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Telco 2.0 News Review: Amazon Cloudburst, YouView, Netflix, Apple

[Ed - It’s just two weeks to the 13th Telco 2.0 EMEA Executive Brainstorm in London, May 11th - 13th - with lots more on Cloud, Digital Entertainment, Apps, Personal Data, M2M, Google / Apple / Facebook and the rest of our agenda. We hope to see some of you there - register now here.]

Now there’s a technology disruption for you - a complex, multi-day, multi-service, multi-zone Amazon Web Services outage. It’s far from clear what exactly happened, but it seems to be associated with their Elastic Block Service product (which emulates local disk access) and possibly also with internal networking. Most AWS clients using availability zones in their US-East service area, and some others, were seriously affected, bringing a lot of very large Web sites to a grinding halt.

AWS advertises its availability zones as being fully independent from each other and therefore suitable for a redundant, high availability architecture - but somehow, the failure that began in their Northern Virginia data centre took out clients that had invested in multi-AZ service to guard against a major outage. Netflix rode out the crisis, but as the Hacker News thread makes clear, this was mostly because their AWS usage is not just scaled to handle the loss of a whole AZ, but also distributed between the US-East, US-West, and Tokyo Regions.

It is possible that they may not be fully satisfied by Amazon’s crisis communications, as this service status dashboard from the height of the incident shows and this customer thinks.

Data Center Knowledge has a detailed report, quoting Amazon as saying that the problem began with a major hardware failure that resulted in a large number of EBS volumes needing to be replicated quickly. This seems to have led to a cascade failure, as the remaining ones went over capacity. And the storm of activity seems to have pushed the control plane for EBS over the edge, which might explain how the segregation between availability zones was breached. This certainly shouldn’t happen given the service-level agreement, which specifies that AZs are meant to be physically independent of each other. The point is also made that Amazon’s own products seem to use some sort of private API that really does enforce more robust segregation of redundant systems - Amazon.com somehow got away without losing any time.

DCN reports on the progress of the recovery effort, pointing out that a subset of EBS customers were facing significantly longer delays before their data was restored from backup.

Voice 2.0 star Twilio is a heavy user of AWS products, but like Netflix they succeeded in disabling the rogue HAL-9000s and continuing their mission. Their Engineering Blog gives an account of how they kept going.

There’s more discussion in this tongue-in-cheek High Scalability thread.

Meanwhile, just to make the point that being a telco doesn’t necessarily make you more reliable, Vodafone Hutchison Australia enjoyed a seven-hour nationwide SMS outage over Easter. But our adjacent-player friends don’t have any more luck. Sony’s PlayStation Network, the cloud/web service element of the PlayStation that provides their app store, online gaming, private chat, and the like, was down for six whole days and counting after hackers got into it.

Sony pushed out a software update last year that made it impossible to run unauthorised software on the games machines - until then, some intrepid souls had been doing things like running Linux on them and using their powerful graphics processors to build high-performance computing clusters. Since then, their name has been mud, especially after Sony decided to sue George Hotz, the man who jailbroke the first iPhone and who had also come up with a way of circumventing the new restrictions. Anonymous swore revenge on them and it looks like the revenge was delivered. Somewhere in the PSN are 75 million users’ details including large numbers of credit cards. Details of the whole mess are here.

As of this morning, the system was still down, with the developer relations page saying only that “emergency maintenance” was underway. It is theorised that unofficial firmware that allowed full dev access to the system is circulating.

The tech specifications for YouView, the UK broadcasters’ proposed set-top box platform, have been released in a mere 229 page slab of light reading. We’ll be commenting further on this, but it’s worth pointing out that it seems to foresee a very content-provider centred software ecosystem. YouTube might become a UK TV station in this scenario. It’s all based on Linux, but it’s also heavily influenced by rightsholders’ demands for DRM. (Google, meanwhile, pulled back from shutting down Google Video and merging it into YouTube this week.)

Netflix, having survived the asteroid colliding with Amazon Web Services and fought off the zombies, announced that its profits were up 88 per cent year on year, while it was only 5,000 subscribers behind Comcast. However, that wasn’t enough for the vampire squid of Wall Street - the shares fell 5 per cent, driven by fears of a (YouView-like) better-TV offering from the broadcasters or MSOs.

Did a leak suggest that Apple’s iPad shipments might be worse than expected? Or was it an exercise in expectations-management in itself, a red herring? Are we facing the end of the PC era, as the tablets take over?

Horace from Asymco thinks not, and he was clearly right to. Apple’s earnings surged ahead, by 92%, something (as Fortune Tech points out) the bloggers called but Wall Street missed. But the only thing the Street called right was that the iPad sales were a miss. Instead, sales of iPhones and - remember them? - Apple Macs were much better than expected. (We might pause to remember the prediction that the iPad would be the dominant player in the tablet market, but that’s nothing like being the dominant player in the PC or smartphone markets.)

Meanwhile, a survey of developer interest shows that Apple’s tab is well ahead of the ‘droid armies, but then again, that’s as nothing to the gap between “Android tablet” and all the rest.

Horace also wonders if Apple is undervalued and if so, if it’s because of Android. He argues that, given the numbers involved, if that was true then Apple should just buy the whole of Google and shut down the Android division.

But here’s a question - what if you shut down the Android division at Google, and the ‘droids kept coming? 75% of the Android codebase by size (which is a somewhat misleading metric) originates outside it, elsewhere in the open source world. You can see why some people are getting sick of Google. And the biggest external contributor (by commits, not lines of code - a much more relevant measure) is…Nokia.

After all, Android activations don’t seem to correlate clearly with Google’s share price while Apple iOS shipments most assuredly do. The vendors love it, of course - they get to make phones like this Samsung Galaxy S2, drooled over at Computer Weekly, although Apple and Samsung are suing each other.

Meanwhile, Google has lost a patent lawsuit, although the fact that the plaintiff is also suing Amazon, MySpace, PayPal, and a list of every website most people would name in a free-association test suggests this is probably just more patent trolling.

Need a private app store for your enterprise? Here’s how.

With 900 million users in China, 303 million of whom have used Internet services on their phone, there’s surely quite a bit of cake to go around, especially when you count in India and note that Nokia’s market share there is now down to “only” 52%.

On the other hand, a fascinating post on user time spent with different desktop applications has come to our attention. Did you know Google Apps products were ahead of MS Word? Here’s an interesting interview with the head of Google’s enterprise products.

Here’s some insight into Google data center operations, to follow the last issue’s Open Compute Platform coverage. They’re also buying wind power.

Gartner has surveyed Itanium server customers, and concludes that 48% of them, not quite a simple majority but a hefty plurality, believe Intel when it promises several new generations of the chips rather than Oracle when it claims they’re on the way out (and probably HP-UX with them). They have their reasons - Intel has signed up a little Chinese company known as Huawei to make high availability servers for their telco customers with the chips.

Intel has also been hunting for partners for the MeeGo Linux they were left with after the Nokia/Microsoft deal. They’ve so far recruited LG, ZTE, China Mobile, and Tencent (QQ’s parent compahy), which at least suggests the possibility of some sort of a future in China.

Nokia, meanwhile, gave some more detail on the Microsoft deal. Apparently the $99 MS Windows Marketplace signup is going to be waived for a year for developers moving across from Symbian, and Nokia is going to receive “substantial” payments from MS.

Meanwhile, InfoWorld tests a RIM PlayBook and isn’t at all happy. To use any BlackBerry services, the device has to be tethered to a BlackBerry smartphone. Not just that, it has to be linked to a BlackBerry to use any e-mail server at all - it doesn’t have its own mail client. And unfortunately, the necessary server application on the BlackBerry is verboten for AT&T subscribers. Further, RIM’s PC-sync application didn’t work with it (although it does behave sensibly as a USB device) and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server device-management functions don’t support the tablet. The reviewer also encountered countless assorted bugs.

Compare and contrast a German review in Handelsblatt, which is much more favourable - but this is probably explained by the fact that RIM shipped him a new BlackBerry to go with the PlayBook, thus getting around some of the problems. However, they noted that it was impossible to manage even the factory-installed apps from the BlackBerry, and also had bad things to say about the e-mail problem. On the other hand, they absolutely raved over the hardware.

Computer Weekly, meanwhile, also has a shiny out on review - but this one is a HP TouchPad. Things go much better, especially with regard to the software and the user interface. And swapping content between a TouchPad and a Pre by making them kiss is a neat trick. They point out that the TouchPad weighs considerably more than any of the other tablets, and is spotting them some hardware features too. In fact, RIM’s is the lightest at 400 grams - it’s beginning to look like RIM built the best hardware device and ruined it with terrible software.

Looking back at i-mode.

Over in the world of hardcore connectivity and networking, the Packet Pushers’ Podcast has a special on low-cost data centre kit. High Scalability says you should listen.

Benoit Felten has an excellent post about the TalkTalk/Virgin Media/Sky fibre joint venture in the UK, with links to work by his new startup on rural fibre deployment.

Renesys takes a look at the proposed Level(3)/Global Crossing merger and the consequences for the Internet. A merged company might have as much as 55% of the international transit market by prefix count, and it might be necessary for their customers to hook up two tier-one providers in order to avoid a single-point-of-failure.

Here’s something interesting - a British startup that wants to use the whitespace spectrum for low-power M2M networking. Their first challenge is to design a base station cheap enough to make it work, which is why they’re staffing up with Cambridge’s silicon design talent.

The Register has an interview with the people who took over Libyana’s GSM network in rebel territory and made it serve the people. The key elements were a new HLR from Tecore Networks and international interconnect from IDT Telecom in Telehouse Docklands, those and the stolen contents of “official” Libyana’s Benghazi VLR. The biggest problem is getting the crypto keys so that they don’t have to run A5/0 (i.e. with no encryption at all), although they’ve wisely left the billing system for later.

Here’s a business model for you - buy up 1-800 numbers from companies who are moving their customer services to the web, redirect them to sex lines, and charge the sex line owners for the extra traffic. Apparently the key is a software application that monitors the official database of 800s and automatically grabs them as they expire. It’s Voice 2.0, but not as you’d prefer.

O2’s International Favourites service emulates Skype To Go and lets you make cheap international calls using Jajah and a bank of numbers from Voxbone, who also provide Skype with its digits.

Freespee has a new case study about its local virtual-numbering and call analytics product. HOWTO build a Tropo-powered web voice application and deploy it to a free node.js hosting site. Phil Wolff asks sensible questions about what a better UI for Skype might look like.

Meanwhile, catch a recorded webinar with Dan York on multi-channel Call Centre 2.0 applications.

Everyone now knows that both iOS and Android log your GPS location to a local DB, sync it to iTunes, and report it to headquarters. It looks like both Google and Apple are doing this to fill up databases of WLAN and cell-site locations in order to provide better non-GPS location service, although the big question is what else they might do with it. Creep yourself out - plug your WLAN box’s MAC address into this page to see where Google thinks you are. (When we tried it, it got the street address wrong but the geographical location off by about 20 metres. Not close enough for a drone…yet.) Here’s an app to query the secret log on your iDevice.

In cheerier news, EverythingEverywhere has stopped helping itself to 10% of all charitable donations by SMS.

The European Commission doesn’t think we need net neutrality, but is concerned about cookies. On the other hand, the European Court of Justice rules against copyright enforcement at the ISP level. There’s going to be a key FCC workshop tomorrow on universal service, 4G, and satellite broadband. And here’s a horror story about ordering fibre that has to pass through a BT duct in the heart of Silicon Roundabout, within hurled iPhone of the Telco 2.0 offices. Handy tip for heavy linux configurers.

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