AWS & The Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz
I will confess: I both admire and respect Amazon. If all they ever achieved was to be my go-to online store and stream TV / movies to my house, I’d be a big fan. I also appreciate their near maniacal focus on the customer, their organizational productivity at scale, the commitment to being a technology company, and their willingness to take risks. But they did something even better that will forever endear me to them: they eliminated my need to ever touch physical server and storage infrastructure again. ;)

But there is one side of Amazon for which I’m not a fan: their secretive side. I first encountered this years ago with my first AWS support case. I don’t remember the exact details, but think it had to do with an increase in the failure rate of EBS volumes (I was managing more than 4K+ volumes at the time). I asked some high-level questions about the underlying implementation in hope of working around the issue, and was immediately given what I’ve since called the Wizard of Oz response: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain”.

For the most part, this secretive nature does not hinder my ability to be successful with AWS. But every so often, an incident comes along that reminds me of how much I wish they were a little more open. For example, this month Amazon had an issue with the delivery of their Detailed Billing Record (DBR). The DBR provides hourly detail on usage correlated to specific resources, making it one of the best examples of cost transparency in the cloud computing industry. If you were an affected customer relying on your DBR to close last month, you likely have been unhappy with the fact it stopped reporting data on August 28th. To make matters worse, Amazon is making no attempt to proactively notify customers of the issue, nor are they providing any detail to customers who open support cases. As a final irritation, if you go to AWS’s status page, you will see green across the board, making you think all is well in AWS-land.

I’m sure there are times when being secretive has been important to their success. I’ve also seen Amazon break out of this secretive mode in times of organizational crisis, such as their post-mortem on the April 2011 AWS outage. But I’m still not convinced secrecy is the right default mode for all engagements by Amazon, and think they might be better served with a little more nuance in their policies.