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The problems Microsoft suffered with their Azure Cloud service on 29 February 2012 had a real “Millennium Bug” feel to them, it took me right back to the “happy” days leading up to year 2000. Microsoft Azure is a “Platform as as Service” and hosts thousands of on-line businesses, including the Government’s “G Cloud”. Many of these businesses were unable to function during the outage, the G Cloud itself was down for about five hours.
So what caused Microsoft’s Azure service to go down and for so many businesses to be unable to trade? Microsoft have published a summary of the events in a blog that provides the answers to their analysis of the failure. From my reading it was a classic “Millennium Bug” issue, where a programmer took a short-cut and forgot to account for a leap year.
One would have thought that Microsoft would have learned their lesson and that part of their QA process would ensure that this sort of date problem never happens again, but apparently not! Although, if you read the blog, they will tell you that it will not happen again, but didn’t we hear that about 12 years ago?
So how can you protect yourself from this kind of issue? It’s not straightforward, as no-one is going to be able to look at all the code they use and establish if this could happen again, that’s completely impractical and is what you are paying the supplier to do. Therefore the answer is to assess the risk and prepare a contingency in case this sort of thing does happens. That may be difficult as there may be no alternative to the Cloud solution you have chosen, but in some cases it may well be beneficial to have a different solution for your Disaster Recovery, so that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
This incident shows that the Cloud still has some way to go before it is the stable, reliable, secure and ubiquitous solution the suppliers would like us believe.
A significant part of our work is assessing risk and helping clients take appropriate steps to mitigate it, if you’d like to know more, let me know.
Mike Hill – Itica Consult – March 2012