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What Seattle Tech Startups Learned From Amazon's Cloud Crash

Hansi Lo Wang

Last week, some of the web servers owned by Seattle–based Amazon went down for three days. Local tech companies that rely on those servers were scrambling to keep business going. One of those companies was AppStoreHQ. Scott Blanksteen is CEO.

Blanksteen: "When you get up in the morning and you see, Wow, the site's down. Uh, what's going on? And then you start doing a little research, and you see that lots of people's sites are going down and it's because of a, you know, an outside provider, that's not a great morning for any company."

KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang spoke with some Seattle–area tech companies who use Amazon's cloud services to find out about lessons learned.


Amazon does more than just sell books and music online. It also provides web services for many tech startups. Those companies rent space on Amazon's cloud — that's basically a system of remote computers that store data online.

Blanksteen: "Traditionally, what we would've had to do is buy a bunch of our own computers to do the analysis and then run web servers so that people can access that information."

That's Scott Blanksteen of AppStoreHQ. He says it's cheaper to use Amazon's Web Services than to set up up a server himself.

Blanksteen: "If you're running, you know, American Express's backend, it's pretty critical that that be up all the time, and that it, you know, it doesn't lose any transactions and there's all sorts of redundancy. But for most websites, it's more important typically to make your users happy and generally give them what they want, and occasionally trip over yourself."

Blanksteen says if the cloud crashes and your website trips up once and a while, it still might be worth it.

Blanksteen: "The promise of the cloud is that you can get going easily, you can scale your business, and you can rely on a third–party provider to do a lot of the management."

Blanksteen's company has relied on Amazon Web Services since AppStoreHQ was founded two years ago. And he says in context, this cloud crash is like —

Blanksteen: "The equivalent of a skip in a record, a momentary glitch. But it's been pretty reliable for us. We've really not had the sort of level or frequency of challenges that would cause us to think about moving."

What tech company leaders are thinking about is how to better respond when the cloud crashes again. Keith Smith is the co–founder and CEO of the Seattle–based company BigDoor.

Smith: "Iterating and building and creating new features isn't enough. We do need to constantly be thinking about how can we make sure that these systems are going to be reliable and always available."

Both Smith and Blanksteen expect Amazon will figure out how to avoid another cloud crash. But they say tech startups, like theirs, that rely on a digital cloud should have their own back–up plan, just in case.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

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