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Recent AWS glitches illustrate the power, and fragility, of cloud computing

Whenever you connect to anything over the internet, your computer is essentially just talking to another computer. A server is a type of computer that can process requests and deliver data to other computers in the same network or over the internet.

But running your own server isn’t cheap. You have to buy the hardware box, install it somewhere, and feed it a lot of power. In many cases, it needs internet connectivity too. Then, to ensure that data is received and sent with minimal delays, these servers need to be physically close to its users.

Additionally, you have to install software that needs to be updated regularly. And you have to build fail-safe mechanisms that will switch over operations to another server if a main server malfunctions.

“The thing that companies like Amazon noticed is that a lot of [computing infrastructure] is not really specific to the service you’re running,” says Justine Sherry, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

For example, the code running Netflix does something different compared to the code running a service like Venmo. The Netflix code is serving videos to users, and the Venmo code is facilitating financial transactions. But underneath, most of the computing work is actually the same.

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