Sony division moves some services from AWS to OpenStack

Cites last year's multi-week outage as reasoning

The division of Sony that suffered a cyberattack last year, which led to a major PlayStation network outage and sensitive customer data being compromised, has dropped Amazon Web Services for at least a portion of its cloud hosting and computing in favor of an OpenStack platform hosted by Rackspace.

Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) -- which manages popular games such as "Grand Theft Auto IV" and "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" -- made the move away from AWS after a series of highly publicized performance issues, according to an email from a public relations firm representing Rackspace.

(Sony officials, having declined to comment over the course of a week, confirmed this afternoon after this story published that the company is using an OpenStack platform, but said it would continue to use AWS as well. "Sony Computer Entertainment America utilizes various hosting options, including those from Amazon Web Services and OpenStack, among others, for its game platforms," said Dan Race, director of corporate communications with SCEA. "The reports claiming that SCEA is discontinuing its relationship with Amazon Web Services are inaccurate.")

The cyberattack that caused SCEA to shut down its PlayStation Network and Qriocity services, which allows gamers to play opponents online and purchase games and content, also led to information such as customer names, email addresses, usernames and passwords of 77 million people being compromised. AWS has denied that its services were involved.

BACKGROUND: Timeline of Sony outage

RELATED: Alleged members of hactivist group LulzSec busted

Sony, SCEA's parent, said last year there was an "external intrusion" of the network, but the company has since provided few additional details. A report by Bloomberg, however, linked AWS to the outage, citing an anonymous source who claimed that the hackers created a fake AWS account and used AWS computers to launch the attack on Sony.

SCEA's decision to embrace OpenStack, which is an evolving open-source platform to launch cloud environments, is "big news" for the OpenStack community, said Marc Brien, an analyst with Domicity, who tracks the OpenStack movement.

Started last year by Rackspace and NASA, OpenStack has gained momentum in recent months and now includes more than 140 companies. Most of those, Brien said, are service providers that offer cloud products to customers, including Rackspace, Citrix, Dell and recently IBM. For a big-name end user to sign on to the project is a positive sign for OpenStack, he said. SCEA joins Disney and CERN, the European nuclear science group, as users committed to using OpenStack.

"It's a big announcement. It raises the question, is this the water beginning to pour over the dam?" he said. Brien expects that within a few years, or sooner, the OpenStack project will have advanced to a point where it will attract a large number of users, but it's not quite there yet, he said.

SCEA's migration from AWS to Rackspace's OpenStack cloud platform was "relatively quick," said the email from the PR agency, taking approximately six days, and it was done in a way that end users would not notice a difference. It's unclear how much of SCEA's cloud-based services have already migrated away from AWS products. The news was originally going to be announced last week, but representatives from the companies involved said they would wait until next week to speak about the move. Sony officials have not responded to questions related to the topic.

AWS said that Sony continues to be a "strong and growing customer," but a spokeswoman for the company said she could not speak to the status of individual business units of Sony. AWS itself has been the subject of outages, including ones in April and August.

A member of the board of directors for the OpenStack Foundation, which controls the open-source cloud-based project, confirmed that SCEA has been working with Rackspace on an OpenStack cloud platform.

Sony has been publicly discussing a move to OpenStack for months, including at an OpenStack conference in Boston last fall where Troy Klein, a Sony staff hosting engineer, participated in a "user story" discussion about the company's planned migration to the OpenStack platform. But, there have been no reports thus far of the company migrating away from AWS in favor of OpenStack.

SCEA is not the first customer AWS has lost. Last month, Zynga announced it would move most of its hosting from AWS to a private network, which it said allows for greater customization of the company's IT infrastructure.

Other analysts who track the cloud market said they are not surprised by SCEA's move. The company could have a desire to make a highly visible action in response to the hacking incidents, said blogger and industry analyst Krishnan Subramanian.

"(SCEA) is in many ways giving control of their infrastructure to a third party (by using AWS)," he said. After the hacking incidents, the company may want to show it has greater control of its IT infrastructure, he said.

Proponents of OpenStack-based clouds say the open-source platform offers advantages over proprietary cloud offerings, specifically related to customization of the cloud's construction, interoperability with existing and future technologies and the greater control over the system.

Floyd Strimling, an industry analyst and blogger for Zenoss, said from an IT perspective, the move is a "natural progression" for Sony. "Once an enterprise gets big enough, people have to ask themselves a question of at what point of scale is it cheaper to do it on your own?" he said. James Staten, a cloud analyst with Forrester, agrees. He said SCEA dropping AWS is likely more about Sony's comfort level in building its own in-house private cloud than an indictment of AWS.

Sony Corp., SCEA's parent, has been reeling ever since the outage of its PlayStation network and the news got worse this week. Reports indicate that the Sony Music, another division within the company, had its prized possession of unreleased Michael Jackson songs stolen after the attack last year. In 2010, Sony Music purchased the rights to unreleased Jackson music, which included songs with popular musicians including will.i.am and Queen's Freddie Mercury. Reports have linked the theft of those music files and an estimated 50,000 others from Sony Music to the cyberattack in April. Two men in England have since been arrested in relation to the case.

(Editor's note: The headline on this story has been changed to reflect SCEA's post-publication assertion that it is continuing to use AWS as well as using OpenStack. Amazon's denial of Bloomberg's report was also added.)

This article originally appeared at Networkworld.com. Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social media. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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