It was at least the second major failure for Amazon in that area. In April 2011, a problem in Amazon’s networking at a nearby data center took down a number of applications and popular Web sites, including Reddit and Quora, for more than a day.
To be sure, Amazon Web Services held up better than many utilities affected by the storm, which left more than four million homes and businesses without power on the East Coast. By Sunday, some Instagram customers in the Washington area could, through their cellphones, share pictures on the Web before they had lights or safe drinking water.
Netflix, along with Pinterest and Instagram, did not respond to requests for comment Sunday. Netflix was able to restore service in a couple of hours. Many more Amazon customers, including the small start-ups that make up the bulk of its customers, did not report any problems, but may have scrambled to make sure their systems were secure.
“We were late at work, playing an online video game that went down, then got a notification from our own system that it was starting to fail,” said Benjamin Coe, the founder of Attachments.me, a start-up in San Francisco that connects e-mail attachments to online data storage services. “We had built for redundancy, but our system failed in two areas, making it hard for the third to work.”
Mr. Coe said he stayed up until 4 a.m. fixing the problem. It was, he said, the price of working cheaply with a service that enabled his six-person company to potentially serve millions of customers, who he said would be understanding about brief shutdowns.
“For a consumer product that is free, there is an understanding all around that things can fail occasionally,” he said. “If you were flying a plane or something, this would be totally unacceptable.”
The ability to deal with failures has long been a feature of any computing system, but like much else in the cloud, there are no common standards to guide how much protection against disaster is enough. Many start-ups appear not to take advantage of more expensive redundancy features in Amazon, like swapping data between the East Coast and West Coast Amazon facilities.
Bigger companies are moving to the cloud as well, but may now look at Amazon Web Services as a stopgap as much as a primary provider.
“Maybe 15 percent of our customers now keep their data with us in the cloud, but in three years that could be 75 percent,” said Carl Bass, chief executive of Autodesk, a leading maker of design software. Most of that data is stored on Amazon servers for now, he said, but the company is weighing managing its own cloud, as customers use cheap cloud computing to generate huge numbers of design simulations.
“It’ll cost $10 million to get started, and we’ll probably still rely on A.W.S. to handle big workloads,” he said. “We’re going to need tools for infinite computing.”