Researcher: Interdependencies could lead to cloud 'meltdowns'

A rise in complex, composite cloud services could create dangerous 'bubbles,' according to a Yale researcher.

As the use of cloud computing becomes more and more mainstream, serious operational "meltdowns" could arise as end-users and vendors mix, match and bundle services for various means, a researcher argues in a new paper set for discussion next week at the USENIX HotCloud '12 conference in Boston.

"As diverse, independently developed cloud services share ever more fluidly and aggressively multiplexed hardware resource pools, unpredictable interactions between load-balancing and other reactive mechanisms could lead to dynamic instabilities or 'meltdowns,'" Yale University researcher and assistant computer science professor Bryan Ford wrote in the paper.

Ford compared this scenario to the intertwining, complex relationships and structures that helped contribute to the global financial crisis.

New cloud services may arise that essentially "resell, trade, or speculate on complex cocktails or 'derivatives' of more basic cloud resources and services, much like the modern financial and energy trading industries operate," he wrote.

Each of these various cloud components are often maintained and deployed "by a single company that, for reasons of competition, shares as few details as possible about the internal operation of its services," Ford added.

As a result, the cloud industry could find itself "yielding speculative bubbles and occasional large-scale failures, due to 'overly leveraged' composite cloud services" with weaknesses that don't become known "until the bubble bursts," Ford wrote.

Ford's paper doesn't offer concrete solutions, but does offer several ways the industry might tackle the problem, for example suggesting that providers release detailed information about their system dependencies to "a trusted third party, such as an organization analogous to Underwriters Laboratories (UL) offering cloud reliability analysis services."

While cloud computing "is promising and attractive in many ways ... at the very least, it would be prudent for us to study some of these risks before our socioeconomic system becomes completely and irreversibly dependent on a computing model whose foundations may still be incompletely understood," he added.

HotCloud '12 is a subconference within a broader set of USENIX events happening next week in Boston. Other tracks will cover cyberlaw, web application development and storage.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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