all of its users to download the
firmware patch, even if they
don’t want to, or are intimidated
by the process? Not all iPhone
3G users, after all, may be technologically savvy.
That’s not Apple’s only problem with the iPhone 3G launch.
Its .Mac service—renamed
MobileMe—has proven to be
erratic and unreliable. Many
third-party applications are
unstable and buggy. Apple’s
advertising, according to U.K.
regulators, is misleading, because
Apple claims that the iPhone
3G can access “all parts of the
Internet,” but it doesn’t handle
websites built with Flash or
States, one customer has threatened a class-action lawsuit
because the iPhone 3G is sometimes slower than promised.
The good news, of course, is
that customers are still queuing
up to buy the iPhone 3G. Why?
Because inconvenient facts can’t
stop a social phenomenon.
As Vaporous as
a Computing Cloud
Nephologists might define
a cloud as a visible mass of
droplets or ice crystals floating
in the atmosphere. That’s
helpful for cloud scientists.
Computer scientists, however,
view clouds as invisible masses
of services floating in the
Internet. Like meteorological
clouds, compute clouds can be
bright and sunny. They can also
go dark at any time.
As discussed at length in
this issue’s “Business” column
(see page 11), cloud computing is vulnerable to reliability
problems. Apple’s .Mac cloud
services, now called MobileMe,
have been up and down since
their July relaunch, particularly
when it comes to email delivery. Ultimately, Apple offered
MobileMe customers two
months of free service as compensation. Google, too, has suffered reliability problems on its
Gmail service, which went down
in mid-August, affecting both
its free and paid Google Apps
The cloud means more than
e-mail, obviously. Amazon.com’s
Simple Storage Service (S3)—a set
of APIs for Internet-based storage, popular with website operators—went down on July 20, and
stayed down for an entire business day. While Amazon kindly
issued its customers an automatic
billing adjustment, it was little
consolation for websites that
were down, or barely functional,
while their owners wrung their
hands in frustration waiting for
Amazon S3 to go back up.
The message: The cloud is
beautiful and seductive. The economics are attractive, especially
since cloud-based services require
only small monthly fees instead
of costly hardware and software
purchases. And they scale well.
However, they are utilities, just
like your power or water or
broadband: When they go down,
there’s nothing you can do until
they go up. The good news is
that reports of outages are rare.
The bad news is that outages
happen at all.
Bomb Shows License
When you use a cloud-based
computing service, you understand that some days it might
work better than others. When
you install software on your own
servers, however, you expect the
software to keep working every
day unless you do something to
mess it up.
VMware is the poster child for
an unexpected form of software
failure: A software crash caused
by poorly written license code.
While the crash brought down
the company’s ESX virtualization servers, this should not be
seen as a specific vulnerability of
virtualization. Instead, the failure
should be viewed as a warning
against any licenses that have the
power to automatically turn the
software off: a kill switch, you
might call it.
On Tuesday August 12, users
of VMware ESX/ESXi 3. 5 release
2 discovered that their licenses
were incorrectly determined to
have expired. Virtual machines
that were running kept running,
but any VMs that were stopped
would not start up. That’s bad
news for anyone, of course, who
needed to reboot a virtual server.
To VMware’s credit, the company jumped right onto the issue,
releasing a patch in less than 25
hours. Given VMware’s historic
reputation for quality, it’s not fair
to single them out for too much