Cloud Computing, like you, will have bad days

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Beanstalk to the Cloud

Questions about the reliability of cloud computing emerged again this week when Amazon’s cloud-computing services suffered an outage that partially or completely disrupted Foursquare, Reddit, Hootsuite, Quora, and hundreds of other online services. The New York Times echoed the concerns that some businesses had as a result of the outage: “Amazon Malfunction Raises Cloud Computing Doubts.” The article also quoted an industry executive who had an apt observation:

The Amazon interruption, said Lew Moorman, chief strategy officer of Rackspace, a specialist in data center services, was the computing equivalent of an airplane crash. It is a major episode with widespread damage. But airline travel, he noted, is still safer than traveling in a car — analogous to cloud computing being safer than data centers run by individual companies.

“Every day, inside companies all over the world, there are technology outages,” Mr. Moorman said. “Each episode is smaller, but they add up to far more lost time, money and business.”

This weeks outage only affected a tiny percentage of all the users of cloud-computing services. Netflix, for example, relies on the same Amazon data services and suffered no problems. I didn’t have trouble accessing my Gmail or my photos on Facebook. All that stuff is in the “cloud.” I was waiting for a good explanation about what happened at the Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) center in northern Virginia, but I’ve decided I probably wouldn’t really understand the technical stuff anyway (excessive re-mirroring of Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes?). There will be outages in the future. Businesses will suffer. I will be irritated that I can’t get into Reddit or whatever is down. These things happen. Your computer will break. You’ll have trouble connecting to the Internet. Your car will break down. You deal with it. The problem at Amazon will be fixed. New problems will pop up, there and elsewhere. Of course, you can choose to avoid cloud services. Or you can be like Microsoft, which is spending $8.64 billion this year in cloud research and development.

Reddit’s dysfunctional charm

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I’m not a Reddit guy…yet. But it’s hard to avoid the creative, entertaining, and sometimes informative overflow that comes from this community. Plunge yourself into the realm of “subreddits,” where you can spend hours exploring topics such as Advice Animals, Today I Learned (TIL), Ask Reddit, First World Problems, or Pics. It all came crashing down yesterday, when Amazon’s cloud computing services suffered an outage that impacted Reddit, Foursquare, Quora, Hootsuite, and a number of other websites. This was my favorite tweet from a Reddit user confronting the reality of the situation:

I woke up this morning and found Reddit was still experiencing problems. In the title of this post, I said Reddit has a “dysfunctional charm.” Reddit was also down last month. It is notoriously underfunded. Just take a look at its headquarters in these photos. You apparently can see three of Reddit’s four employees. And yet it has ONE BILLION pageviews a month. I’m rooting for Reddit. I want it to flourish. Even when it was really down yesterday, it maintained a sense of humor (note No. 4):

Is Foursquare played out?

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The first time I saw someone mention “Foursquare” in my Twitter feed sometime in mid-2009, I thought the people were actually talking about the kid’s game (which I was awesome at in grade school, by the way). I later learned it was some kind of check-in app with badges, including one for going to douchebag bars. The app sounded like fun. I took the plunge in 2010 and have become a regular user. For me, the fun part is checking in at new, interesting places. I want to share my discoveries. But my time is constrained and I don’t get around much, so I keep checking into the same places. And, honestly, that is becoming a bore. I am the mayor of a few places, but I don’t care. Part of my problem is that I also use Gowalla and Yelp to do check-ins. It’s all turning into a chore. Maybe if the business owners were engaged and made using Foursquare more interesting, but not many of them know it even exists or that their customers are “checking in.” If Foursquare doesn’t become more interesting to use, I can easily imagine not using it. Nonetheless, Foursquare is still generating a lot of hype. New services are being called the Foursquare version of this or that. One wants to be “Foursquare for films.” Another is “China’s Foursquare.” But what about Foursquare? The latest reports say it may be worth $250 million dollars. Maybe the potential is there, but this Pew Research Center report says that location-based services have so far only made a 4-percent dent in the online market, and on any given day, only 1 percent of online adults are using services such as Foursquare or Gowalla. If people are using the Facebook version, I have yet to see it in my feed.

Foursquare, however, reports that it is growing like gangbusters – 3,400 percent in 2010 – and had 381.5 million check-ins, including one from the International Space Station! That should be good enough for the investors. I may quit, but I can also return if it turns into something more than it is now.