In an interview last week on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme AWS Managing Director Gavin Jackson remarked to presenter Dominic O’Connell that if he were to tell him the location of the new AWS UK region datacenter he would then have to kill him.
Now, clearly Jackson had his tongue firmly in cheek but there is an important reason behind Amazon’s apparent secrecy and in reality it’s got almost nothing to do with security.
As anyone with even an elementary grasp of information security knows, keeping the location of something secret is unlikely to enhance its security. Indeed, “security through obscurity” is downright dangerous as a security defence. But that’s perhaps not what AWS are trying to achieve here.
I, like many former and current members of Barclays staff, are well aware of the location of the main Barclays datacenters. Largely because they are always referred by the name of the town in which they’re located. Does that make Barclays data and customers’ money any less safe? Absolutely not. Barclays – like AWS – have extensive physical security mechanisms and practices in place, and alternative datacenters provide resilience.
So to understand what may be the real reason behind AWS’s secrecy you need look no further than the true purpose of Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), which is utility computing. Where, like traditional utilities, you trust a suitability equipped and experienced company to provide it for you, and in doing so you don’t need to know nor care where it comes from or how it’s generated.
In the datacenter world this is a significant break from the norm. Traditional vendors of datacenter services take great pride in showing their customers – and prospective customers – their shiny datacenters with military-grade physical security and racks of servers kept in icy cold conditions.
But of course in the IaaS world this makes no sense: as a customer you can’t go and visit a datacenter and see “your” servers in “your” dedicated racks. With cloud, your server instances are virtualised machines undoubtedly running in different racks, perhaps even in different datacenters. And who cares? To truly embrace Cloud means you don’t need to fuss over the detail, you leave that to a trusted provider such as AWS.
So, I say “Bravo” to Amazon Web Services for not telling us where their new datacenter is. Cloud is a mindset shift, where we need to concentrate on being consumers of IT able to meet customer needs and solve business problems using technology on tap.
In the Cloud world of the future knowing where a datacenter is makes no more sense than knowing where the power station is that provides the electricity for your office. And – amongst most ordinary folk like us – who in their right mind is concerned with that?