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Amazon data center down due to violent storms in Virginia

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July 1st, 2012

A series of thunderstorms pulled down Amazon's data center in Virginia Friday, rendering the company's cloud services unavailable for several hours.

The hurricane-force winds ripped through Indiana, Ohio and Virginia on Friday night, leaving more than 3.5 million people without power and knocking out the U.S. East-1 data center operated by Amazon and used for its Web and Cloud Services.

Netflix, Pinterest, Instagram and Heroku, which run their services atop Amazon's infrastructure cloud, all reported service outages because of the power failure in the AWS data center in Northern Virginia.

A statement from Dominion Virginia Power, which supplies electricity to the state and therefore to Amazon's huge data center, said that approximately 904,000 homes went dark on Saturday. Powerful storms on Friday night, driven by the triple-digit temperatures in the Mississippi Valley, sustained winds in excess of 80 miles per hour, with intense lightning, and falling trees took out several main power lines.

According to meteorologists at the Weather Channel, a derecho is a line of storms that can produce high winds in a straight line over areas that are hundreds of miles long.

As of Saturday afternoon, there were still about 590,000 customers of Dominion Virginia Power's total 2.45 million customer base without power, and the hardest hit area is in northern Virginia, where the Amazon data center is located, with nearly 385,000 of 832,000 customers still powerless.

Amazon Web Services fared a bit better. According to the AWS Service Health Dashboard, the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) started having connectivity issues at 8:21 PM Pacific on Friday night, and by 8:40 PM, Amazon said it had "a large number of instances in a single availability zone" had lost power due to the storms.

Power was restored later, and the company set about recovering impacted EC2 instances and updating related data volumes. By 11:19 PM, about half of the EC2 instances and a third of the related volumes had been recovered, but Elastic Load Balancers and Elastic Block Storage were still affected, and this slowed down the recovery work considerably.

By 10:25 AM Pacific on Saturday, Amazon said that the majority of the affected EC2 instances that did not have impaired EBS disk volumes were recovered somewhat, but it was still recovering EBS volumes for some customers. Load balancing was restored later and was, for the most part, working normally, according to Amazon.

The Cloud Search and Relational Database Service were also critically impacted by the downed availability zone, and the majority of the instances for these cloud services were recovered sometime during the day on June 30.

Such a critical service outage that affected so many Amazon customers fully underscores the importance of full power redundancy in modern data centers today. With properly configured UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies) and redundant emergency diesel power generators, a cloud service outage such as this could have been prevented.

In other IT news

A European court today upheld the overwhelming majority of a fine levied against Microsoft in 1998 by the European Commission's competition watchdog.

The decision puts an end to a costly and very lenghty court case against the software behemoth that has captivated the IT community for the past several years. Now some observers are wondering if other companies could get the same treatment.

In an appeals ruling, the General Court of the European Union rejected Microsoft's request to dismiss the fine levied in 2008, but did reduce it significantly by $39 million Euros to $860 million Euros, or US $1.1 billion.

Counting two earlier fines, the legal case has wound up costing Microsoft a grand total of $1.64 billion Euros. That's the most ever resulting from a single antitrust case in Europe, though in 2009 Intel was also hit with the largest single fine, US $1.09 billion.

The court in Luxembourg added that its decision "essentially upholds the Commission's move and rejects all the arguments put forward by Microsoft in support of an outright annulment of the fine."

The $860 million fine is a "penalty for noncompliance" with the watchdog's 2004 order for Microsoft to make computer programming code available that would allow rivals' products to interface properly and seamlessly with Microsoft's server software.

The company did so, but at a price the Commission said was so exorbitant it amounted to not complying. The court upheld that finding, but said that Microsoft deserved a small break because of a letter the Commission sent in 2005 saying the company didn't have to freely distribute code that wasn't its own and was freely available elsewhere.

That letter gave Microsoft some room to think it was okay to continue acting the way it had until 2004, and should have been "taken into account in determining the gravity of the conduct found to be unlawful," the written decision said.

Joaquin Almunia, the Commission's top regulator, said the judgment fully vindicates his office's action against Microsoft and brought significant benefits to users.

"A range of innovative products that would otherwise not have seen the light of day were introduced on the market," thanks to the Commission, he added.

"Although the General Court slightly reduced the fine, we are disappointed with the Court's ruling," Microsoft said in a written statement.

The software giant was initially fined $497 Euros along with the 2004 order, then it was penalized another $280.5 million for noncompliance in 2006, and then another $899 million in 2008.

The company has already booked provisions for all the fines and penalties and after the ruling it has no active outstanding quarrels with European regulators.

"In 2009, Microsoft entered into a broad understanding with the Commission that resolved its competition law concerns," the company said.

Most notably in the 2009 deal, Microsoft ended an investigation into allegedly abusive practices for bundling its Internet Explorer web browser along with its operating systems. Microsoft agreed to instead offer customers a range of browsers to choose from such as Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox or Opera.

In a sign of the times, Microsoft itself turned to the watchdog earlier this year, asking it to investigate Google for anticompetitive practices. Microsoft alleged that Google was demanding unreasonable fees to license its technology and asking courts to pull Microsoft products from shelves if they won't pay up.

Source: Amazon Web Services.

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