All posts tagged ‘Amazon’

Amazon Takes on Dropbox With New Desktop File Syncing

Amazon’s desktop-centric Cloud Drive syncing. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey

Amazon has quietly joined the ranks of cloud-based file syncing services like Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive. The company’s Amazon Cloud Drive — previously limited to a rather primitive web-based interface — now offers desktop file syncing tools like those found in Dropbox.

To test out the new Cloud Drive syncing, grab the new desktop app for Windows or OS X (sorry Linux fans, currently there is no desktop client for Linux).

Once you’ve installed the new Cloud Drive app, you’ll find a new folder on your drive — drop whichever files you’d like to sync into that folder and they’ll automatically be sent to Amazon’s servers. You’ll then have access to them on any computer with Cloud Drive installed and through the Cloud Drive web interface, though what you can do with files in the web interface is extremely limited.

It’s worth noting that the Cloud Drive app requires Java. As our friends at Ars Technica point out, that means users with newer Macs will be prompted to install Java as well (the Windows app comes with Java bundled).

There’s also no mobile apps for any platform (there is an Android Photo app, but all it does is send photos from your phone to Cloud Drive). In fact, while Cloud Drive will sync files between desktops, beyond that there isn’t much to see yet.

Part of the appeal of any web-based sync tool is ubiquitous access, not just via the web but in your favorite mobile apps as well and in that space Dropbox clearly has a huge lead over Cloud Drive.

Amazon offers 5GB of Cloud Drive storage for free, with additional storage available at roughly $.50/GB, which is down from the $1/GB price back when Cloud Drive first launched. That’s on par with SkyDrive’s pricing and roughly half the price of Dropbox. In this case though — at least right now — you get what you pay for. Amazon has the makings of a Dropbox competitor but it still has a lot of catching up to do.

File Under: APIs, Multimedia

Amazon Tackles Web Video With New Conversion Service

Amazon is getting into the web video game with a new video transcoding service aimed at making it easy to build the next YouTube.

Transcoding video is the process of taking a user uploaded video and converting it to a video format that works on the web, typically MP4 and WebM. Consumer video services like YouTube and Vimeo handle this for you behind the scenes. But if you want to actually build the next Vimeo or YouTube you’re going to have transcode video.

Open source tools like ffmpeg simplify the video transcoding process, but require considerable server power to operate at scale. And server power is something Amazon has in spades.

Amazon’s foray into video is hardly the first cloud-powered video transcoding service — Zencoder is another popular service (and runs on Amazon servers) — but Amazon’s offering is marginally cheaper and well-integrated with the company’s other services.

The Amazon Elastic Transcoder works in conjunction with the company’s other cloud offerings like S3 file storage. You send a video from one S3 “bucket” to Transcoder, which then converts it to the formats you need and writes the resulting files to another S3 bucket.

For now the Elastic Transcoder will only output MP4 video containers with Apple-friendly H.264 video and AAC audio. The new Transcoder options in the Amazon Web Services control panel allow you to create various quality presets if, for example, you’re delivering video to both mobile and desktop clients.

As with all Amazon Web Services the new Transcoder has a pay-as-you-go pricing model with rates starting at $0.015 per minute for standard definition video (less than 720p) and $0.030 per minute for HD video. That means transcoding a 10 minute video (the max on YouTube) would cost you $.15 for SD output and $.30 for HD, which sounds cheap until you start looking at transcoding several hundred 10-minute videos a day (200 a day would set you back $60 a day for HD). Amazon’s free usage tier will get you 20 minutes of SD video or 10 minutes of HD video encoded for free each month.

Amazon’s rates are marginally cheaper than Zencoder, which charges $0.020/minute for SD and double that for HD. Zencoder does have a considerable edge when it comes to output format though, offering pretty much anything you’d need for the web, including live streaming, while, at least for now, Amazon’s offering is limited to MP4.

File Under: Web Services

Amazon Autopsy Reveals Causes of Cloud Death

Amazon has apologized to customers affected by last week’s EC2 outage and offered a detailed post mortem about exactly what went wrong. The short answer is that a network update shifted traffic to the wrong router, which then wrecked havoc on Amazon’s US East Region Availability Zone.

In addition to apologizing, Amazon is giving affected customers “a 10 day credit equal to 100 percent of their usage of EBS Volumes, EC2 Instances and RDS database instances that were running in the affected Availability Zone.”

Amazon is also promising to improve its communication with customers when things go wrong, but as we pointed out earlier, the real problem is not necessarily Amazon. While Amazon’s services unquestionably failed, those sites that had a true distributed system in place (e.g. Netflix, SmugMug, SimpleGeo) were not affected.

In the end it depends how you were using EC2. If you were simply using it as a scalable web hosting service, your site went down. If you were using EC2 as a platform to build your own cloud architecture, then your services did not go down. The later is a very complex thing to do, and it’s telling that the sites that survived unaffected were all large companies with entire engineering teams dedicated to creating reliable EC2-based systems.

That may be the real lesson of Amazon’s failure — EC2 is no substitute for quality engineers.

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Lessons From a Cloud Failure: It’s Not Amazon, It’s You

Chaos Monkey will eat your cloud.

Amazon’s cloud-hosted Web Services experienced a catastrophic failure last week, knocking hundreds of sites off the web. Some developers saw the AWS outage as a warning about what happens when we rely too much on the cloud. But the real failure of Amazon’s downtime is not AWS, but the sites that use it.

The problem for those sites that were brought down by the AWS outage is the sites’ own failure to implement the one key design principle of the cloud: Design with failure in mind.

That’s not to say that Amazon didn’t fail rather spectacularly, taking out huge sites like Quora, Reddit, FourSquare and Everyblock, but as Paul Smith of Everyblock admits, while Amazon bears some of the responsibility, Everyblock failed as well:

Frankly, we screwed up. AWS explicitly advises that developers should design a site’s architecture so that it is resilient to occasional failures and outages such as what occurred yesterday, and we did not follow that advice

But perhaps the most instructive lesson comes from those sites that were not affected, notably Netflix, SimpleGeo and SmugMug. Netflix published a look at how it uses AWS last year and, by all appearances, those lessons served the company well, because Netflix remained unaffected by the recent failure.

Among Netflix’s suggestions is to always design for failure: “We’ve sometimes referred to the Netflix software architecture in AWS as our Rambo Architecture. Each system has to be able to succeed, no matter what, even all on its own.”

To ensure that each system can stand on its own, Netflix uses something it calls the Chaos Monkey (no relation). The Chaos Monkey is a set of scripts that run through Netflix’s AWS process and randomly shuts them down to ensure that the rest of the system is able to keep running. Think of it as a system where the parts are greater than the whole.

The photo sharing site SmugMug has also detailed its approach to designing for failure and why SmugMug was largely unaffected by the recent AWS outage. SmugMug co-founder and CEO Don MacAskill, echos Netflix’s redundancy mantra, writing, “Each component (EC2 instance, etc.) should be able to die without affecting the whole system as much as possible. Your product or design may make that hard or impossible to do 100 percent — but I promise large portions of your system can be designed that way.”

MacAskill also has strong words for those who think the recent AWS outage is a good argument for sticking with your own data center: “[SmugMug's] data-center related outages have all been far worse … we’re working hard to get our remaining services out of our control and into Amazon’s.”

“Cloud computing is just a tool,” writes MacAskill, “Some companies, like Netflix and SimpleGeo, likely understand the tool better.”

If you’d like to learn more about how designing for cloud services differs from traditional data-center setups, check out this excellent post on O’Reilly. Also, be sure to read Netflix’s advice and learn from Everyblock’s downtime by following the guidelines in Amazon’s own documentation.

Photo: Technically not a monkey. (DBoy/Flickr/CC)

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File Under: Multimedia, Web Services

Amazon’s New ‘Cloud Drive’: Your Music, Everywhere You Go

Apple and Google are both rumored to be working on music streaming services, but the first real competitor to enter the streaming music battle is Amazon.com.

The company has announced Amazon Cloud Drive, a web-based backup service where you can store your documents, photos music and other files. To go along with Cloud Drive, Amazon is offering Cloud Player, which can stream your music library to any web browser or Android mobile device. Cloud Player also allows you to download files and create playlists through its web-based interface. Note, however, that Amazon is using Flash Player to upload and stream music which means it won’t work on Apple’s iOS devices.

Amazon is offering 5GB of Cloud Drive storage for free to anyone with an Amazon account. That number can be bumped to 20GB with the purchase of an Amazon MP3 album. Additional storage works out to $1 per GB, with plans at 20GB, 50GB, 100GB, 200GB and 1000GB.

At the high end 1000GB will set you back $1000 per year, which is enough to buy roughly 10 TB worth of external hard drives every year. Of course your external hard drives don’t live in the cloud and won’t let you listen to music wherever you are, but if it’s just backups you want, clearly there are cheaper alternatives.

The real appeal of Cloud Drive only comes into play when it’s used with Cloud Player. Bring the two together and you can stream your music library to any web browser or Android mobile device.

While an online music locker capable of sending your music to any device feels almost inevitable at this point, Amazon’s offering is, thus far, disappointing. The interface is awkward and looks a bit like Hotmail did when it first launched — primitive. For example, using the web interface, there’s no way to download more than one file at a time.

Any music you already own must be manually uploaded, there is no automatic syncing like you’ll find in file backup services like Dropbox. The Amazon MP3 Uploader can scan your iTunes library and makes uploading a bit smoother, but if you’ve got a sizable music collection — several hundred gigabytes of music — you’re looking at days, if not weeks, to upload everything to Cloud Drive.

Cloud Drive is much better if you’re buying all your music from the Amazon MP3 Store, and clearly this is what Amazon would like you to do. To encourage that, songs purchased from the Amazon MP3 store and saved directly to your Amazon Cloud Drive never count toward your storage limit and are free to store forever. Couple that with rumors of Amazon working on an Android device and it isn’t hard to see how Cloud Drive, though basic at the moment, might one day become a serious iTunes competitor.

But there are possible legal problems Cloud Drive may have to overcome. The record industry still believes that you should buy a new copy of every song for every device you own, and Amazon has no way to determine whether you actually purchased your existing music files. MP3tunes, which also offers to store and stream your music library, was sued by music labels. Amazon, however, doesn’t believe licensing will be a problem. “We don’t need a license to store music,” Craig Pape, director of music at Amazon, tells the New York Times. “The functionality is the same as an external hard drive.”

Amazon may be first to the market among its sizable competitors like Apple and Google, but Cloud Drive in its current form isn’t particularly innovative, nor does it offer many of the features long-standing competitors like Dropbox or MP3Tunes already have. Still, Amazon’s Cloud Drive already has Google and Apple beat on one count — it exist.

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