The Cloud and the power of “one”

One of the interesting things that about the last 12-18 months is how the Cloud has put the power into the hands of consumers. What I mean by this is, imagine the following scenario in the world pre-cloud:

“A user buys some software over the Internet or Shrink wrapped. They receive it and install it. It either does not work for them or they cannot figure out how to use it so they basically write off the cash and don’t use the App. End of story.”

Now lets looks at what happens on Cloud:

“The user either buys an Application from an App Store be it desktop or mobile, or a holiday from a holiday store, and then decided either the application is rubbish, does not work for them (or they have not RTFM) or has a bad experience on holiday. The user then use Social networks and/or the review forum on the App Store to comment on the bas experience”

In the latter case this “review” and negative experience puts off other people of trying the App / the holiday / the hotel etc. In some cases it can mean the difference between continually selling product or selling nothing as users look at the last bad review and then move somewhere else to continue their search to buy. One person can have the power to seriously undermine your whole product marketing and application strategy.

Even worse, many of the review forums (Apple’s App Store and Google Marketplace come to mind…) don’t even let you post a counter-review to explain that either the user has got it wrong, or misunderstood, or to genuinely offer to correct a bug. Worse still, some vendors can use a strategy of targeting competitive products to “put people off” purchase. In some cases this has led to the vendors involved seeking out legal action.

So what can you do to protect your product and your reputation ?

Well the first step has already been taken, you are at least thinking about it and conscious of it which is half the battle. What you should do is have your marketing or support team have a strategy that includes:

– Monitoring App Stores and review forums where your product features
– Monitoring social media for keywords about your product or company
– Set up Google Alerts keywords to inform you of keywords about your product and company
– Ensure you check your Twitter messages and also posts on LinkedIn and Facebook pages.  These are easily missed.

When you see responses, always make sure to try and follow up with the user and engage and resolve their issue, even if this means refunding them, Even if a refund seems like the last thing you want to do, offer the refund, it is not worth your reputation. As part of the process try and see if they will change their review, even if it is only to neutral.

The Cloud brings power to the masses in more ways than one and a single user can have a dramatic network effect on your business if you are not careful !

Using Cloud payment gateways can seriously damage your business

Recently we had a customer contact us who had been using Google Checkout to sell an Android application. The customer logged into their Merchant account as they are prone to do each morning to be confronted with “Your merchant Account has been closed” with some templated details about why this could be the case. No specifics, just “we have done this because you may have fallen foul of one of the following reasons”.  You can see the full message here.

This in and of itself is incredible if you think about it, you turn up for work one day, check your business account to find that it’s no longer accessible and no reason has been given, but it gets worse. Within the body of the message the customer is told that any income they have in their account has been refunded, and all access to account details is no longer permitted.

Where we come in is that we were asked if we could help. Well you’d reasonable expect this would be a simple process. Contact Google, figure out what the issues is and resolve it. Right ? Wrong !

Firstly it’s impossible to contact Google by phone to try and resolve this.. It seems that Google has a UK address (this is for a UK conpany) and telephone number but all you get is a recorded message. The address and telephone number is below in full:

Google Payment Limited
Belgrave House
76 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9TQ
United Kingdom
0207 031 3000

So, we fished about the web to see if we could find a support address for Google Checkout, which we did: checkout-support@google.com. But guess what ? You get an auto-resonder informing you that direct emails are not answered and to use the Merchant help centre, which is basically a set of links, and forums.

We did some more checking on the web and we found the issue is far from a lone issue. Companies invest in using the Google Cloud payment gateway and then at some point in time their accounts is de-activated, any payments for goods they have sent is refunded, and they cannot access any account details, or indeed contact Google direct to see what they have done wrong. This is akin to turning up at your bank to find out you can no longer access your account, your funds have been given back to your customers, despite you having sent them products, and your bank manager will not even entertain talking with you. Seriously we’re not often dumbfounded but in this case we are !

Now we’re not saying that some business may indeed have fallen foul of Google Terms of Service, but this is far from an isolated problem. A quick scan at the Google Merchant forum show many furious customers who have experienced the same issue, and getting in touch with Google at all in regards to Google Checkout issues seems impossible.

So what can you do ? Well it seems all you can do is apply for re-instatement. Further digging found us a link in which you can ask Google via an online contact form as to why the account was suspended. Other than this it seems there is little you can do. Nor is this a new issue. When digging about looking for solutions we found a particular post that is almost 3 years old that read like a litany of the issues our client faces.

Nor is this issue limited to Google Merchant services, PayPal users seem to have experienced very similar issues.

So, the morale here is, choose your Cloud payment gateway carefully. Your business may depend on it ! Stick to reputable merchant service providers and check out their customer service prior to doing any integration work. Make sure you can contact them and fully understand their terms of service.

Amazon enables easy website hosting with S3 – competes with RackSpace

In a move that has put it into direct competition with competitors such as RackSpace. Amazon has announced that you can now host your website using an Amazon S3 Account. With these new features, Amazon S3 now provides a simple and inexpensive way to host your website in one place at a very cheap price.

To get started, open the Amazon S3 Management Console, and follow these steps:

1) Right-click on your Amazon S3 bucket and open the Properties pane

2) Configure your root and error documents in the Website tab

3) Click Save

Amazon provide more information on hosting a static website on Amazon S3 here.

This is part of a trend that Amazon obviously want to encourage. They recently started an add placement from JumpBox on their free Web Services developers page to offer one click WordPress deployments, amongst other JumpBox offerings.

Clustrix reveals some big names using its Webscale SQL DB

An interesting article in the New York Tines online by Derrick Harris of GigaOM outlined the release of some customers using Clustrix webscale SQL database, namely, Box.net, AOL, PhotoBox, and iOffer.

Clustrix launched in early May with the claim that it’s DB technology, which features MySQL like transactionality and reliability, could scale to billions of entries. All four customers announced by Clustrix in the press release announced that this was the case.

Clustrix provide this as an appliance as an option for online services that do not want to have to invest time and effort in figuring out how to a) shard their data for better performance or b) move to something relatively new such as MongDB, or Cassandra.

Clustrix

Further details (which are worth reading) can be found on the original post on GigaOM.

The rise of the Cloud Data Aggregators

As storing data in the cloud becomes increasingly more normal users will increasingly find themselves in the position of needing to access different types of data regularly.  To this end we are starting to see a new breed of applications and services which themselves provide a service that interacts with data stored on the cloud. The challenge is  that services that sell their products or service based on data access are in the position of having to choose which data services to support.

This is further exacerbated in the cloud storage space as their is no ubiquitous API (see our prior post on Amazon S3 becoming a de facto standard interface).

To this end we are starting to see services an applications that themselves are offering interesting aggregations of access to data clouds. We look at a few of these below:

GoodReader, Office2 HDQuickOfficeDocuments to Go, iSMEStorage, iWork:

The iPad,  iPhone, Android have some interesting applications which function on top of existing data clouds. All the aforementioned application work in this way, either letting you view the files (in the case of GoodReader) or letting you view and edit the files (in the case of Office2, QuickOffice, Documents to Go, iWork, and iSMEStorage). The premise is that if you have data stored in an existing cloud then you can load and view or edit it in this tools and store it locally.

Tools such as iWork (which encompasses iPages, iNumbers, and iKeynote) only work with MobileMe or the WebDav standard, although the iSMEStorage App gets around this by enabling you to use iWork as an editor for files accessed through it’s cloud gateway , that can be stored on any number of clouds, using WebDav, even if the underlying cloud does not support WebDav.

In fact some companies are making data access a feature in pricing, for example,  charging extra for increased connectivity.

Gladinet.com and StorageMadeEasy.com :

Both Gladinet and SMES are unique amongst the current Cloud vendors in that they enable aggregated access to multiple file clouds. They essentially enable you to access cloud files from multiple different providers from a single file system.

Gladinet is inherently a windows only solution with many different offerings whereas Storage Made Easy also has windows software but also has cloud drives for Linux, Mac and also mobile clients for iOS, Android and BlackBerry. Gladinet is  a client side service whereas SME is a server-based service using it’s Cloud Gateway Appliance ,which is also available as a virtual appliance for VMWAre, XEN etc.

Both offering support a dizzying array of Cloud, such as, Amazon S3, Windows Azure Blob Storage, Google Storage, Google Docs, RackSpace Cloud Files etc, plus many more.

Such solutions don’t just aggregate cloud services but bring the cloud into the desktop and onto the Mobile / Tablet, making the use of cloud data much more transparent.

As data become more outsourced (to the cloud) for all types of different applications and services I expect we will see more such innovative solutions, and applications that give access to aggregated cloud data, and extend the services and tools that are provided by the native data provider.

Is Amazon S3 becoming a de facto standard interface ?

I don’t think anyone would argue that Amazon S3 is the big bear of the Cloud market, both on the virtual cloud infrastructure and the cloud storage side of things. Amazon S3 has more than 102 billion objects stored on it as of March 2010.

As befits a dominant player the interface that Amazon exposes for Amazon S3 is becoming so widely used that it almost becoming a standard with regards to how to connect into Cloud Storage. Many new or existing players in this space already support the interface as an entry point into their Storage infrastructure. For example Google Storage supports the S3 interface, as does the private cloud vendor Eucalyptus with its Walrus offering. Also the on-premise cloud appliance vendor Mezeo recently announced support for accessing their cloud using Amazon S3, as did TierraCloud. There are other Open Source implementations as well such as ParkPlace which is an Amazon S3 clone and bittorrent service that is written in ruby.

Additional to this, the multi-cloud vendor, Storage Made Easy has implemented an S3 entry point into it’s gateway so that you can use it with normal clouds even where they do not natively support Amazon S3, such as RackSpace, Google Docs, DropBox etc.

So as far as S3 goes it seems you can pretty much access a multitude of  storage back-end’s using this API, which is not surprising as vendors want to make it easy for you to move from S3 to their proposition or they want their proposition to work with existing toolsets and program code. So is it good for cloud in general ? I guess the answer to that is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

‘Yes’ from the point of view that standardisation can be a good thing for customers as it gives stability and promotes interoperability. ‘No’ from the point of view that standardisation can easily stifle innovation. I’m happy to say that this is not what is occurring in the cloud storage space as the work around OpenStack and Swift demonstrates.

I think right now, S3 is as close as you will get to a de facto standard for cloud storage API interactions. It probably suits Amazon that this is the case, and it certainly suits consumers / developers. Time will tell how quickly this situations lasts.

Gawker news sites cloud security breach

If you did not notice the Gawker set of news sites recently has it’s online security compromised. You may not have heard of Gawker but you will probably know of the set of news sites they encompass which includes Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9 or Jezebel. Over 1.3 million passwords where stolen and uploaded as a 500MB torrent file. Also posted where Gawker’s source code and internal employee conversations. The disclosure of this authentication information led to a viral effect with increased spam attacks, for example, on Twitter being attributed to the breach. Many users use the same web password everywhere so such a breach could leave them exposed on every site where they use the same username and password.

Apparently the passwords where encrypted in the torrent but as Gawker used an outdated encryption scheme they are relatively straightforward to crack. If you have ever registered on any of these sites then and tend to use the same username and password then you should change your username and password anywhere else you have used it on the web. Some sites are already pro-actively forcing you to do this. I receive an email from LinkedIN today that made me go through the lost password security mechanism to reset my account.

So what does this mean for Cloud ? Can one site damage the concept of storing and accessing information on the Cloud ? I think for sure, yes. It will make companies who were reticent about going to Cloud because of security concerns even more reticent, and such a breach has an effect on other sites, and I am sure we have not seen the full fallout of this yet. As for Gawker’s brand, well I think it is hugely damaging, although the web can be a fickle place, it remains to be seen how badly affected the Gawker brand will be. I can imagine potential advertisers do not want to be associated with it.

What can you do to protect yourself ? Well first, for sure change any username/password combos that are the same as the one you registered on this site, and in future consider having a separate username/password combination for each site you register. I create email addresses specifically for a registration for such sites on the web and I file them in KeepPass to be able to remember them. Ulitmately, remember, as a user don’t rely that such sites will protect your data, and as a vendor, revisit your security mechanisms to ensure the next Gawker is not you !

GigaSpaces take e-Gaming to the Cloud with Yazino

New York & London, December 7, 2010GigaSpaces Technologies, a leading provider of a new generation of application platforms for Java and .Net environments, has provided Yazino, a massively multiplayer online casino, the application infrastructure used to build the first cloud-based, social casino platform. Yazino is using GigaSpaces’ eXtreme Application Platform (XAP) to scale on demand while reducing costs and speeding time to market.

As a social gaming online casino, we knew from the beginning that scalability was critical to our success,” says Hussein Chahine, Yazino’s Founder and CEO. “With XAP, we have the flexibility to meet constantly changing business volumes, with linear, real-time dynamic scalability using a cloud-data center hybrid model.

Yazino fuses social interaction and multiplayer functionality, building a bridge between traditional online gambling and social gaming sites. Yazino has already registered more than 500,000 players, with more than 10,000 new players joining daily.

XAP provides a unique enterprise-grade, end-to-end application scalability platform, which can handle extremely large volumes, be scaled out (or in) in real-time, and is governed by preset business SLAs, and which is ultra-fast due to the whole platform running in memory. A strategic solution enhancing IT efficiency and agility, it guarantees performance under peak demand while improving hardware utilization by up to 500%. It allows developers to build, deploy, and operate their infrastructures in any environment without a single code change.

Yazino benefits from our long experience with cloud development,” says Adi Paz, GigaSpaces Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development. “With XAP as the underlying infrastructure, our clients like Yazino can focus on the business logic and speed time to market without concern for where the application will actually run.

By using XAP, Yazino now has a massively multiplayer/multi-game online casino platform optimized for extremely high throughput, with hundreds of thousands of concurrent, interactive players, while giving each player excellent response time.

GigaSpaces technology helped us build a hybrid infrastructure, where we can leverage the best of the cloud’s economies of scale while ensuring our data center can manage all of the regulatory-related processing,” continued Hussein. “This provides Yazino a valuable competitive edge as we use more costly hosting only for what is required by regulation, while other services sit entirely on the cloud.

About GigaSpaces

GigaSpaces Technologies is a leading provider of a new generation of virtualized application platforms. Our flagship product, eXtreme Application Platform (XAP), delivers end-to-end scalability across the entire stack, from the data all the way to the application. XAP is the only product that provides a complete in-memory solution on a single platform, enabling high-speed processing of extreme transactional loads, while scaling to meet any requirement – dynamically and linearly. XAP was designed from the ground up to support any cloud environment – private, public, or hybrid – and offers a pain-free, evolutionary path from today’s data center to the technologies of tomorrow.

More than 350 organizations worldwide are leveraging XAP to enhance IT efficiency and performance. Among our customers are Fortune Global 500 companies, including top financial services enterprises, telecom carriers, online gaming providers, and e-commerce companies, such as Dow Jones, NYSE, Société Générale, Virgin Mobile, and Sears.

About Yazino
Yazino, the world’s first social casino (www.yazino.com) was conceived by three friends who wanted to reinvent the social gaming and online casino worlds by connecting the two together. Yazino has built a bridge between traditional online gambling and social gaming sites, creating a whole new hybrid category. The entire brand and in-game experience is entertaining and social to its core. Yazino offers a uniquely fun and competitive environment to connect the world around casino games, such as Blackjack, Roulette, Texas Hold’em and Slots.  Constantly refreshed multiplayer content, tournaments and the engaging challenge of levels and achievements allow Yazino to define the next generation of online gambling.

Yazino, a wholly owned subsidiary of Yazino Group AG (Switzerland), was founded by Hussein Chahine, Bijan Khezri and Gojko Adzic in 2008.

Amazon S3, EC2 and VPC ISO 27001 certified

As well as being SAS 70 Type II-certified Amazon is now ISO 27001 certified. ISO/IEC 27001 formally outlines a management system that brings information security under management control, and mandates requirements that have to be met. Organisations that have adopted ISO/IEC 27001 may be formally audited to maintain compliance with the standard.

As stated on WikiPedia:

SO/IEC 27001 requires that management:

Systematically examine the organization’s information security risks, taking account of the threats, vulnerabilities and impacts;

Design and implement a coherent and comprehensive suite of information security controls and/or other forms of risk treatment (such as risk avoidance or risk transfer) to address those risks that are deemed unacceptable; and

Adopt an overarching management process to ensure that the information security controls continue to meet the organization’s information security needs on an ongoing basis.

“Amazon Web Services is continuing its commitment to provide further assurance of AWS security controls and practices through third-party audits and certifications such as SAS 70 Type II and ISO 27001,” said Stephen Schmidt, Chief Information Security Officer for Amazon Web Services.

“Via ISO 27001 and other certifications, we continue to provide our customers with confidence that our security controls and practices follow internationally-recognized security standards.”

You can learn more about Amazon and it’s compliance and security provisions here.

Research shows that most small businesses use over 3 information Clouds

London, United Kingdom – SMEStorage, the multi-cloud data access provider, polled 1000 of its users to understand how many information clouds they use, and also to understand the challenges that they face.

Of those who responded it was found that the average number of file based storage clouds that were used were three. The breakdown of these were typically two for personal use and one for business use. Of the two for personal use, Google Docs and Amazon S3 were the most popular with Microsoft SkyDrive and Amazon S3 the second most popular combination. Amazon S3 was the most popular storage cloud used for business. Google Docs was the most popular used for documents closely followed by Microsoft SkyDrive.

Of those polled 91% used some form of file server, file store, or stored data only on their PC or laptop. The biggest challenges identified for moving this data to the clouds were availability, security, and speed of access.

Also the majority of users polled had two or more email clients. One or more for personal use and one for work. Asked how much file based information they believed was stored in their email clients over 70% of respondents answered that the amount of file information stored in email was ‘substantial’ and ‘important’.

The majority of users used at least one social network cloud with 45% using two or more and 37% using at least two. The most popular social network with respondents was LinkedIn, followed by Facebook. The most popular combination was LinkedIn and FaceBook with the second most popular combination being LinkedIn and Twitter. Evernote was also used by 27% of respondents.

The most important information stored in Social network clouds that respondents identified was contact information, with the second most important information being identified as photos.

Only 2% of respondents had attempted any form of backup of social network information with 67% believing it was important to do. Contact information was outlined as the most important thing to back up.

The top challenges that respondents identified for the use of Cloud for the majority of their data were: Desktop tooling / ease of use; ‘On the move’ access from different devices; Security and Safety of data; Availability and speed.

SMEStorage has over 100,000 users using it’s multi-cloud Data Access platform and conducted the research to understand how it can best serve it’s users for forthcoming feature enhancements.

SMEStorage already provides the ability to view file clouds, including email clouds, in an aggregated view from a ‘Virtual Cloud File System’ either directly from a web browser, or from virtual drives on either Windows, Mac or Linux Desktop’s.

SMEStorage also provides clients for iPad, iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. The SMEStorage CloudDav service which enables WebDav over clouds that do not natively support WebDav also enables integration with other smart devices that have native WebDav support, such as the Nokia N8 smartphone.

Additionally SMEStorage also currently enables the backing up of Social network contacts as well public/private file encryption over any storage clouds to enhance the security of data.

Future feature enhancements that SMEStorage intends to roll out include the ability to use the Amazon S3 APi as an entry point for all supported storage clouds; Support for backing up Evernote, Twitter and Instapaper clouds; Support for new storage clouds that will include Google Storage and PogoPlug; Richer desktop and sync clients for all desktop operating systems.