Calamities, Contingencies and the Cloud

By Nicole Hemsoth

March 14, 2011

As the real and figurative dust begins to settle in Japan following the massive earthquake and tsunami, the grim evaluation of damage is just beginning in terms of life, property and increasingly, business.

Today Japanese markets went live and back to work and to some extent, so did some of the country’s largest companies. Honda, Sony and others were forced to shut down for an extended period but otherwise Japan has been trying to push forward, if not with a sense of sad defiance in the face of the mounting tragedies—human, environmental, structural and otherwise.

The assessments extend far beyond Japan’s borders, at least on the human front as millions look to cloud-based platforms to share and receive important news and information from a broad spectrum of worldwide sources.   

As Dr. Jose Luis Vazquez-Poletti discussed this morning, “following the first hints of news about the tragedy in Japan, people around the world turned to the Internet to find different formats for information—not just mass media coverage, but also firsthand impressions left on personal websites, blogs and social media outlets…a combination social networks and the principles of cloud computing became the primary source for information gathering and sharing.”

Indeed, the convergence of cloud computing and the incredible breadth of tools to harness it for massive, real-time communication and collaboration shows the power of ICT developments like cloud-based services to aid during times of national emergency.

This communications side of the cloud story is striking in its scope; families and agencies sharing updates in near real-time, distributed coordination of search and rescue operations across any number of hosted platforms. However, there is another angle of cloud computing that emerges during major crises.

Reliance on clouds as the main artery for communications and even business continuity following mobile phone and related disruptions is advantageous but what if those networks or data storehouses are obliterated or at worst, temporarily knocked out following exhaustion of backup power?

Just as with many other critical elements of infrastructure, a few of Japan’s datacenters have been affected by the tragedy. Rather than being due to direct damage to structures, however, the failures appear to be due to rolling blackouts and extended power outages. While they are not as widespread as one might imagine given the scope and magnitude of the damage, this is nonetheless causing issues for those who rely on cloud-based services in the country.

ZDnet Japan has been maintaining an updated list of affected datacenters with short descriptions of current challenges showing that some datacenters are faring better than others. Overall, despite some serious breakdowns in ICT infrastructure, the country’s clouds have been protected by a variety of power and data backup methods.

According to reports, among the hardest hit in the data market was NTT Communications—one of Japan’s largest providers of data and communication services. On Friday they lost their IP-VPN connection and were closely monitoring the exterior of the building holding one of its datacenters. In a statement issued on Friday the company noted that “due to earthquakes in the Tohoku region NTT has failed in some of our services.” NTT apologized to its customers but claimed that backup power supplies for its other datacenters have extended capabilities.

Announcements from the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs have emerged about severed communication networks, including KDDI’s undersea cables.

Despite these and other major ICT infrastructure failures, there are a number of companies reassuring customers that even in the face of power loss their data is still safe.

Earlier this month Amazon Web Services announced the availability of its cloud computing services to the Tokyo area with the launch of a new datacenter. While the exact location of the data storehouse was withheld, in a statement about its new Japanese reach, one of Amazon’s spokespeople behind the move stated that “developers in Japan told me that latency and in-country data storage are of great importance to them.”

It is quite likely that, based on these specific concerns and the fact that they were highlighted in a relatively sparse release, the datacenter is located somewhere in the heart of Tokyo, which suffered a great deal of damage although not as much as other coastal cities touched by the massive tsunami.

According to Amazon, however, the datacenter has emerged unscathed and for all intents and purposes, its business as usual—at least in terms of its cloud offering in the region. Furthermore, as one might imagine, AWS has some exhaustive backup and recovery plans, including stores off-site and off-continent.

On its status page, which shows real-time outage or interruption events by region, Amazon’s services all seem to have the green light. However, it notes that while they do not believe there will be interruption is service, it is a possibility. As the company’s message to Asia-Pacific AWS users states:

 “There are planned Tokyo Electronic outages scheduled over the next few weeks, starting Monday morning (Japan time). We have been re-validating our back-up power capability so that customers have the least interruption possible.”

A number of U.S.-based companies are jumping into the fray to offer assistance to businesses, non-profits and government agencies via cloud-based software.  For instance, yesterday IBM Japan announced that it would be providing free LotusLive services until the end of July to ensure the necessary “means of information sharing and email targeted at local governments and nonprofit organization for supporting browser-based activities.”

Japan’s leading internet provider IIJ has stated that it is providing free access to cloud-based resources from its unaffected datacenter location from a rapidly-deployed server setup in the Kansai area it claims will be unaffected by power outages and rolling blackouts. Although the translation is approximate, the company notes that “traffic information and safety confirmation as well as railways operation are supported in this infrastructure for delivering information as quickly as needed—IIG is doing all it can to to support various server engineers.”

Microsoft had an office in one of the worst affected areas, Sendai. In addition to offering words of concern and condolences, the company announced that it would be providing monetary and software donations to Japan.

According to a report, this assistance includes free incident support for those with damaged facilities and “free temporary software licenses for customers, non-profits and relief agencies.”

Microsoft has also opened a cloud-based disaster recovery portal on its Windows Azure for officials to use for collaboration and communications.

Similar efforts were underway, although on a smaller scale, following New Zealand’s earthquake, which rocked Christchurch and put data backup worries on center stage. 

In fact, now that the tidal wave of shock is turning slowly into recognition of the gravity of the situation, today has sparked a number of conversations around the web highlighting the value of having a contingency  plan and reliable backup and recovery options. These have saved many of the datacenters, both in terms of backup power and datastores, but some companies that had been reliant on on-site systems might not have fared well.

Many of these same backup and recovery-related conversations emerged immediately following the Christchurch earthquake not long ago. ISC Research community manager Ullrich Loeffler predicted that many companies that were displaced after the tragedy were unlikely to reinvest in their own IT infrastructure. He stated that many of the companies that were forced to line up in queues to try to salvage hard drives and other physical information stores would begin considering the cloud option. Still, Loeffler made it clear that firms would turn to the cloud as a precautionary measure, explaining that “companies only tend to turn to cloud-based or hosted solutions when they need to refresh their systems.”

While Loeffler’s statement that the cloud is not a precautionary measure might ring true in the abstract, there were a number of tales of cloud-based backup and recovery solutions being deployed directly as precautionary measures. This was especially the case in Christchurch where businesses were given a wake-up call in the form of an initial, less severe quake that rocked the town—and swayed the confidence of a number of businesses with mission-critical data stores at the heart of their operations.

The New Zealand Herald reported on a number of companies that found that their decision to deploy cloud-based solutions saved their businesses following the destruction of their offices. Software company EMDA, which supplies software for supply chain and manufacturing businesses had just reevaluated its backup and recovery plan to include both on and off-site backups following the first earthquake.

Although the tragedy could have sparked a much more serious data problem, especially if the epicenter had been closer to Tokyo where a number of datacenters and communications hubs are centered, it does serve as a reminder about the value and risks associated with cloud-based business models. Chances are any organization that has decided to put all or some of its data in the cloud, especially public clouds, has granted significant attention to the issue of reliability and backup. Still, for smaller companies this might be a secondary consideration.

It is difficult to focus on this one element of a tragedy that is so broad in scope that it is almost impossible for the mind to process. We can take our cues from the strong decision to move forward with markets on this Monday following such dramatic loss of life and property, however, and look ahead to see how the challenges from this event can help other countries better prepare for disaster on the cloud and communications level.

Just as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan has caused a massive look inward for countries reliant on nuclear power, this should also be a living example of considering contingency planning options for data protection and loss prevention. 
 

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understanding on January 10. The MOU represents the continuation of a 1 Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Tennessee), Satoshi Matsuoka (Tokyo Institute of Technology), Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown and Spectre security updates on the performance of popular H Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and NREL Take Steps to Create a Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Data Center with an H2 Fuel Cell

As enterprises attempt to manage rising volumes of data, unplanned data center outages are becoming more common and more expensive. As the cost of downtime rises, enterprises lose out on productivity and valuable competitive advantage without access to their critical data. Read more…

Fostering Lustre Advancement Through Development and Contributions

January 17, 2018

Six months after organizational changes at Intel's High Performance Data (HPDD) division, most in the Lustre community have shed any initial apprehension around the potential changes that could affect or disrupt Lustre Read more…

By Carlos Aoki Thomaz

UCSD, AIST Forge Tighter Alliance with AI-Focused MOU

January 18, 2018

The rich history of collaboration between UC San Diego and AIST in Japan is getting richer. The organizations entered into a five-year memorandum of understandi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fostering Lustre Advancement Through Development and Contributions

January 17, 2018

Six months after organizational changes at Intel's High Performance Data (HPDD) division, most in the Lustre community have shed any initial apprehension aroun Read more…

By Carlos Aoki Thomaz

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

ANL’s Rick Stevens on CANDLE, ARM, Quantum, and More

January 8, 2018

Late last year HPCwire caught up with Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory, f Read more…

By John Russell

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This