to seek to mitigate future revenue and reputational loss, whilst public sector organisations may well question whether cloud is resilient enough for public services that the nation depends on.

 

Did the cloud fail?

For a while, it might have felt to users in the UK that the internet itself was broken. In reality, the failure came from a part of the network that delivers content from the underlying service to a large population of users (a service called a Content Delivery Network). Cloud software, such as gov.uk, and cloud hosting, such as the services UKCloud offer, continued to work. The part which failed, the Content Delivery Network, is itself a cloud service that is massively distributed, and the gov.uk team explain how and why they use Fastly here, wherein they say “GOV.UK uses the Fastly CDN to handle the majority of requests, which – as well as reducing load on GOV.UK (‘origin’) by around 70% – provides ‘edge nodes’ (servers) that are closer to our end users (particularly those outside the UK)” (see our recent info on Edge).

That might sound confusing, but essentially ‘cloud’ is not one single entity. There are different types of cloud, serving different purposes. One type of cloud (the CDN), from one provider (Fastly) failed – but because many sites like gov.uk decided to accept this ‘single point of failure’ the perception was that the entire cloud service had failed.

 

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Isn’t cloud supposed solve these problems?

Compared with traditional solutions, cloud services are proven to be significantly more secure, resilient and scalable. They are also much more cost-effective than the equivalent ‘home grown’ solution.

However, there is always a risk of failure – whether a technical issue like this, or a commercial issue that saw a giant provider like Carillion fail a few years back. Indeed, many organisations understand this – in our State of Cloud Adoption survey last year, 79% of respondents agreed that the risk of “over reliance on a sole provider” is inhibiting their cloud adoption.

 

79% Public sector organisations agree that over reliance on a single cloud provider inhibited their cloud adoption.

 

Hence, it is essential that we use cloud right. Rather than become solely reliant on a single cloud provider (whether AWS, Fastly or Office 365), it is best to have a Multi-Cloud strategy.  This effectively enables you to use multiple cloud services, ensuring that all your eggs aren’t in a single basket. The UK Government and wider public sector are often discussing the best steps to take in becoming more digitally resilient, and this conversation usually gathers quite tightly around cyber resilience. However, easy choices such as embracing a Multi-Cloud strategy can be made when planning your digital transformation that can limit the impact of other digital resilience factors such as service failures and downtime.

 

More clouds, more problems?

If using multiple clouds were easy, everyone would be doing it all the time. The reason many organisations accepted the risk of relying on a single Content Delivery Network, or any other cloud service, is because it can be more complex to implement and manage multiple services.

The allure of going ‘all in’ with a single cloud service is the massive convenience it gives you. But the cost of that convenience is loss of control. There are times when it is appropriate to use a single provider for a single component, but more often than not, it is prudent to mix and match the right cloud services to each requirement. And, when there is risk of significant impact caused by the failure of a single cloud service, it is incumbent on organisations, especially those delivering public services, to mitigate that risk through adopting a multi-cloud solution.

 

There are times when it is appropriate to use a single provider for a single component, but more often than not, it is prudent to mix and match the right cloud services to each requirement.

 

Digital Strategies often are, and really should be, complex. Embracing an ideal cloud solution, and the enablement from these new and exciting avenues to innovation, unlock an abundance of opportunity. Cloud is not just an investment in the service you’re getting from it – cloud also brings a multitude of other indirect benefits too, such as: significant cost savings, extra security benefits, flexibility and scalability, opportunities for safe data sharing and collaboration, and more. And, as such, the ability to embrace multiple clouds, not just for the operational benefits that are unique to each one, but the ability as aforementioned to ‘spread your eggs across multiple baskets’, should be considered as a serious and undeniable digital resilience benefit, worth the complexity.

 

Could multi-cloud have mitigated the Fastly issue?

Yes. Single Content Delivery Network (CDN) solutions are very common, but multi-CDN solutions are available. Content Delivery Network providers like Limelight have long promoted how multi-CDN works. Indeed, even Fastly published a blog in 2019 which explains the benefits of multi-CDN and stated, “Resiliency, scale, improved performance: There are some serious pros to adopting a multi-CDN approach”.

 

Step back and see the bigger picture

When failures like this happen, it is tempting to focus in on the specific problem – in this case Fastly’s Content Delivery Network. Many organisations will be rapidly revisiting their approach to Content Delivery, and many will take steps to implement a multi-CDN solution.

That’s all very good, unfortunately many will stop there. They won’t think about other aspects of the end-to-end user experience that might be similarly at risk of a future failure.

Our advice is to take a step back and see the bigger picture. What other aspects of your critical services are reliant on a single technology or single service provider? How could you adopt a multi-cloud strategy at all levels of the stack – multiple hosting services (IaaS), multiple development platforms (PaaS), multiple application services (SaaS)? Now that you’ve enjoyed the short term convenience benefits of using a single cloud, how do you take back control and pull together multiple clouds?

If you need help answering those questions, contact UKCloud. We’ve long been proponents of multi-cloud and have helped hundreds of public sector organisations mix and match the right cloud services for each of their requirements. And, we’ve developed a catalogue of services that will help you take the time, cost and risk out of adopting digital technologies as you modernise and transform the IT services that power the public services that our nation depends on. Cloud is absolutely resilient enough for public services – as long as you treat cloud as a plural rather than a singular.

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