Does Amazon control the Internet, or does it just feel that way? – USA TODAY
A number of websites became unavailable Tuesday after AmazonÃ¢Â€Â™s website hosting service went down unexpectedly. Though the majority of sites affected have since gone back online, some appear to still be facing issues.
SAN FRANCISCOÃ‚Â Ã¢Â€Â” It’s really not true that Amazon controls the Internet, though it can sometimes feel like itÃ‚Â Ã¢Â€Â” especially after Tuesday’s four-hour Internet backend outage that slowed or stopped bits and pieces of tens of thousands of websites from loading.
To paraphrase the German statesman Klemens von Metternich, “when Amazon sneezes, the Internet catches a cold.”
The outage stemmed fromÃ‚Â a problem with Amazon’s popular cloud serviceÃ‚Â Amazon Web Services that affected a big portion of its S3 system, one of AWS’ storage systems. That ended up being a big dealÃ‚Â becauseÃ‚Â Amazon has about 42% of the cloud market by revenue, according to the market research firm Forrester.
That compares to about 15% for MicrosoftÃ¢Â€Â™s Azure cloud platform and 7% for GoogleÃ¢Â€Â™s, with the rest being taken up by IBM, Oracle and other smaller players.
The S3 system alone is used by 148,213 sites, according to market research firmÃ‚Â SimilarTech.
Some groups called out TuesdayÃ¢Â€Â™s troubles as an example of the dangers of Amazon’s Ã¢Â€Âœmonopolistic behavior in our economy,Ã¢Â€Â in the words of the Washington D.C.-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Amazon controls too much of the webÃ¢Â€Â™s infrastructure, a report from that group said in December.
But the situation is far more fluid than the word monopoly implies, said Dave Bartoletti,Ã‚Â a cloud analyst with market research firm Forrester.
While Amazon has done a Ã¢Â€ÂœfantasticÃ¢Â€Â job of providing these services, other companies are equally good. The cloud marketplace is very much in a rough-and-tumble fight for share.
MicrosoftÃ¢Â€Â™s Azure service is growing by leaps and bounds and the only reason that Google doesnÃ¢Â€Â™t have a larger share of the market is because it was late to the party. But its platform is Ã¢Â€Âœrock solidÃ¢Â€Â and customers know it, Bartoletti said.
Perhaps more importantly, the outage made clear to users just how much of the online infrastructure they rely on comes from those people up in Seattle.
Americans know Amazon by the constant flow of brown cardboard boxes it sends to their doors, or the movies it streams to their TVs or the dulcet tones of Alexa as the digital assistant answers their questions on the Echo.
Amazon Web Services is equally important for hundreds of thousands of businesses but invisible to most consumers.
It is, in effect, the back-end to much ofÃ‚Â the Internet. For sites like Netflix, Spotify, Pinterest and Buzzfeed, as well as tens of thousands of smaller sites, AWS provides cloud-based storage and web servicesÃ‚Â so they donÃ¢Â€Â™t have to build their own server farms. This lets them rapidly deploy computing power without having to invest in infrastructure, a huge boon that only very occasionally backfires.
Business storeÃ‚Â their videos,Ã‚Â images or databases onÃ‚Â AWS servers and have them served up from those servers to their website. To the visitor, this is a seamless process. To engineers, it’s a complex ballet of files and data constantly shifting across the Internet.
When one of the dancers misses a beat, as AWS’ S3 system did Tuesday, the entire carefully choreographed system begins to falter.
Despite that, the damage itself was actually relatively minimal. Companies didn’t lose data Ã¢Â€Â” their ability to quickly access itÃ‚Â simply degraded for several hours. Just don’t tell that to the thousands of system engineers who spent Tuesday tearing their hair out.
Elizabeth Weise covers technology from San Francisco. Follow her at @eweise.
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