Amazon's critical cloud crash caused tremors that spread from Silicon Valley across the United States. Tens of thousands of users around the world, including major streaming sites like Spotify and Netflix, are crucially dependent on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for large-scale, cloud-based media and data storage service. The behemoth AWS cloud provides users with back-end access to the Internet, which in turn reduces or eliminates a company's need for standard operating infrastructure. It's cheaper, more easily accessible, and supposedly more resilient.

But what happens if the cloud disappears?

On Tuesday afternoon, Amazon's cloud crash plunged the company's cloud computing division into a four-hour-long outage, which resulted in frustrating and costly web downtime or slowdown for hundreds of thousands American businesses. Even more disconcerting was the fact that Amazon's own system health dashboard was hosted on the AWS cloud server, which initially prevented technicians from addressing the outage.

A digital experience monitoring company logged the start of the outage at 12:35 pm ET, but by 16:49 pm ET the system's function had been fully restored. The AWS division of the multi-national corporation has steadily grown to account for up to 8% of Amazon's annual revenue, as reported in the company's fourth quarter report last year.

Dave Bartoletti, an employee of the cloud analytics company, Forrester, said that major outages like this are rare, and the last big one he could remember was a five-hour-long outage in September 2015. As yet, no reason has been given for Amazon's cloud crash.

Effects of the outage

The outage had varying effects on users, depending on how the customer made use of AWS.

Lewis Bamboo is a family-owned bamboo nursery in Oakman, Alabama. Daniel Mullaly, the small company's chief technology officer, said that pictures of their bamboo plants are essential in order to sell their products online. He was relieved to have the necessary photographs available on their own independent server as a backup, which helped them during the outage.

Alternatives too pricey

It's not uncommon for certain Companies to duplicate and distribute their files across a wide network of cloud-based services. This approach provides peace of mind, but at great financial cost. Most businesses simply can't afford to contract multiple cloud-service providers, and as such have to come to terms with the prospect of very rare, but always crippling downtime.