Archive for August 8, 2011

Short Amazon Web Services Outage Takes Down Netflix, Others

This post is part of our ReadWriteCloud channel, which is dedicated to covering virtualization and cloud computing. The channel is sponsored by Intel and VMware. Read the white paper about how Intel Xeon processors help organizations get unprecedented levels of performance.

aws-logo.jpg It appears that Amazon Web Services has suffered another outage tonight. The AWS Service Health Dashboard confirms that there were Internet connectivity issues at the EC2 location in the US-EAST-1, as well as issues with the Amazon Relational Database Service in Virginia. Amazon lists both issues as resolved but some sites, with the total downtime amounting to less than half an hour. It’s not clear how many Availability Zones were affected, or if this affected the entire US-EAST-1 region.

TechCrunch reported that several sites, including Foursquare, Instagram, Quora and Reddit went down. Each of these appear to be back up. However Netflix remains offline as of this writing. Update: As of 8:41 PT Netflix appears to be back up.

No word yet whether this has anything to do with the outage at AWS Dublin yesterday.

AWS EC2 status

AWS Relational status

The outage in April lead to a number of post-mortems, including one by AWS itself which claimed the outage was caused by an error during a network upgrade that resulted in Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes causing major malfunctions that spilled over to the Amazon Relational Database Service.

Many companies, including Netflix, vowed to investigate multiple region and multiple Availability Zone fail-over solutions. It appears that at least in the case of Netflix these plans had yet to be implemented at the time of tonight’s outage.

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It appears that Amazon Web Services has suffered another outage tonight. The AWS Service Health Dashboard confirms that there were Internet connectivity issues at the EC2 location in the US-EAST-1, as well as issues with the Amazon Relational Database Service in Virginia. Amazon lists both issues as resolved but some sites, with the total downtime amounting to less than half an hour. It’s not clear how many Availability Zones were affected, or if this affected the entire US-EAST-1 region.nnTechCrunch reported that several sites, including Foursquare, Instagram, Quora and Reddit went down. Each of these appear to be back up. However Netflix remains offline as of this writing. Update: As of 8:41 PT Netflix appears to be back up.nnNo word yet whether this has anything to do with the outage at AWS Dublin yesterday.
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Test: How to go green with Netflix & Hulu

Here’s another good reason to cancel your pay TV subscription and just rely on Netflix and Hulu instead: It will save you a bunch of money on your energy bill, and help fight global warming in the process. A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) showed that U.S. set-top boxes collectively consume as much electricity as produced by nine 500 MW power plants. The same study said that Internet video devices used to stream video from Netflix and Hulu are generally much more efficient. We wanted to know more, which is why we tested the power consumption of five leading streaming devices.

Streaming uses less energy

First the good news: Streaming really does eat up less power than watching cable TV. We tested the Apple TV, Roku’s new Roku 2 XS, the Logitech Revue Google TV set-top box, the Boxee Box and the WD TV Live Plus, and all of them consumed significantly less electricity than your average cable setup. The NRDC estimates that a regular DVR consumes around 32 watts when on, with some of the devices tested by the Council eating up as much as 50 watts. Set-top box makers have started to produce more efficient devices, but those are slow to reach the market. Verizon recently told USA Today that 90 percent of its boxes don’t meet meet Energy Star criteria yet.

A multi-room DVR setup consumes 617 kWh per year, according to the National Resources Defense Council. Picture credit: NRDC.

An Apple TV on the other hand consumes less than 2 watts when streaming HD video from Netflix. That means that you could theoretically run 16 Apple TVs with the same power that is needed to run a single cable DVR. Of course, that’s a bit of a hypothetical situation, so let’s go with one of the examples used by the NRDC instead. The Council estimated that a typical multi-room DVR setup with one DVR running on high gear for nine hours a day and two clients each used for three hours a day uses a total of 617 kWh per year (check out all the details in its study).

If you replaced the entire setup with Apple TVs and streamed Netflix on them for the same periods of time, then you’d use merely 10.4 kWh per year. And if those numbers don’t really mean that much to you, consider this: The electricity of this multi-room DVR setup alone would cost you close to $70 per year, based on a national average of $0.11 per kWh. The three-room Apple TV alternative on the other hand only costs about $1.15 per year.

Some devices are greener than others

Not all streaming devices are created equal, and our tests revealed that the same is true for their energy footprint. The Apple TV is by far the most efficient device on the market, impressing with low consumption even during HD streaming and close to zero impact during standby. On the other end of the spectrum are devices like the Boxee Box and Logitech’s Revue, which both consumed around 13 watts while streaming HD content.

Check out a detailed comparison in the table below:

A few points worth noting:

  • The culprit for the high consumption of the Logitech Revue and the Boxee Box seems to be Intel’s CE4100 Atom processor that both devices are based on. Boxee’s sleep mode also doesn’t really save any energy, but the device can be turned off with a dedicated on-off button, which helps to significantly reduce its energy consumption. Logitech’s Revue doesn’t even offer a standby mode because it’s meant to be used in conjunction with other always-on devices.
  • Roku’s streaming performance is almost as good as the Apple TV’s, but its standby mode is a bit of a mystery: The device uses as much electricity when in standby than it does when it’s on.
  • Penny pinchers may want to take notice that you can save a little bit of electricity by streaming the content via Ethernet as opposed to Wifi. It’s not enough to really make a dent, but it should also help to improve your Netflix quality.
  • We measured all of this with the help of a Belkin Conserve energy monitor, and streamed an episode of Mad Men in HD in each instance.

But is it really greener?

Getting rid of your power-hungry cable box and replacing it with a lean and green streaming device can obviously save you some money on your utility bills, but is it really greener? Doesn’t it just outsource the same functionality to some data center that serves up Netflix content?

It’s true that the video bits have to come from somewhere, but a number of studies have shown that cloud computing as it is used by Netflix to serve up video actually could lead to billions in energy savings. Part of that has to do with the fact that cloud computing helps Netflix to only use servers when it needs it and customers are actually watching.

Compare that to your average DVR, which is constantly recording a half hour buffer of whatever station you watched last, and it becomes clear that on-demand video viewing in combination with an energy efficient streaming device may be the greener way to go.

Image courtesy of (CC-BY-SA) Flickr user jonathan mcintosh.

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Relief: Amazon EC2 Outage Quickly Resolved

It’s back up again

Down Goes The Internet… Again. Amazon EC2 Outage Takes Down Foursquare, Instagram, Quora, Reddit, Etc

Screen Shot 2011-08-08 at 7.47.36 PM

Are you trying to use the web right now? Just stop. It’s largely broken.

As indicated by about 20 tips in the last few minutes and pretty much all of Twitter, Amazon’s EC2 service appears to be down. That means services like Reddit, Heroku, Foursquare, Instagram, Fab, Quora, Turntable.fm, Netflix and many, many others are down.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it just happened this past April. So far, it looks like the outage has been going on for about 30 minutes.

Update: It looks like the outage may be isolated to EAST-1, so not all of EC2. Still, all of the companies above and hundreds of others are clearly affected right now.

Update 2: And after roughly 40 minutes of downtime, the Internet appears to be coming back online. Amazon’s status site confirms that it’s being resolved.


Dave Tufts


Shervin Pishevar


Instagram


 


Martin May

EC2 East down = forkly down


Wesley Barrow


 


Andrew



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Indian Government to Launch Education Social Network

Can a government build an effective Facebook for education?

The government of Rajasthan, one of the largest states in India, is building out extensive infrastructure for Information and Communication Technology resources and training, with the collaboration of multiple international agencies including the World Economic Forum.

Next month, the state’s information technology department plans on launching its own education social network: like Facebook, for learning. According to coverage in The Economic Times of India and elsewhere, the site will include all the standard features of social networking (photos, games) but will be focused primarily on educational collaboration and will include topic experts jumping in to answer questions raised by users.

Sonos wants to become the hub of digital music

Sonos, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based maker of digital music players wants to become the hub of digital music inside your home. Bolstered by the success of its partnerships with services such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Rdio and Spotify, the company now apparently wants to launch an API that would allow any music service to integrate with the Sonos platform. Earlier today, I stumbled upon a page for Sonos Labs that hints of these grand ambitions.

This seems to be a bigger shift for the company and a smart one. In its first incarnation, the company was laser focused on developing wifi-enabled hardware. However, as the consumption patterns changed from buying music to subscribing to music, Sonos adapted to a connected experience. In a post (Why the future of hardware is services) earlier this year I wrote that for hardware to have attention in our busy lives, it needs to be able to have services on top of the dumb hardware.

To me, services are a way for hardware owners to increase engagement with their gadgets. When I first got Sonos, I listened to my own library of music. Then I signed up for Internet radio stations, and lately, I’ve been testing Spotify’s streaming service. Result? It’s now playing in the background, pretty much all the time.

Just as on the social web, engagement drives usage and this usage can then be monetized. Apple’s monetization is coming in the form of the increased use of its payment system, which results in a 30 percent cut of the total sales. On a Kindle, the more books you read, the more you buy, and the more money Amazon makes on the sales of these e-books.

I think in our device-infested and attention-deprived lives, services — if built well — foster constant and ongoing engagement.

So what kinds of services would I like to see coming to the Sonos via this API? Access to Turntable.fm on the Sonos with ability to create a room via my iPad would definitely be nice.

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Video: Functioning CNC Mill Created From LEGO

mill

While I may have created some sweet spaceships in my days constructing LEGO, I never guessed how serious people would get with their blocky creations. Guns, computer cases, even a Tetris-playing device and a robotic hand. So I shouldn’t be surprised that someone has created a CNC mill with their Mindstorms NXT set.

It looks a little bit shaky, I have to say, so I doubt we’re reaching micrometer precision, but a few stabilizing blocks and it’d be more than sufficient for creating the occasional figurine or 20-sided die.

Incredibly, this isn’t actually the first CNC mill to be made from LEGO — by a long shot. In fact, the CNC tag at the LEGO Mindstorms community has several, going back to March of 2008 (there’s even video). There’s even an egg-decorating device using CNC principles. Sure, why not?

[via Make]


Twitter’s Jack Dorsey reportedly invests in “new kind” of marketing firm lead by Ex-Apple Exec

Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s Co-founder and CEO of easy payment company Square, is reportedly investing in a “new kind” of marketing firm lead by ex-Apple marketing exec Allison Johnson, reports All Things D.

The goal of this new marketing firm is supposedly to bridge the communication gap that exists between larger companies and brands in order to interact more effectively with smaller tech companies and booming social networks.

Though the amount of funding going into the firm has gone unannounced, the actual proposal has been in the works for several months now.

While also funded by Malaria No More Co-founder Ray Chambers, Allison has also previously spoken with potential partners such as Silicon Valley PR exec Sarah Ross, Facebook PR exec Brandee Baker , and former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg. Who is, and isn’t, directly involved has yet to be confirmed with Johnson remaining tight lipped.

Johnson left Apple at the end of March having spent over 6 years at the company. At Apple, Johnson managed global advertising for some of the company’s most revolutionary products.

Data for doctors: big data meets a big business

While it is fashionable to focus on data, one has to remember that what matters is what you can do with the data and how it can help grow a business. That is the rallying cry in the web world from Twitter to Facebook but also in an unexpected place – a Seattle hospital.

Ted Corbett, the director of knowledge management, at Seattle Children’s Hospital is using software from a company called Tableau to draw smart inferences from the 10 terabytes of data locked up in his servers and warehousing appliances. The hospital, which employs 5,000 people, uses the visualizations and easy access to data hidden away in multiple places to cut down on waste, reduce errors in medicine and help plan clinical trials. As organizations seek to store, analyze and derive insights from their data, companies are creating software to help them make sense of it all — because it’s not how big the data is, but what you can do with it.

Digestible data 

Tableau, is one of several companies attempting to funnel massive amounts of data into a more human understanding. Others include Karmasphere, Revolution Analytics,TIBCO and SAS. Corbett explains that offering employees access to data via a simplified dashboard has helped the hospital better schedule its time in operating rooms and eliminate waste from the supply chain by improving the information needed for the hospital to implement some of its lean manufacturing tenets.

“Nurses and doctors, when they need test tubes or syringes, they would hoard things so when it got busy they would have them, but knowing whether you are pulling enough of the right supplies and having them available is a way to save on costs. So far we’ve saved $3 million out of the supply chain, and using Tableau we can find new ways to eke out more savings,” Corbett said.

Tapping data for real insights

Visualizations are one way companies are mining their existing data. Other companies are making products that integrate into existing ways of managing data such as Karmasphere or even Microsoft with its data marketplace product, where a manager or analyst can buy access to data and import it into Excel. Instead of creating more frivolous infographics, these products are able to help businesses tap into existing data better and make some kind of meaning from it.

These companies may not have huge adoption today, but as the amount of data companies analyze expands, such solutions should become more popular. As Corbett notes he’s expecting to see up to a tenfold increase in data over the next few years thanks to things such as M2M communications within the hospital, personal genomics in medicines and electronic health records. “We’ll have an expansion in machine data — everything is Wi-Fi-enabled and pumping data all around the hospital– and there will be genomic data
genomic data and electronic records,” Corbett said. He estimates that each patient record contains a “couple of gigs of data per patient,” which can add up.

Data tools for the masses

It’s helpful to have tools that researchers and statisticians can use to make sense of the massive piles of data they have to sift through. But for big data to really become a game-changing force in business, companies will have to develop tools for the common man — or at least the middle manager. Much like broadband, computers, electricity and other big changes in productivity, it has to filter down to the masses to really change the world.

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Second Life Makes $100M A Year in Revenue

secondlifelogo150.jpgWhile the real-world markets take a nosedive, a virtual world’s economy is on the up and up, and its parent company is reaping the rewards. Second Life, the user-generated virtual world, generates almost $100 million in revenue a year, according to a new report on LAUNCH. A “company insider” says that Linden Labs has grossed over $75 million per year for the past three years and the company is profitable.

But this isn’t just another nine-digit number in the sea of Web business news. Linden Labs, the parent company of Second Life, simply charges fees on financial transactions. Its revenue comes from an entirely user-generated economy built on real estate, virtual goods and services. Yes, there’s also a sex industry.

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