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Shutterstock CIO plays 'varsity' defense against public cloud outages

Ask Shutterstock CIO David Giambruno about building a software-defined data center (SDDC) at the stock photo company, and he’ll talk about what he calls “indiscriminate computing.” He means getting IT infrastructure “out of the way so the developers and the product teams can turn around and face forward.”

To do that, Giambruno is building new ways to deploy code on top of the SDDC, which essentially virtualizes all data center resources so IT can be delivered as a service. He didn’t want to talk about how he’s doing it before it’s complete — but he was eager to segue from the always-on capabilities he’s working toward to last week’s four-hour-plus downing of large swaths of the internet.

David Giambruno, Shutterstock CIO

David Giambruno

The public cloud outage was caused by a glitch in servers running Amazon’s cloud storage service in the provider’s eastern U.S. region. Companies storing photos, videos and other information there saw their sites slow and in some cases stop working.

Putting copies of that data in other geographic regions gives sites more durability — they’re less susceptible to what happens in one data center — but doing that takes more time and more money.

“I call it the difference between JV and varsity,” Giambruno said. Varsity players, to keep with his metaphor, build “multizoned” architecture — making data accessible across regions so they can absorb the jabs and blows public cloud outages can deliver.

Don’t call me junior

Giambruno was junior varsity once. He cited a tweet he wrote in 2007, when he worked for makeup manufacturer Revlon:

“Poorly architected clouds are Binary. When they fail it’s everything. My lesson 2007.”

That lesson was learned after he “stayed up just north of 50 hours piecing together tens of thousands of servers.”

No longer. At Shutterstock, for example, he has an expanded IT architecture — from having two domain name system providers to spreading out application data across multiple providers’ clouds. It’s insurance against events such as public cloud outages or cyberattacks.

Of course, Giambruno noted, such measures require “setting up that vision and that scope and also having the internal support to do it, which I do.” Shutterstock has those resources. Despite recent sluggish growth — and a Zacks Equity Research recommendation to ditch its stock — the company saw revenue climb 16% in 2016 to $494 million. The platform has 125 million royalty-free images and expanded its video library to 6.2 million.

Business decisions

Companies putting applications that are critical to business in the cloud need to decide at the outset how much downtime they can tolerate in case of public cloud outages, said Forrester Research analyst Dave Bartoletti in my Friday column on the Amazon outage. Then they can determine whether they need to spend the time and money to make those apps “highly, highly resilient.”

“That’s a business decision companies have to make,” he said.

Some just won’t put certain types of data in the public cloud. At the end of my story, I asked the question “How did the Amazon cloud outage affect you?” One reader, using the handle marcusapproyo, wrote this:

“It didn’t because we’re smart enough not to put production SAP into AWS.” But, he continued, “at the SAP conference I was at, a CIO stated he was losing $1M in revenue every 15 min. of down time! OUCH!!!”

Ouch indeed. Another reader, ITMgtConsultant, mused on the duration of the cloud outage and commented, “One would assume that after losing $16M of revenue the CIO is now an ex-CIO?”

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It would be short-sighted to think that this is any different for those CIOs and companies that chose to avoid using cloud resources prior to the outage. Those of us who have been doing this a while know that it's not a matter of "if" it will go down but "when" - regardless of whether it is private, public, hybrid, or bare metal in an owned data center. If you've never experienced a 4-hour outage that cost your company money then you either haven't been doing this long enough or your time is coming. My take is that, while technology leaders have an obligation to architect for failure and protect their company's data and revenue, it is more and more the case that the best people to work on that problem are employed by the cloud provider and the duration and severity of the outage will be minimized due to their processes and controls - which have received far more scrutiny than our internal creations will ever experience.
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