A Surf Around the Cloud

Web application developers seem to be moving toward keeping their applications in the clouds. By what is a cloud? Alex Iskold at Read/Write Web:

The idea behind cloud computing is simple – scale your application by deploying it on a large grid of commodity hardware boxes. Each box has exactly the same system installed and behaves like all other boxes. The load balancer forwards a request to any one box and it is processed in a stateless manner; meaning the request is followed by an immediate response and no state is held by the system.

Alex contrasts cloud computing with the LAMP stack on which web applications “traditionally” run. He concludes that we are at the start of “a fundamental shift in our ability to compute.”

Fred Wilson agrees, but with an interesting qualification.

I think Alex is directionally correct. We are going to see more and more companies build and host their web apps on someone else’s infrastructure. It’s not going to happen overnight because I’ve never met a more control oriented group than software engineers.

Rackspace just announced its own cloud-like service, to add to its more traditional hosting services. Erick at TechCrunch remarks that Mosso bills itself as a Web app hosting service, and contrasts Mosso with Amazon Web Services.

Mosso isn’t as purely cloudy as AWS. As such, it may be a good first step toward a walk in the clouds for those control oriented software engineers.

BigCo Banter

Just a few comments on goings-on at the web BigCos in the last week.

Three Music Models

Three music business models are in the tech news. Mashable lashed out at two different models, albeit via two different writers.

Qtrax is a free and legal way of getting (via P2P) music, and it has the support of the major labels. The bad news is that it requires an ad-inflicting proprietary player, uses DRM, and is not iPod-compatible. Why are people going to want to clutter up their systems with yet another proprietary system that is filled with DRMed music that they can’t put on the most popular digital music player in the world?

So, if that’s not the way to go, let’s consider music dialtone. But the attempt to work a one-price-have-all system successfully has several fatal flaws that will most likely allow it never to draw a lucrative existence in the era of the digital download.

The Mashable curmudgeons have yet to comment on the news that Amazon just announced the international rollout of Amazon MP3. Engadget sees this as the biggest threat yet to Apple’s dominance of digital music.

I actually like music dialtone. I don’t see it as a problem that I lose access to the music if I stop paying the monthly bucks. I’ll (almost) always be able to buy, or otherwise acquire, the music that I really really want to listen to.

Good for Amazon, and for Sony

Yes, Sony. A few days ago, it seemed that in order to download DRM-free MP3s of music on the Sony BMG label, you had first to go to a store.

But Sony will start selling DRM-free music on AmazonMP3 at the end of the month. This is good news for those of us who see shopping as an expensive form of surfing, rather than as a reason to leave the house.

It’s also good news for Amazon. AmazonMP3, unlike iTunes, will offer DRM-free music from all four major record labels.

Amazon Profile

I seem to have a profile at Amazon. It shows my Media Library, which is essentially my purchase history. I could add other things to the library, such as book I bought in a real-world store.

I saw this via Mashable Mark, who presents it as Amazon’s stealthy entry into social networking. He answers one of my questions: if you go to my profile, and buy something from it, do I get an affiliate commission? The answer is no. I’m also wondering about Amazon’s intentions around the social networking standards…

DRM at the Home Movies

This year will, I hope, see the death of DRM. For an example of why it deserves to die, let’s go to the (home) movies, and to Seth of the EFF. The central character is Davis Freeberg, but his blog has been so busy it’s been down recently.

The trouble all started when Freeberg bought a new monitor for his Vista computer. When he decided to watch streaming movies from Netflix, Netflix documentation warned him that the recommended means of fixing a problem with DRM-restricted Netflix programming “may remove licenses to other content using Microsoft DRM” — including, in particular, restricted programming he had already purchased through Amazon Unbox…

Freeberg’s conundrum is likely the product of… (mis)features that have been added to Microsoft’s Vista operating system… Unfortunately, these kinds of (mis)features generally (1) don’t stop pirates and (2) result in compatibility headaches for paying customers.

SimpleDB, Standards, and Lockin

A few days ago, Amazon announced SimpleDB. It’s “a web service for running queries on structured data in real time.” It’s also the newest member of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) family.

In other words, Amazon has added to AWS a database management system, and hence an additional reason to run your web application in Amazon’s cloud. Nitin Borwankar, writing at GigaOm, thinks that it will turn out to be a compelling reason.

SimpleDB is hugely disruptive. It will take some time to evolve the new thinking patterns and new design disciplines that this technology forces us to consider. To do so, consider this breakdown of the similarities and differences between SimpleDB and conventional relational databases.

A difference that I haven’t seen addressed relates to standards. If I’m using MySQL or Oracle I access my database using SQL, an established standard. If I decide to shift or mix database vendors, I can keep on using SQL.

If I’m using SimpleDB, and for whatever reason decide that Amazon’s cloud is no longer the best place for my application, what do I do? In particular, how much of an application rewrite do I have to do?

Unless I got a reassuring and convincing answer to that question, I think I’d prefer to use MySQL. I single out MySQL because it’s free, in both senses of the word: free of charge, and free software, so that I can get at the source code. But even if I used Oracle, I’d still feel in less danger of lockin than I would with SimpleDB.

Doing the Kindle Shuffle

The Amazon Kindle has been one of the big stories of the week. In one of the more positive accounts, Business Week‘s Aaron Pressman writes of a compelling investment opportunity to buy Amazon shares now… Kindle will be the iPod of books.

I don’t think that the Kindle will do for Amazon what the iPod did for Apple – although the Kindle sold out right away. I do think that there will be many more models of Kindle, just as there have been many more iPods.

Hey, what about the Kindle Shuffle? The two novels I’m reading at the moment, Absurdistan and Farthing, might work rather well shuffled together.

Going back to the BW article, some of the comments at the online version are interesting. So is the author’s reaction. “Getting lots of comments about the supposed closedness of the Kindle. It’s open just like the iPod.” No comment from me on that…

Glee Stands Out

The feeds are frenzied today, with two stories attracting multiple posts. The posts that stood out as I skimmed through Google Reader were the gleeful ones: