Rhodri Marsden: The cloud can burst, so best have a brolly handy


Millions of blameless internet users were put in the awful position last week of being forced to look at some other websites when the websites they were trying to access failed to load. Some of these people even had to resort to doing some work instead – a scenario they seemed ill-prepared for – and quickly took to whichever online forums they could access in order to vent their frustration. The cause? A screw-up by Amazon. For you and I they're just an online vendor of books and DVDs, but for many internet entrepreneurs they're the pre-eminent hosting provider, the gateway between their service and the public. When Amazon's infrastructure partly fails – as it did for three days – websites can simply disappear, and there's not a lot anyone can do about it except wait.

Sites affected included Reddit, Quora and Foursquare; not household names, perhaps, but big enough to kick off a debate about the reliability of "the cloud". The likes of Quora love Amazon, because they provide instantly scalable hosting. So if their service suddenly booms in popularity, they don't have to invest in a truckload of extra kit in order to cope; Amazon takes the strain and simply bills for some extra cash. Pay-as-you-go, if you like. But ultimately you get what you pay for. Netflix, an online film vendor and also an Amazon customer, wasn't affected by the outage because it could afford to have contingency plans in place – in this case an instant switch to another data centre in a location other than Virginia (where all Amazon's problems were centred.)

This could just be a humdrum tale of services failing to work properly. After all, we have power cuts and bad weather occasionally, and these things can deprive us of heat, light or postal deliveries. Stuff happens. But we're being persistently beckoned by the likes of Amazon, Apple and Google to "the cloud"; all three will soon launch cloud-based music services in the UK, where all your music can be stored in the ether as disembodied files. And, as last week proved, there will be times when it doesn't work; accessing "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye will, sadly, depend on a multinational company pulling its finger out.


People are fond of sticking the boot into Apple and Google, it's true. The latest furore surrounds how much they know about the physical movements of their customers. A new Mac application called iPhoneTracker accesses data lurking in the bowels of your iPhone to present you with a timelined map of everywhere you've travelled since as far back as last summer. Initially you think "wow!" as you match up the map with your diary, checking off your trip to Shropshire or your wait at Heathrow. Then you wonder why this information needs to be stored for so long; so far no one, including Apple, has come up with a decent answer. Caching our locations on a short-term basis can improve the performance of the location-based services we use on our phones, but I've no idea why the details of my trip to Whitstable a couple of months back need to be stored anywhere. Android phones do a similar, although less invasive thing, memorising the last 200 times you used a wi-fi point, along with its location.

Predictably, the "if you've got nothing to hide" brigade swung into action in the aftermath of these revelations – but we all have things to hide, albeit of varying degrees of significance. Your partner could use iPhoneTracker to have a curious peek at where you might have been last week when you claimed to be on a business trip. Equally, the police could confiscate your phone and use it to check your movements against the alibi you gave for that murder you committed. Both very easily done, no warrant required. So either behave yourself, or use a less cutting-edge phone. And if you want to ensure your location isn't stored anywhere, it's probably best not to communicate electronically at all. Just to be safe.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

    £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

    £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

    Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PHP Developer with knowledge ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas