Sad Slack
Image: Slack/Protocol

Won't somebody think of the ops engineers?

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol Cloud, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This week: some big news about Protocol's enterprise coverage, why #hugops appears on Twitter during cloud outages and several U.S. national security agencies attribute the SolarWinds hack to Russia.

News from Protocol

We're excited to announce that next week we're launching Protocol | Enterprise, where we'll offer dramatically expanded coverage of cloud and enterprise technology.

It's been almost a year since we launched Protocol (the longest year ever recorded), and now we're raising the stakes going into 2021. Protocol | Enterprise will be your one stop for news, analysis and research on the people, power and politics of enterprise technology. We'll look beyond the product launches and sales pitches to help you understand how enterprise tech is changing, the people who are making it happen and the implications for businesses everywhere.

You can expect deep-dive reporting, story packages about the most important industry trends, insights from our panel of Braintrust experts, a vibrant series of events, research that helps you prepare for the future and, of course, newsletters.

You've probably already seen stories from Joe Williams in this newsletter and on our site. He joined us in December to cover enterprise software, and starting next week he'll begin contributing to this newsletter, which will now come out twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays under the name Protocol | Enterprise.

Thank you so much for being part of this journey so far, and understand that we're committed to producing even more of the excellent enterprise coverage you've come to expect from Protocol. Please, encourage your colleagues to sign up. We're just getting started, and we're excited about the journalism we'll be able to share with you in the future.

The Big Story

Hug it out

It's really hard to avoid that feeling of exasperation when a cloud service you rely upon goes down, and often harder still to resist complaining or making fun of it on Twitter. But lots of other people, those who know how cloud services actually work, have a very different reaction during those moments: sympathy for the engineers trying to fix the problem.

Both groups were out in force Monday during Slack's several-hours-long outage, when the workplace collaboration app refused to allow anyone to collaborate on the first day back from work after the holiday break. While end users whined (with varying degrees of jest) about not being able to work, many of the people responsible for bringing you cloud services responded with an empathetic hashtag: #hugops.

  • Like a lot of Twitter hashtags, the origins of #hugops are a little murky. Some credit John Allspaw, former engineering manager for Etsy and Yahoo during the Flickr years; others point to the early days of the Velocity conferences.
  • But the sentiment toward operations engineers is clear: "I know your work receives the most attention when things go wrong, and that is wrong," as Nathen Harvey, a developer advocate at Google Cloud, put it in a Twitter thread last year.
  • For a long time, when cloud services went down, customers would start screaming at their sales reps, who would start screaming at the engineering department, who would start screaming at lower-level employees … and if you've ever worked in customer service you understand how this plays out.
  • The people who actually do the complicated, intense work of trying to make computing services as available as water or electrical power know just how difficult a task that is and just how precarious the whole system is at any given time. And being screamed at doesn't make fixing a problem any easier.

A massive outage like Slack's — where basically nothing worked for every user around the globe — is a nightmare scenario for any operations engineer tasked with keeping the cloud online.

  • Companies have gotten better about handling these inevitable situations internally, with concepts like "blameless post-mortems" and increased investment in tools that prevent hiccups from turning into disasters.
  • Sometimes outages are simple to diagnose: bad code was introduced into an application, a bolt of lightning hit a data center or a technician yanked the wrong cable.
  • Oftentimes they are the result of much more complicated cascading problems, like the massive outage suffered by AWS on the eve of its re:Invent conference in November.
  • Slack released an update late Tuesday acknowledging that it was completely down for almost two hours Monday morning, starting around 7 a.m. PT and coming back to life around 8:45 a.m. PT. It's not clear exactly what caused the problems beyond an issue the company resolved with its "provisioning service," which sounds like Slack was forced to reboot a bunch of servers.

We've come to expect so much from these services that we feel compelled to ask for the manager every time something goes wrong, despite the fact that they are far more performant, easy to use and flexible than the workplace software options of even five or six years ago.

  • Anyone who thinks they can duplicate these modern, widely-used cloud services on their own equipment, built by their own team of software developers, is certainly welcome to try.
  • Outages have real-world consequences, of course, and repeated outages are a sign of a broader organizational problem. If the third pizza in a row delivered to your house has the wrong toppings, you'll probably start ordering from that other place down the road.
  • But in 2021, let's try a little harder not to be cloud Karens.

And maybe lay off the actual hugs for a few more months.



For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

This Week on Protocol

High finance: Our latest Protocol Manual, Reinvention of Spending, takes a look at the way the pandemic has remade yet another part of our lives: consumer finance. From grabbing a cup of coffee to buying a three-bedroom house in the suburbs, after this year you might never make a transaction in the same way.

Under the dome: A new Congress was sworn in this week, and with the outcome of Tuesday's runoff elections in Georgia pointing toward Democratic control of the Senate, Issie Lapowsky and Emily Birnbaum outline what you can now expect regarding tech legislation this year.

Union coders: Google employees broke ground this week by forming a union of both technical and non-technical employees, hoping for a greater voice in how workers are treated. Protocol's Anna Kramer examined what the group hopes to accomplish and how likely this new labor movement is to spread to other tech companies.

Around the Cloud

  • Stephanie Buscemi will be leaving Salesforce and her role as chief marketing officer. She'll be replaced by Sarah Franklin, head of the company's platform development group.
  • The SolarWinds hack was "likely of Russian origin,"according to a new task force including the FBI and NSA. It's the first official statement the U.S. government has made on the issue, after President Trump suggested that maybe, you know, in the "people are saying" kind of way, that China was actually to blame.
  • Amazon will not be allowed to use the "AWS" moniker when marketing its cloud services in China, according to a court ruling. It plans to appeal.
  • Here's how AWS added Mac Minis to its broader data center infrastructure, courtesy of ServeTheHome, which pulled some images from Peter DeSantis' keynote at re:Invent.
  • What's Microsoft up to with those Azure Modular Datacenters? ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley has some thoughts on what I thought was one of the most interesting things the company announced last year.
  • Companies are spending so much on cloud services right now that companies that help manage cloud spending are in serious demand. Divvy, a Utah-based startup in this category, just raised $165 million, taking it over the unicorn barrier.
  • GitHub reached a deal with the U.S. governmentto be able to offer its services in Iran, where most U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business due to sanctions.



For Raj Hazra, who is senior vice president of corporate strategy and communications at Micron, there has never been a more thrilling time than this golden age of data. In this interview, Hazra describes how "we are now at the doorstep of taking things that we thought were science fiction and making them real, and it's only going to be exponentially faster going forward". Read more from Micron's Raj Hazra.

Thanks for reading. We'll be back with Protocol | Enterprise on Monday.

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