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Amazon Web Services has entered the applications end of the cloud world with several recent releases:
- Log monitoring and admin with Logs for CloudWatch
- Collaboration and file sharing with Zocalo
- Mobile application development with Cognito, Mobile Analytics and a new Mobile SDK
Logs for Cloudwatch works with the AWS CloudWatch network monitoring console to collect log file activities which can then be stored and analyzed in AWS Kinesis. The new tool automatically moves logs from instances and aggregates them into a central service where exceptions can be set directly on those applications.
Third-party products already that, and companies like Splunk, Logentries, and New Relic , which launched its new Insights real-time analytics tool just hours before the AWS news, will all be watching this very carefully (probably also very nervously).
The new AWS Zocalo collaboration/file-sharing plans are further proof that Amazon knows it must be a broad platform player to compete against two mega platform rivals – Google and Microsoft, as well as two younger, well-funded but more limited contenders in Dropbox and Box. Zocalo thus targets Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, which are part of a much bigger portfolio of end-user products at those companies.
When you have a document or file which needs editing or updating by more than one person, in more than one place, controlling the process to avoid the dreaded “intervening update” problem can be a challenge.
In the early days of personal computers the answer was often the “sneakernet”. Create document or file, write to a diskette, put on your Chuck Taylors and walk it to your collaborator, then get it back the same way. Later, LAN technology allowed the file to be placed on a local server and opened across the LAN for editing, with a lock on the file at the server while editing is being performed. When needing to get beyond the local LAN email attachments could be used, or FTP if you had a pre-Web internet connection. Management of “check-in/check-out” and resolving update conflicts was done by humans, not software.
Sounds like the stone age now, but it beat printing a document and editing with a red pen.
The advent of the Web and its browsers, along with widespread, always-on internet connectivity brought new opportunities for using that connectivity and various software design strategies to support collaboration.
There are three essential design strategies for addressing the problem: pure web app (think Google Drive, née Google Docs), file syncing (think Dropbox), and local editing with central locking (think MS Office+Web Folders/WebDAV). Each has its pros and cons, and which approach will work for a given task depends on factors like file type, file size, editing feature set, and client platforms supported.
The Pure Web App Approach
That’s the good. The bad includes:
- Google buy-in (or buying into some other platform).
- Limited document/file type support. Although you can now upload and download any type of file to Google Drive, you have to convert to a Google format to edit online. You won’t be editing Quickbooks files, for example.
This is using Google as an example. There are other services using the web app approach. SkyDrive from Microsoft for example, or Quickbooks Online from Intuit. The bottom line is all these online apps have limitations, never mind cost (Quickbooks Online costs between $12.95 to over $70 per month).
The File Synchronization Approach
File synchronization apps like Dropbox work by running applications on all your devices, with a special folder that communicates with their servers to propagate new and updated files to other devices. This works well when the only person involved is you, and you have multiple devices (work desktop, laptop, home PC, and sometimes mobile devices). Another plus is the ability to synchronize a wide variety of file types. Each device that will be used to edit or update a file or document will need the appropriate application installed on the device, and all copies or versions of the aforementioned application must be able to handle the internal format of the particular file. For instance, Quickbooks file formats for Windows and Macs are incompatible.
The typical problem for apps using the file synch approach is lack of “file locking” to keep two people from updating a file at the same time. Some file sync apps attempt to resolve intervening updates but usually with little success.
The Local Editing With Central Locking Approach
Server-based file locking apps keep the file on a central server, and use specialized server plus client applications to do the following each time a file needs to be edited or updated:
- “Lock” the file on the server to tell other copies of the special client application that the file is “checked out” for update by someone else.
- Download the file to a client application on a PC, Mac, or other supported platform (usually as a “temp” file).
- Open the correct application for editing.
After editing the process is reversed:
- File is saved locally in the temporary location.
- File is uploaded back to the central server, where it replaces the old copy.
- The “Lock” is removed so other users can take their turn at editing.
It is also a good idea for this approach to offer a “View Only” or “Read Only” copy of a locked file for others to look at (but not edit).
An early example of this approach is WebDAV (DAV stands for “Distributed Authoring and Versioning”). Microsoft refers to its WebDAV support in Windows as “Web Folders”, and supports locks and editing in Office applications such as Word and Excel. The problem with WebDAV and Web Folders is that virtually no other applications other than Office have implemented support for WebDAV locks.
A more general application that can support almost any file type while also supporting central file locking is available from My Docs Online via their java-based Desktop App. The Desktop App uses a “Lock & Open” to lock the file on the central server, downloads the file to a temporary location on the PC or Mac, and then launches the right application based on the file extension. When the editing session is complete the file is saved and closed locally, and then the user does a “Save & Unlock” in the Desktop App to send the updated file back to the server and release the lock.
The ability to support virtually any file type is a strong benefit of this design.
Potential issues with the approach include “network latency”. The bigger the file the longer it takes to download and open the locked copy, or sent it back to the server. The use of Java brings support for multiple operating systems, including all versions of Windows or Mac OS X, but does require Java be installed and kept up to date on the machine.
Choosing an App Whose Design Strategy Meets Your Needs
Which approach will work best for you? It depends on particular needs, and you may need more than one solution depending on particular file types or business processes involved.
If you and all your collaborators already have Google accounts, and if the goal is collaboration on a reasonably basic document or spreadsheet, it’s hard to beat Google Drive. If you mostly use Office, then SkyDrive might be a good fit, and so on. Consider a two-step approach, where, as an example, you use Google Drive to do the early drafts of a document when collaboration needs are heaviest, and then export to a more powerful desktop application for final production.
If your collaboration needs don’t require editing by multiple people, but mostly involve pushing updated versions of files and documents for viewing and reviewing, then a file synchronization app like Dropbox could work well.
If you are using specific file types like Quickbooks, CAD, as well as Excel, Word, or OpenOffice formats, and you need to let multiple people in multiple locations edit without fear of wiping out the edits of a colleague, consider an application like the My Docs Online Desktop App.
Google issued an incident report on the Wednesday outage that affected less than one per cent of gmail users, but was significant for other services, including half of Admin Panel and 60% of Sync login requests. As has happened in the past, it was a configuration error for a central system, in this case Google Services Login, where the configuration glitch caused too many requests to be routed to too few servers, causing them to buckle under the load:
From 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. PT, some users received errors when trying to access Gmail, Drive, Talk, Google Sync, the Admin panel, and the Cloud Console, and to a lesser extent Groups, Sites, and Contacts. At the peak of the outage, this issue affected 50% of the Admin panel and 60% of Google Sync login requests. The percentages of affected users for other services were lower such as 0.18% users for Gmail. The root cause was an issue in the system that manages login requests for Google services.
At 5:00 a.m. as login traffic increased, the misconfigured servers were unable to process the load. This began to cause errors for some users logging in to Google services. The request load, exacerbated by retry requests from users and automated systems such as IMAP clients, initially appeared as the cause of the login errors. At 5:48 a.m., the Engineering team determined that the root cause was not excess traffic but insufficient capacity
The full report is less than two pages, and clearly outlines what happened and how they hope to prevent it in the future.
Google Drive is stalled again for some users:
March 21, 2013 7:07:00 AM PDT
We are continuing to investigate this issue. We will provide an update by March 21, 2013 8:07:00 AM PDT detailing when we expect to resolve the problem.
Users are able to access Drive, but they may experience slow behavior or sporadic errors.
According to Google, the outage for some Google Drive users should be completely resolved.
Still having a problem? Then Google want to hear about it:
The problem with Google Drive should be resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support. Please rest assured that system reliability is a top priority at Google, and we are making continuous improvements to make our systems better. If you are still experiencing an issue, please contact us via the Google Help Center.
From the Google App Status Dashboard:
March 18, 2013 7:17:00 AM PDT
We’re investigating reports of an issue with Google Drive. We will provide more information shortly.
March 18, 2013 8:10:00 AM PDT
We’re aware of a problem with Google Drive affecting a significant subset of users. The affected users are unable to access Google Drive. We will provide an update by March 18, 2013 9:10:00 AM PDT detailing when we expect to resolve the problem. Please note that this resolution time is an estimate and may change.
March 18, 2013 8:55:00 AM PDT
Google Drive service has already been restored for some users, and we expect a resolution for all users within the next 1 hours. Please note this time frame is an estimate and may change.
Never mind BYOD (bring your own device), employee use of non-corporate online storage solutions could lead to the weakening of enterprise ability to access company data and intellectual property. In the worst case scenario, companies could lose information forever.
A post by Brian Proffitt at ReadWrite Enterprise explains:
Employees are the keepers of knowledge within a company. Want to run the monthly payroll? The 20-year-veteran in accounting knows how to manage that. Building the new company logo? The superstar designer down in the art department is your gal. When such employees leave the company, it can be a bumpy transition, but usually not impossible, because the data they’ve been using lies on the corporate file server and can be used to piece together the work that’s been done.
Of course, that’s based on the premise that, for the past couple of decades or so, data has essentially been stored in one of two places: on the file servers or the employee’s local computer.
Today, though, people store data in a variety of places, not all of it under the direct control of IT. Gmail, Dropbox, Google Drive or a company’s cloud on Amazon Web Services…
Read the article.
Reading this post on Google’s low-cost, super-fast fiber-to-the-home initiative (makes me sort of wish I lived in Kansas City) brought to mind all the other Google products and initiatives that might be empowered by it. Go read it, then come back here and consider:
Chrome OS: it takes a long time to make a new operating system and it looks trivial today, but with widely available gigabit internet at the household and small business level it begins to look like a realistic “the network is the computer” future.
Mobile OS: Google already has that covered with Android.
Add Google Drive: Ubiquitous very high speed connectivity at a low price makes Drive viable for more than backup, sharing and synch. Actually synch becomes easier if the only copy is on a server.
Add Google Compute Engine: A thin-client netbook running Chrome OS, or Android on tablets and handsets, become more appealing if you can quickly access network-based computing resources for high-performance computing tasks like video transcoding.
Add Google Voice: consider all those hypothetical hotspots. Combine with Android and Voice. Can a Google competitor to cell phone providers be far behind, one that leverages the coming Google network? All it would take is a couple extra capabilities in the fiber/WiFi box that seems inevitable. And don’t forget they now own Motorola, a top-notch mobile phone company.
YouTube/Google TV: Already dipping its toe into original programming, and fast fiber means TV will change dramatically.
Living In the cloud would become a real option for everyday consumers. What about effects on professionals and small businesses?
And what about those other seemingly sci-fi projects, self driving cars and Glass? Hey, if the car drives itself my brain then has the bandwidth for augmented reality. How might they benefit from the ability to hop from fiber-connected WiFi hotspot to hotspot?
All this based on a good search engine algorithm, and then ads next to search results? Who’d a thunk it?