Cloud Computing Does Not Spell the End for Common Sense I.T. Management

Sometimes I think I might be the only one who retains commons sense. Really. At least in the area of I.T. Management. Though we had our share of growing pains at b5media, the knowledge gained from working in an enterprise environment at Northrop Grumman was only accentuated by my tenure as the Director of Technology at b5media.

Unfortunately, some common best-use practices in developing infrastructure are often put aside by those with shiny object syndrome surrounding “cloud computing“.

Let me explain.

You may have noticed a severe hampering of many internet services over the weekend. The culprit was a rare, but yet heavy-duty outage of Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) cloud storage. S3 is used by many companies including Twitter, WordPress.com, FriendFeed, and SmugMug to name a few. Even more individuals are using S3 for online data backup or for small projects requiring always-on virtual disk space. Startups often use S3 due to the “always on” storage, defacto CDN and the inexpensive nature of the service… it really is cheap!

And that’s good. I’m a fan of using the cheapest, most reliable service for anything. Whatever gets you to the next level quickest and with as little output of dollars is good in my book, for the same reason I’m a fan of prototyping ideas in Ruby on Rails (but to be clear, after the prototype, build on something more reliable and capable of handling multi-threaded processes, kthxbai.)

However, sound I.T. management practice says that there should never be a single point of failure. Ever. Take a step back and map out the infrastructure. If you see anyplace where there’s only one of those connecting lines between major resource A and major resource B – start looking there for bottlenecks and potential company-sinking aggravation.

Thus was the case for many companies using S3. Depending on the use of S3, and if the companies had failover to other caches, some companies were affected more than others. Twitter for instance, uses S3 for avatar storage but had no other “cold cache” for that data rendering a service without user images – bad, but not deathly.

SmugMug shrugged the whole thing off (which is a far cry from the disastrous admission that “hot cache” was used very little when Amazon went down back in February), which I thought was a bit odd. Their entire company revolves around hosted photos on Amazon S3 and they simply shrugged off an 8 hour outage as “ok because everyone goes down once in awhile”. Yeah, and occasionally people get mugged in dark city streets, but as long as it’s not me it’s okay! Maybe it was the fact that the outage occurred on a Sunday. Who knows? To me, this sort of outage rages as a 9.5/10 on the critical scale. Their entire business is wrapped up in S3 storage with no failover. For perspective, one 8 hour outage in July constitutes 98.9% uptime – a far cry from five 9’s (99.999%) which is minimal mitigation of risk in enterprise, mission-critical services.

WordPress.com, as always, comes through as a shining example of a company who economically benefits from the use of S3 as a cold cache and not primary access or “warm cache”.

Let me stop and provide some definition. Warm (or hot) cache is always preferable to cold cache. It is data that has been loaded into memory or a more reasonably accessible location – but typically memory. Cold cache is a file based storage of cached data. It is less frequently accessed because access only occurs if warm cache data has expired or doesn’t exist.

WordPress.com has multiple levels of caching because they are smart and understand the basic premise of eliminating single point of failure. Image data is primarily accessed over their server cluster via a CDN, however S3 is used as a cold cache. With the collapse of S3 over the weekend, WordPress.com, from my checking, remained unaffected.

This is the basic principle of I.T. enterprise computing that is lost on so much of the “web world”. If companies have built and scaled (particularly if they have scaled!) and rely on S3 with no failover, shame on them. Does it give Amazon a black eye? Absolutely. however, at the end of the day SmugMug, WordPress.com, Friendfeed, Twitter and all the other companies utilizing S3 answer to their customers and do not have the luxury of pointing the finger at Amazon. If their business is negatively affected, they have no one to blame but themselves. The companies who understood this planned accordingly and were not negatively affected by the S3 outage. Those who weren’t were left, well, holding the bag.

Added: GNIP gets it, and they are new to the game. Even startups have no excuse.

A Manifesto for Mobile and Location Based Social Networks

Mobile is hot. Untethering from computers is the next generation of the web and I’ve said it for awhile.

FindWhere CEO Jaap Groot and my friend and DoC co-host Geoff Livingston have co-authored a white paper (they call it a manifesto) for mobile and location-based social networks outlining eight requirements for a successful mobile endeavor.

The true local, mobile and social breakthrough requires a completely converged product that will be so intuitive and robust that community members won’t have to wrestle with such a service. Instead, it will be so easy and fun, online community members will clamor to be a part of the craze. They will actively engage, and voluntarily spread the word about their experiences, in hopes that their friends will join them online. The winning service will be so compelling that it will be viral.

They go on to describe the eight factors:

  1. Provide a base offering free of charge. Today’s social network user does not tolerate paid-for services.
  2. Work on a wide selection of phones.
  3. Offer an intelligent, simple user interface for accessing information.
  4. Use GPS rather than force users to manually enter their location every time.
  5. Integrate intelligently into existing social networks rather than further inundate people with a new one.
  6. Allow users to share and use their location data in as many ways as possible.
  7. Enable individuals to set various levels of privacy control for personal security.
  8. Monetize in an intelligent, non-intrusive way

Some of these factors are implemented better than others and some are not technically possible with the mobile client and telcos the way they exist now. Things need to change within the four walls of the carriers.

Twitter Brightkite Facebook Mobile
Free Yes Yes Yes
Phone Support Yes Partial Some
Mobile/iPhone Interface Partial Yes Partial
GPS Compatible* No No No
Existing SocNet Integration Partial Yes No
Location Data easy for Users to Use Yes No Yes No
Privacy/Security Controls Yes Yes Yes
Low Impact Monetization No No Yes
*GPS is carrier-sketchy. Verizon Wireless, for instance, disables in phones

As with all white papers, it is a call to action. A spotlight on gaps in the industry. One day, all of these items will be inherent in the social offerings but it could take 5-10 years to see that occur.

Twitter Pitching

Yesterday, I released the WP-Twitterpitch plugin which has already gotten a few good writeups. The response is moderate. Some people don’t want pitches in their direct message box. Others think that TwitPitches should follow the Stowe Boyd model of public pitches. Still others could see the plugin being used as a contact form.

Sure. Yes, yes and yes. The application of the plugin is completely subjective so get creative with it! :)

As a sidenote, I’ve gotten a handful of “pitches” so far. Only one real pitch. Everyone else is kicking the tires – which is fun. I like getting anonymous tweets to my direct message box.

In the words of Instapundit… heh.

Examples of such entertainment include:

  • You should only post about Erin, Queen of Spain, forever. Why? Um…’cause she said so. I think I need this. stupid PR can pitch me here
  • Hey Aaron, great idea. Much better than the tons of spam we’re now gettting via the technosailor tips hotline. Congrats! Editorial Note: this person must be a technosailor.com writer getting general emails to the tips@technosailor.com – we like real tips, not spam, by the way.
  • Sorry, just testing your plugin.
  • So does this go direct to you as a dm or something? Cool.
  • Hello God! Editorial Note: this one is my favorite.

Good times. I imagine real pitching will happen over time and I’ll suffer the anonymous stuff for awhile. :-)