Cloud is Down: How to Protect Your Organization Against Outages

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A cloud outage can be a nightmare for any organization. When your critical applications and data are hosted in the cloud, an unexpected outage can bring business to a standstill. While cloud providers have made great strides in ensuring high availability and uptime, outages are still a reality.

The best example is when Amazon Web Services (AWS) brought the internet to a standstill on December 7, 2021. Multiple organizations, including big names like Associated Press, Netflix, PayPal, Shopify, Disney, and others, were affected, as the outage took five hours to fix. Unfortunately, AWS went on to have two more outages that month.

Here is how you can protect your organization against cloud outages by taking a proactive approach to your CloudOps.

Risk Mitigation Strategies

According to a 2020 survey of data center and IT managers by the Uptime Institute, over half of respondents stated that an outage cost them at least $100,000, while one-third reported incurring at least $1 million from a single outage. Clearly, the cost of an outage can be high.

However, by having a plan in place to mitigate the risk of an outage, you can minimize the cost of a cloud outage. Several of these strategies you can employ include:

High availability cluster architecture

This cloud management architecture uses multiple servers to host applications and data. So, if one server goes down, the others can pick up the slack. This approach is often used for mission-critical applications that cannot afford downtime.

There are four components to this strategy:

  • Load balancing: It is essential to have a carefully planned, pre-engineered mechanism for load balancing to distribute client requests across cluster nodes evenly. You must specify the failover procedure in the load balancing mechanism.
  • Data scalability: Cloud applications must be designed to auto-scale, so more instances can be brought up or taken down as needed. One solution is to use a central database and provide it with high availability through replication or partitioning. Another option is to make sure each application instance has its own data storage.
  • Geographical diversity: Cloud providers have data centers all over the world. Using a provider with multiple data centers can ensure that your applications and data are hosted in more than one location. In addition, this approach can help prevent outages caused by natural disasters or other events that might affect a single data center.
  • Backup and recovery: It is essential to have a backup and recovery plan in place for your cloud-hosted applications and data. This should include regular backups stored in a different location than the primary data and a tested disaster recovery plan.

Multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments are also a way to achieve high availability in the event of an outage on a single cloud provider. Using multiple cloud providers can ensure that your applications and data are hosted in more than one data center and location.

Regular testing of infrastructure resistance to potential outages and attacks

It is essential to regularly test your infrastructure for resistance to potential outages and attacks. Every organization’s infrastructure is subject to periodic modifications that can involve more than simply adding new servers.

These modifications can also include methods for attracting new users, building new connections, and implementing new authentication methods—all of which increase the attack surface and the number of potential attacks, such as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, code injections, and other attacks that exploit infrastructure flaws.

There are two types of infrastructure tests:

  • Internal Penetration Tests: These tests are conducted by a security team and focus on an organization’s internal systems and networks. They identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious insiders or outsiders who have gained access to the network.
  • External Penetration Tests: These tests are conducted by an external security firm and focus on an organization’s public-facing systems and networks.

Read more: Penetration Testing vs. Vulnerability Testing: An Important Difference

Below are the usual steps to follow when conducting an infrastructure test:

  1. Acquire testing resources: To conduct an effective infrastructure test, you need the right tools. This includes access to the latest attack vectors and vulnerabilities and a variety of vulnerability testing tools.
  2. Threat modeling: This step involves identifying the assets you want to protect and the threats they face. This will help you prioritize the tests you need to run and determine which assets are most at risk.
  3. Establish priorities, exclusions, and dependencies: Not all systems and assets are equal. Therefore, you need first to establish priorities to focus on the most critical systems and determine which systems or assets you do not want to test and which systems you must test before other systems can be tested.
  4. Perform tests: This is the actual testing phase, where you will attempt to exploit the vulnerabilities you have identified.
  5. Report and analyze: Once the tests are complete, you must generate a report detailing the findings. This report should include a list of all the vulnerabilities found and recommendations on fixing them.
  6. Consult on removing the vulnerabilities: Not all vulnerabilities can be fixed by simply installing a patch or updating a configuration. In some cases, you may need to consult with an expert on how best to remove the vulnerability.
  7. Verify the correct removal of vulnerabilities: Eliminate the exposures using the proper method and verify they have been correctly removed. Do this with another round of testing or review the security logs for any attack signs.

3-2-1 backup strategy

This concept is a revered and proven backup strategy recommended by the U.S. government that can help you protect your data in the event of a cloud outage. The basic idea is to have three copies of your data stored on two different media, with one copy off-site.

This strategy has other variations, but the key is to have at least three copies of your data stored in different locations. This could include having one copy on a local server, one copy on a remote server, and one in the cloud.

When using cloud-based backup, the following are the best practices:

  • Understand your recovery objectives: This is the first step in any backup strategy. You need to understand what you are trying to protect and why. This approach will help you determine which systems and data are most important.
  • Built-in redundancy: This is essential for any backup strategy, but it is imperative when using cloud-based backup. Any individual failure must have a fallback within the architecture. Redundancy allows you to continue operations in the event of an outage.
  • Consider both data loss and downtime: When planning for a cloud outage, you need to consider both data loss, the amount of information lost, and downtime, the amount of time a system is unavailable.
  • Consider systems and data categories: Not all systems are equal. Therefore, you need to consider the importance of different systems and data when creating your backup strategy. This will help you to focus on the most critical systems first.
  • Use a recovery cloud for on-premise solutions: Cloud backup is a great option for on-premises solutions. It can provide you with the redundancy and flexibility you need to recover from an outage.

Always Be Prepared

A cloud outage can happen at any time and for any reason. Therefore, it is vital to be prepared for an outage by having a plan. This plan should include a backup strategy and strategies for mitigating the risks. 

To guarantee the most crucial components of your infrastructure have the highest security and data availability, you must adhere to several requirements. You can start implementing some of them right away. Alternatively, you can entrust the implementation of all of the measures mentioned above to skilled cloud professionals.

Read next: Top Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) Tools

Kihara Kimachia
Kihara Kimachia
Kihara Kimachia is a writer and digital marketing consultant with over a decade of experience covering issues in emerging technology and innovation. In addition to appearing regularly in Enterprise Networking Planet, his work has been published in many leading technology publications, including TechRepublic, eSecurity Planet, Server Watch, Channel Insider, IT Business Edge, and Enterprise Storage Forum.

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