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Amazon outage affects local software buyers, sellers

February 28, 2017

A massive outage of the popular Amazon Web Services on Tuesday caused business disruptions for several Indianapolis firms that buy and sell software—and it created problems for at least one local school.

AWS, a goliath Amazon-run platform in the cloud-services industry, hosts data and applications used by companies, not-for-profits and other institutions the world over. A number of local tech firms sell software-as-a-service products that run on AWS servers, so the early afternoon outage sent them scrambling for solutions to fix what their customers are paying subscriptions for.

Indiana University is a major cloud-based software buyer and many of those services rely on Amazon. Brad Wheeler, IU's vice president for IT and chief information officer, told IBJ in an email that "while Amazon has proven very reliable, when something like this happens, we can see a dozen service outages that affect our users."

"The outage for Canvas, IU’s cloud-based learning management system, is the most critical as it effectively cancels class for our many online degree programs and deeply impacts support of residential classes," he added. An IU spokeswoman later said classes didn't have to be canceled on Tuesday.

Several local tech companies said they started having issues shortly after noon and were still experiencing some level of problems around 4 p.m.

Some of the software companies affected include email-signature firm Sigstr, web-form company Formstack, sales-productivity outfit Octiv and legal-tech company PactSafe.

Octiv CEO David Kerr said in a phone interview that the outage affected the ability of its roughly 375 customers to use Octiv software.

"There's been slight improvement where people can access the application," he said at about 3:40 p.m., "but not full functionality yet."

PactSafe co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Eric Prugh said only certain aspects of its software was affected by the outage, specifically those that involved uploading documents to cloud-based servers. Speaking about tech firms in general, he said issues like this are more than just customer-service crises.

"Downtime always poses the risk of lost dollars, both from a pure revenue perspective as well as the fact that you've got customer commitments you've got to hit," he said.

Some companies were able to recover from the outage quicker than others. Officials at Viral Launch, which helps companies sell products on Amazon.com, said its site was completely unavailable when the outage struck, so it switched from Amazon's eastern U.S. servers to ones in California. Around 3:30 p.m., everything appeared to be normal, CEO Casey Gauss said, but the company was still bracing for potential issues.

ClusterTruck, a food-tech firm that built its software from scratch, uses AWS but was able to avoid service disruption, CEO Chris Baggott said. A technical interruption during lunchtime would have surely impacted revenues.

"I can't say why [others] went down," Baggott said in a text. "We anticipate zone outages and build in redundancy. We have servers over multiple zones so when one is impacted, our loadbalancer routes around it."

A lot of operations use other major software providers—including Hubspot, Trello and Slack—which also reportedly had issues related to AWS Tuesday.

“Service outages are very difficult for any professional IT organization," Wheeler of IU said, "and they are doubly difficult when there is almost nothing your team can do to restore critical services.”

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