Frequent failures and constant adjustments have made Alibaba Cloud eventful
November 12 was supposed to be a normal weekend. The annual Double 11 has just ended, some people are looking forward to express delivery, some people are still comparing prices to see if they have saved money, and some people are busy returning goods, or hanging up the replaced things on the idle fish. For Alibaba Cloud engineers, this weekend is also enjoyable, the busiest period has passed, and they can breathe a sigh of relief as the server load will slowly come down.
This breath was just half relaxed, and on the evening of the 12th, Taobao collapsed. At the same time, Alibaba Cloud Disk, Xianyu, DingTalk, Ele.me and other products crashed one after another, and problems such as unable to log in, view, and settle all emerged together, from the failure at 17:44 to the complete recovery of all services at 21:11, with a cumulative duration of nearly three and a half hours.
The large-scale collapse of Ali's products soon became a hot search, and the problem pointed to Ali's "technical base" - Alibaba Cloud. At the same time, many enterprises and individuals who use Alibaba Cloud services have also been affected. This is another "epic failure" of Alibaba Cloud after a year.
In those days, the senior management looked for the source of the fault and determined the responsibility, the technical staff investigated the loopholes, and the public relations department released the results to the public. It was still busy, and on November 27th, the anomaly reappeared. From 09:16 on the same day, Alibaba Cloud Monitoring found that the console and OpenAPI access of database products in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Hong Kong, and the US East and West US regions were abnormal for about two hours.
In just one month, Alibaba Cloud experienced two large-scale failures, which is rare in the entire cloud computing industry. In fact, Alibaba Cloud has had two other small-scale local failures recently, one on November 28 and another on December 5, both of which lasted for a short time and were quickly resolved. For cloud computing companies, security and reliability are the most important and are always pursued by Alibaba Cloud, but frequent failures also show that there may be some problems within Alibaba Cloud.
Text | Xu Qing, Li Qingyang
Edit | Zhao Lei
Operations | orange
Grievances and misfortunes
After two failures in a month, a technician at Alibaba Cloud was full of grievances: "How else can we pay attention to security and stability?"
In the history of Alibaba Cloud, every failure is big news. Excluding two in June 2018 and March 2019, the most recent major outage occurred in December 2022, when the websites of some of Alibaba Cloud's downstream customers, some companies and government departments, were paralyzed and unable to provide services for several hours. In the end, it was found that the failure of Alibaba Cloud's Hong Kong computer room led to downtime, which became the biggest hot spot in the technology circle, "the longest large-scale failure in the more than ten years of Alibaba Cloud's operation".
In the face of failures, Alibaba Cloud attaches great importance to them. After the Hong Kong outage, Alibaba Cloud President Zhang Jianfeng (Xing Lung) stepped down, and Daniel Zhang, the No. 1 Xiaoyao son of Ali Group at the time, personally took charge. The company has also set up an additional "stability team" with a dedicated person in each product department. In the same month, the stability team pulled all the product teams to hold a general mobilization meeting, called "kick off meeting", referred to as "KO", and Wang Zimu, a veteran employee who participated in the conference, said that the battle was huge, "warmly advocating that we fight a battle, concentrate on doing a good job of stability, what indicators and levels to achieve, how long it takes, and everything that can be thought of are listed."
By the beginning of this year, security and stability initiatives had taken another step. Zhou Jingren, CTO of Alibaba Cloud, attaches great importance to security and stability, and each employee should also add "maintain the security and stability of a certain project" to his or her OKR. Then set up a "safety score", found that there are safety problems on the deduction of points, the score is related to the performance of specific employees, and the performance is related to the year-end bonus and promotion, in 3.25 and 3.75 Ali has a huge difference, which is almost the highest punishment.
Taken together, "there is nothing more that the company can do, almost 120 percent of the time." In Wang Zimu's view, how can a company that pays lip service to security and stability and strictly enforces it have problems one after another? He can only summarize the failures as luck, and "Alibaba Cloud is somewhat less lucky."
Unlike the local failure caused by the outage in Hong Kong, the failure on November 12 was a problem with the underlying global service components, resulting in the simultaneous failure of all availability zones and all servers around the world, and the impact was huge. In addition to Alibaba products, there are also many customers who use Alibaba Cloud's services, especially those small and medium-sized enterprises and individual developers who do not have large-scale operation and maintenance technical teams and rely entirely on Alibaba Cloud's various hosting services.
So, on that night, in addition to the Ali products that could not be used, there were also flash delivery brothers who could not upload their order receiving credentials, Genshin Impact players could not receive SMS verification codes, some parking lots did not lift poles, some supermarkets could not settle accounts, and even some college students could not use the school's public washing machine because they couldn't swipe their cards. Fortunately, the failure occurred on Sunday, otherwise it would have paralyzed the relevant departments using the financial cloud and government cloud, causing even greater losses.
▲Alibaba Cloud-related news frequently appears on the hot search. Picture / Screenshot
After the fault occurred, CTO Zhou Jingren and several P10 and P9, as well as the front-line department responsible for sales and customer docking, took the lead and held a responsibility determination meeting with the GTS (Global Basic Technology Business) department to investigate the source of the problem. The high-level people over there sent messages one after another in the work group: put safety and stability in the first place, put down all work, make every effort to investigate risks, and then consider other work after the investigation is completed. Some departments investigated for a day or two, while others took longer. Immediately afterwards, the employees received an all-staff letter, and Wang Ke, an employee of Alibaba Cloud, said, "Nominally, a few bigwigs have cleared the year-end bonus."
Recently, Alibaba Cloud's compensation to customers due to the failure on November 12 has been received. According to the Service Level Agreement promised by Alibaba Cloud to customers, if the availability of the monthly service does not reach 99.90% due to an Alibaba Cloud failure, that is, the failure time exceeds 43 minutes, the customer will be compensated with a voucher of 30% of the monthly fee. Many individual developers did not pay 50 yuan, and they were also raised to 50 yuan by Alibaba Cloud. According to industry estimates, the total amount of compensation may exceed 100 million yuan, which is about a month's profit of Alibaba Cloud, but for customer losses caused by failures, these vouchers are insignificant.
On November 27, the previous failure had not yet been dealt with, and a new one occurred. A technician who participated in the second troubleshooting overnight sighed, "All kinds of faults are piled up, and the more you pay attention to it, the more problems it has."
Many bloggers in the technology circle believe that technical failures cannot be 100% avoided, but according to Hine's law, behind a major failure, there must be dozens of minor accidents, hundreds of near misses, and thousands of hidden accidents. Such frequent failures mean that Alibaba Cloud has many instability factors, which increases the probability of failures and makes customers waver in the reliability of Alibaba Cloud.
In the context of Alibaba's split-six, Alibaba Cloud has been extremely turbulent and adjusted continuously this year, affecting the mentality and work of each specific employee. There may not be a direct connection between the failure and the vacillation and turmoil of Alibaba Cloud, but there is an indirect connection. As Wang Zimu said, "Ali has developed for so many years, there are always potholes in it, the loss of technical personnel, the company changes drastically, some code may not be maintained, and there are some faults." It is also possible that people's mentality is affected, people are unstable, and the code is risky, after all, the code is written by people, and many problems will be slowly exposed. ”
Xi from the first to the second
Alibaba Cloud has also had lucky times.
Wang Zimu remembers that in the heyday of 2015-2018, "there was only one cloud vendor in the market, Alibaba Cloud, and customers asked you to communicate with them." There is no discount on the price, we say how much it is, as long as the customer has the budget, he will buy it".
To be a cloud, Ali has a natural advantage. In order to rush the turnover of Double 11 every year, Ali has purchased a huge number of servers and built a technical elite team, but in the time period when the traffic is not so large and the traffic is not so large, these excess computing power and technical services can be rented out to make money and make profits. At the time, the story was a happy one. ”
Alibaba is also one of the earliest cloud computing companies, and was the first to stand on the runway in 2009. With the advent of the mobile Internet era, the Internet wants to reinvent traditional industries, and some traditional consumer brands and startups need to go to the cloud, and the first choice is Alibaba Cloud.
From 2015 to 2019, Alibaba Cloud's annual revenue skyrocketed from 3 billion to 40 billion, with a leading market share, and Alibaba Cloud's territory is almost equal to the sum of the second to ninth places. But soon, the market changed, in addition to Tencent Cloud and Kingsoft Cloud, Huawei Cloud sprung up, and operators such as mobile and telecom also joined the battlefield. There are more players, the competition is fierce, and in the track of cloud computing, everyone's position is getting closer and closer, almost hand-to-hand combat.
▲ Photo / Visual China
At the end of 2018, when the market was at its best, Alibaba Cloud proposed a goal of revenue of more than 100 billion yuan in three years, and Alibaba Cloud's revenue at that time was only more than 20 billion, equivalent to a fivefold increase. However, in 2021, Alibaba Cloud began to slow down its growth, with Q1-Q4 revenue growth rates of 37%, 29%, 33%, and 20% year-on-year respectively, and in the first quarter of 2022, the year-on-year revenue growth rate dropped to 12%, almost falling into a growth bottleneck.
There are two types of mainstream cloud services, private cloud and public cloud, the former is equivalent to buying water and showers back to their own homes, cloud computing vendors help debugging, some government and enterprise customers tend to private cloud for confidentiality or some policy reasons;
In those two years, the public cloud market peaked, and in the private cloud field where the government and central state-owned enterprises are concentrated, the customer budget is often tens of millions or even hundreds of millions, which is a new incremental market. In 2022, Huawei overtook Tencent to become the second largest cloud computing vendor in China.
Wang Jian, the founder of Alibaba Cloud, publicly said in 2013 that private cloud is not a cloud at all, and if computing resources cannot be shared on a large scale and on a large scale, the so-called "private cloud" is at most to repackage its original solution and sell it to customers an upgraded version of IT solutions.
In the face of the growth crisis, a question began to plague Alibaba Cloud: Do you want to be a private cloud? In the end, Alibaba Cloud still has no way to give up this piece of fat, but Alibaba Cloud's engineers and sales lack experience in dealing with government and enterprise customers. Wang Zimu has been in contact with private cloud projects, and his feeling is that "Party A of government and enterprises is too difficult to serve".
According to Wang Zimu's recollection, many years ago, there was a huge amount of mega project, Alibaba Cloud had a very happy conversation with the customer, hit it off, in order to gain the trust of the customer, real money invested in machines, people and money, and finally found that the contract was not signed. The project is unfinished, and Alibaba Cloud, which is still making great progress in the expansion period, is "lavish, and I don't know if the money will come back". After that, the process became more and more stringent.
The more common problem is that private cloud services are difficult to standardize, more like customization, and Party A of government, enterprises and institutions is likely to continue to increase and change demand, and finally set a one-year project, and has not completed the acceptance and payment of the balance for two years. Alibaba Cloud can't make much money selling machines, what makes money is standardized services, but the cost of customized services is also the highest, pull technical personnel to coordinate and modify these needs, sell 10 million projects, and put in 15 million labor costs It is a common thing, and the revenue seems to have risen, but many are money-losing transactions.
In a hurry, Alibaba Cloud began to learn Xi from Huawei. First, Ren Geng, who was born in Huawei, was appointed president of China, and then hired a large number of sales from Huawei with a high salary. Ren Geng introduced Huawei's management methods such as "red and blue confrontation training" and punch cards, and constantly adjusted the structure of the sales team.
In March 2022, Cai Yinghua, former President of Huawei's Enterprise Business Group China, joined Alibaba Cloud as Senior Vice President under the pseudonym Hua Yan, overseeing the global sales business, with the rank of M7, equivalent to P12, reporting directly to Zhang Jianfeng, President of Alibaba Cloud. Ren Geng, who was planning to resign, was also retained and became Cai Yinghua's subordinate.
Zhang Yang, a former Alibaba Cloud employee, revealed that Cai Yinghua has a stronger Huawei style and imprint, and he likes to send "red-headed documents" like Ren Zhengfei, and the documents issued are named after "Order No. 1" and "Order No. 2". After his arrival, he changed the name of the front-line positions in charge of sales and changed the organizational structure, "In the past, sales solutions was one department, and R&D was one department, and he integrated the two departments together."
What's more, Cai Yinghua reformed his sales strategy. According to Rhino Finance, Cai Yinghua issued a new ecological policy, believing that "there must be brave men under heavy rewards", doubling the commission rate of distribution partners above the standard level, increasing the maximum commission rate for incremental consumption from 4% to 30%, and adding additional guaranteed commissions for partners who develop emerging sinking areas, with a maximum increase of 12%. Profit distribution to ecosystem partners is also one of the keys to the success of Huawei's model.
However, a channel provider said in an interview, "Although there are more commissions, in fact, there are more restrictions, which means that large customers have been taken away by Alibaba Cloud, and our customer base has narrowed, and most of them are small customers." Xi's attempts to learn from Huawei ultimately did not have obvious results, and throughout 2022, Alibaba Cloud's revenue target fell again and again, achieving only 77.6 billion yuan in revenue.
At the beginning of this year, Wang Zimu heard internal news, "Private Cloud is not done", and 10 months later, in the third week of November, Alibaba Cloud adjusted its organizational structure again. It is understood that Cai Yinghua is "basically in a state of imminent resignation".
This long-forebodied adjustment is just the beginning of Alibaba Cloud's turmoil this year.
▲ Photo / Visual China
Wang Zimu felt "no". Since the beginning of this year, this voice has been ringing in his head. "I've been in Alibaba Cloud for all these years, and it seems that there is no obstacle to doing things, and the state of the whole person is not bad, but it just doesn't feel right, as if I'm telling myself, you have to go out. ”
From the beginning of the year to his departure in September, Wang Zimu went through many adjustments. Ali's entire group is "split into six", and Alibaba Cloud, as the technical base, has added a lot of technical personnel such as the middle office after the split. At the end of May, Alibaba Cloud reported the news of "7% layoffs", and Xu Haopeng, an employee of Alibaba Cloud, remembered that some departments had optimized KPIs, and the supervisors of each group would receive several places, and one of Xu Haopeng's senior brothers, a 31-year-old Ph.D. from a TOP2 university, had left Alibaba Cloud at the end of the spring.
At that time, Daniel Zhang, then CEO, also planned to complete the spin-off and listing of Alibaba Cloud in the next 12 months, but just four months later, Daniel Zhang stepped down as chairman and CEO of Alibaba Cloud and was replaced by Wu Yongming.
The impact of change on people is concrete. Zhang Yang was originally going to transfer internally, but due to the change of CEO, the transfer process was suspended, so he had to leave to look for new job opportunities. 21-year-old Yang Tianfeng, who is studying in Hong Kong, applied for most of Ali's 1+6+n independent recruitment when he started autumn recruitment in early September. Taotian Group and Alibaba International Business Group quickly replied to the interview request, but Alibaba Cloud did not send him the news that his resume was evaluated until November 24.
In November, Alibaba announced in its financial report that it would no longer promote the complete spin-off of Cloud Intelligence Group in view of various uncertainties, which also means that Alibaba Cloud's listing plan will be postponed or even cancelled.
According to him, in the future, Alibaba Cloud will reduce project-based sales orders, that is, private cloud orders, and increase investment in public cloud core products - in just one year, the strategy has changed 180 degrees. In the latest quarterly financial report (as of September 30), Alibaba Cloud's revenue growth rate was only 2%, ranking low among many business groups. This may be another opportunity to turn around.
▲On October 31, 2023, the 2023 Yunqi Conference opened in Yunqi Town, Hangzhou. In his speech at the opening ceremony, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Alibaba Group, Joe Tsai, said that Alibaba "wants to build the most open cloud in the AI era". Photo / Visual China
Lin Jia, a former employee of Alibaba Cloud, feels that "the swing of Alibaba Cloud is essentially to make money and accomplish that goal, but it has spent a lot of effort on private cloud, and finally returned to focus on public cloud, to put it bluntly, even if it is a private cloud, it cannot achieve the goal." If the annual growth rate of private cloud is 100%, there will definitely be no recent adjustment, and it will not be impossible to say that public cloud is first. ”
When Alibaba Cloud was going well, revenue increased, and employees' salaries also rose. By the time of Double 11, I basically didn't sleep much every day, and I was still passionate." However, with the slow growth of the business and the frequent adjustment since the beginning of this year, a large number of employees have not had a salary increase for a long time.
Wang Zimu worked in Alibaba Cloud for 8 years, and was promoted to P8 in his third year in the company, and has never been promoted since. In his opinion, his promotion path coincides with the development of Alibaba Cloud, and if the ship does not move forward, people will not move forward. As a result, he came up with the idea of changing jobs. During the time when Alibaba Cloud laid off employees, Byte's Volcano Cloud, Xiaohongshu, and Kuaishou were all poaching people, and he found a better opportunity. In his team, nearly 10% of the old Ali people with more than 8 years of seniority jumped out.
Under the turmoil, more people are on the sidelines, Lin Jia said: "Think about it, if you do a job, what you think about every day is that you will be laid off at any time, and you don't know when you will be laid off, and it is better to take the initiative to go and wait to get the gift package, can you still put in this job to do it?"
The atmosphere of the company has also changed subtly. Another Alibaba Cloud employee, Song Fan, keenly observed that Alibaba Cloud has a technology forum ATA, where in the past few years, technology bigwigs shared their experiences, experiences, and new ideas for free, like a small technological innovation power station. But since the beginning of this year, new posts have been rare, and old posts have also been covered with a layer of dust over time, and few people have replied and discussed them.
Song Fan himself has changed. I used to read the latest technical analysis every morning Xi, but I haven't read it since the layoffs. For work, he lacks passion and dedication, "just a job, earn a profit", even if he gets off work early, he has no burden in his heart. In the Alibaba Cloud work area in Wangjing, Beijing, "the end of work has become significantly earlier, and the company is very empty at 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, and there used to be quite a lot of people at night." Because it was difficult to accept that "suddenly one day, your food partner is gone", Song Fan is also considering resigning.
To a certain extent, the cause of the 11.12 failure is related to the change of people's mentality and working status.
Xu Haopeng, an employee of Alibaba Cloud, and relevant insiders told Daily People that the accident came from the object storage OSS department, and a small team of five or six people was responsible for it. When a configuration update is upgraded, "a small part should be sent for grayscale testing first, and when the test is fine, it will be released region by region, and finally the global update will be achieved." However, there were technicians who did not test it and released it globally at one time, which eventually led to a big failure."
Object storage is a basic service that involves authentication and authentication, and users who want to enter the database must first compare their identities through a password gate. The configuration update is a very basic action, which is equivalent to setting a password and identity, as long as the operation is strictly standardized, it is unlikely that there will be problems, "although the system exists, but the employee does not standardize the process".
Another employee, Wang Ke, analyzed that the 11.12 failure occurred on Sunday, an abnormal working time, "some things do not have a very complete test process or framework automation, need to be manually tested, time-consuming and labor-intensive, it is possible to run a test for a day or a week, people have no patience for work in such an environment, and they may be non-standard in the process, and there will be mistakes caused by people."
Especially for the position of reliability engineer, it is difficult to have output, and there is no way to prove their value by not failing, because everyone defaults to that, but they will be held accountable when they fail, and they also bear huge psychological pressure in the face of reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
In response to the second failure in November, a new "security and stability" initiative began. Last Friday, Alibaba Cloud employees were filling out a form, "What will be done in the H2 fiscal year (October 2023-March 2024) in terms of security, everyone must invest at least 30% of their manpower in it", Wang Ke felt very helpless, the number is written like this, but no one knows how to convert 30% manpower.
Compared with these vague concepts, everyone is obviously more concerned about their salary and year-end bonus. When filling out the form, Wang Ke heard his colleagues discussing, "The performance of the entire Alibaba Cloud this year must be 3.25, will it be 3.25 for all employees?"
▲Hangzhou Yunqi Town, Alibaba Cloud. Photo / Visual China
Where is Alibaba Cloud headed?
Failures can be fatal for cloud service providers. Currently, Alibaba Cloud has more than 3 million customers. At the "2023 Apsara Conference" at the end of October, Tsai Chongxin, chairman of Alibaba Group, pointed out that 80% of China's technology companies and half of the large model companies are currently running on Alibaba Cloud.
The most common business story is that a catfish disturbs the water in the pond and preys on the mouth of the big fish, but Alibaba Cloud himself is the big fish. At present, Alibaba Cloud is facing the biggest problem of how to deal with the challenges of competitors and keep its own turf.
The situation is urgent. According to the report "Market Share of China's Digital Government Big Data Management Platform, 2021: Riding the Wind and Waves, Reproducing the Scenery" released by IDC, a global authoritative information and analysis consulting company, HUAWEI CLOUD will have a market share of 17.9% in China's digital government big data management platform in 2021, with a growth rate of 74%, ranking first in market share and second in Alibaba Cloud. In the field of advantageous public clouds, Tencent Cloud and Baidu Cloud are also growing rapidly.
Compared with Huawei, Alibaba lacks organizational advantages and cannot pile up heads to meet the customized requirements of government and enterprise customers. Wang Ke said, "HUAWEI CLOUD has a lot of people, and customers can give what they want, although Alibaba Cloud can make it, but how can so many people invest?" If you compare his department with the corresponding team of HUAWEI CLOUD, the ratio of people is 1:5.
In the past, when doing hybrid cloud, the technical processes and systems of private cloud and public cloud were also different, but technical personnel had to take care of them at the same time. Wang Ke's team has about 5 people, and everyone is dealing with the needs of private cloud projects while also making public cloud products.
At the same time, Alibaba Cloud has a large number of veteran technicians who joined Alibaba early and experienced high-profile promotions and salary increases, as well as high-paid employees, although the number is small, but the cost is not necessarily lower than that of Huawei.
Alibaba Cloud's original technical advantages have gradually weakened. Every year on Double 11, high traffic, high peak, and high demand force Alibaba Cloud to innovate in technology, supporting Taobao, which is becoming more and more large, and doubling GMW. At the annual celebration party, Alibaba Cloud's technical staff went to participate on behalf of the business, and the biggest feeling in their hearts was that it was "worth it". Alibaba Cloud employees are persistent in their pursuit of technology, and they are also proud of it.
However, with the slowdown in the growth of Ali's e-commerce business, the requirements for technological innovation are not so high, "the business cannot incubate new technologies, and the development trend of technology is also open source, everyone can do it, and many products have become homogeneous." Other vendors are also working tirelessly to poach Alibaba Cloud's technical talents and continue to narrow the technology gap with Alibaba Cloud.
At a time when startups and small companies are struggling to survive, technology no longer seems to be so important, and only security and stability are the most fundamental needs. Wang Zimu asked rhetorically, "If I were a business owner, would I care if it was Alibaba Cloud or Huawei Cloud?" The implication is that whoever has a low price and a stable service will be able to gain customers, and failures will inevitably lead to the loss of customers.
The fundamental reason is that the domestic cloud computing market is limited, and the fish that cannot be raised in the pond have to go to the wider sea to make a living. It is precisely because Pinduoduo and ByteDance are strong in their overseas business that they have found a broader market, which has the possibility of business development and transformation, and has driven the market value (valuation) to continue to increase. How to enter a larger sea area is a challenge for Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud, and Huawei Cloud.
▲ Photo / Visual China
AI may bring a turnaround to Alibaba Cloud - large-scale model startups and Internet companies have joined the AI track in small steps, and autonomous driving companies and new car-making forces are also vying for positions in the new energy track, and the demand for computing power is constantly increasing. Ali relied on a large number of hoarded high-computing GPUs to start a business selling water and shovels to gold diggers. Wang Xiaochuan's Baichuan Intelligence, Kai-Fu Lee's "Zero One Everything", Xiaopeng, and Ideal are all customers of Alibaba Cloud's intelligent computing business.
But it's hard to say exactly how this business will be done. In the intelligent computing business, ByteDance, which has hoarded tens of thousands of A100 and A800 (AI computing chips), is a potential opponent of Alibaba, and an Alibaba Cloud intelligent computing business employee revealed, "I have been grabbing orders with bytes, and the business direction is not very clear, and there are a series of uncertainties."
The only thing that is certain is that in the near future, the cloud service battlefield will set off a new war, which will be a more brutal battle, and the people in it will also face new shocks. For Alibaba Cloud, finding the right direction and preparing is the most important thing at the moment.
(All names have been changed)
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