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Monday, January 11, 2021

The Cloud Just Committed Hara-Kiri

Whatever Amazon's true motivation, they just gave us proof that moving to the cloud is a terrible idea

I n the past week, Parler, an online competitor to Twitter, experienced a huge increase in traffic as thousands of people decided they had enough of Twitter's heavy-handed actions, which include shadow-banning and politically motivated censorship.

This morning, Amazon (it is claimed) yanked Parler off the Internet. It turns out that Parler had outsourced its online presence to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Maybe Amazon will claim it was just a “glitch,” but whatever is going on it makes the point about clouds.

Your site on AWS
Your site on AWS

Gab is another. For some idiotic reason, Gab's plan was to become dependent on Google and Apple to host their app, which they imagined would be the best way to interact with them. Suddenly both giant corporations banned their app for political reasons, claiming that Gab was “encouraging violence.”

This illustrates a fundamental flaw in the so-called cloud: by becoming dependent on a huge monopolistic corporation, you are giving them power to destroy you on a whim. This is a mistake no company should risk taking.

It's not clear at the moment whether Amazon's action was an example of nasty virtue signaling or a cynical attempt to capitalize on the current fascistic frenzy of corporate censorship of dissident opinions. What is clear, however, is that it is a powerful argument against the cloud.

Running your own network is no picnic

For about ten years, I ran a small network, including its mail servers, DNS, and Internet server. I know what a huge effort it is: you have to pay attention to security advisories, which pour in daily, and you have to constantly compile, test, and update various bits of software. You have to create and test a robust backup system. You need an intrusion detection system and a strong firewall to keep out hackers, and you have to monitor the system logs on your servers continuously in case a hardware or software problem crops up.

This was not the job I was hired for, and it took a lot of time away from my scientific research.

You have to deal with users who complain, sometimes because of mistakes on their part, sometimes not, and figure out what is going on. Even worse is the users who don't complain, and decide that if their email client stops working they'll start drilling holes in the wall to set up two tin cans and a string.

And you have a steep learning curve: after I left, the organization tried to bring in consultants. It was nearly impossible for them to find any good ones, mainly because they didn't want to pay them. The ones they found made amusing mistakes: one recursively set all the permissions on every file on the server to 777, making every file readable and writable by everyone. (The server fell over almost immediately.) Another installed little USB drives for their corporate backups but never tested them. They ended up with a huge pile of crapped out USB drives in their wire closet, and no recourse when they got blasted with ransomware from an employee watching movies at work (which no one noticed because no one was monitoring the traffic).

Another consultant was unable to find the firewall I'd installed and told the CEO that I had left them exposed without any protection. This went on until I emailed them a copy of my 475-line firewall, which shut them up. At least they finally admitted that, yes, a firewall existed. At our high-level meeting with the CEO and scientific director, they even admitted that “whoever wrote this really knew what they were doing,” which is another way of saying they had no clue what any of it means.

So they took my firewall down and bought a cheap Internet appliance. Within six months their network was destroyed by hackers.

Your choice: be down for two days or be down forever

So you have two alternatives: on the one hand, you need to know a lot and pay somebody to spend time on it. That person might quit or make a mistake, and you'll be off the Internet for a few days. On the other, you pay someone else to know things for you, thereby becoming the slave of a big corporation. When that happens, you will be forced to say what the company tells you to say—even in your free time—and do what they tell you to do or they will shut your company down without notice—forever.

You might think you're not political, so conforming to whatever silly woke ideas the cloud provider demands is not a big deal. And maybe you'll just fire anyone who says anything remotely controversial in their free time or at a restaurant or in front of somebody who hates them. You are just a small business and one more business caving to the mob won't make much difference.

But the mob is fickle, and the press is dishonest. In an era where people are beavering to destroy the interpersonal bonds of trust that hold a society together, if you manufacture heaters they could accuse you of causing global warming. If you manufacture ladders you could be discrim­inating against midgets. The cloud provider can change their demands about what you're allowed to say faster than you can cave. The cloud provider can just use “unacceptable” or “You violated the terms of our agreement” without explanation as an excuse, as AWS may have done, to get rid of you as a competitor.

Don't be under the illusion that the Federal government will use anti-monopoly action to save you. They'll side with whoever gives them the most money. And you're taking the provider's word that they won't hand your content over to China or Albania or the EU when they demand it—or use it to train their neural network.

Even if you move your storage to the cloud, you're still exposed to the Internet and you still have do the same amount of security, backups, and user support. The only difference is that you lose control and thereby add extra risk.

In this world, you can't just pay somebody to know things for you. It doesn't work in science, and it won't work in industry. The sooner corporate executives figure this out, the better.

jan 11 2021, 5:05 am

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