Amazon's developer cloud service stumbles

Error rates increased over the past two weeks Inc.'s hosted Simple Queue Service (SQS) has encountered performance problems this month that have prompted users to question its overall stability and its viability for commercial applications.

The latest incident occurred on Monday, when SQS experienced increased error rates for about 35 minutes after an overloaded router triggered increased packet loss, according to Amazon's Service Health Dashboard for its Amazon Web Services cloud computing offerings.

Between Sept. 9 and 11, increased error rates also rocked SQS, and although Amazon restored the service's stability, the company didn't fully diagnose and fix the problem until Sept. 18.

"The specific change we rolled out is in the way we handle garbage collection in the back-end message nodes. With the removal of this root cause, the Amazon SQS issues of Sept. 9 to 11 have been addressed," Amazon wrote in the service dashboard on Sept. 19, referring to a system upgrade it had performed the day before.

In addition, SQS spit out an assortment of errors over several days in late August and early September, a situation that Amazon resolved on Sept. 4, according to postings from SQS users and Amazon representatives in this thread in the service's official discussion forum.

Since last week, some SQS users have been sounding off on another thread titled "SQS is way too unreliable, what's going on?"

"This is nowhere near the kind of reliability I need from a service that I'm using as part of a production app. Can we get some sort of statement on what's going on? Without some kind of assurance that this will be resolved very soon, I can't continue to use it," an SQS user identified as Paul Dowman wrote last week.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amazon's S3 cloud-based storage service reported outages earlier this year, in February and again in July.

SQS is one of the hosted services that provides to developers via its Amazon Web Services (AWS) suite of generic computing, payment, billing, fulfillment and Web-search services. SQS is a hosted queue for storing messages that are in transit between computers. Developers can use it to move data among distributed components of their applications, according to the company.

AWS is part of a popular trend toward cloud-computing offerings in which vendors provide applications and IT infrastructure services via the Internet from their own data centers.

Cloud-based services and software offer customers an alternative to installing hardware and software on their own premises. In theory, following this cloud model can reduce hardware provisioning costs for clients and free them from maintenance responsibilities.

However, a major objection to cloud computing is the performance and availability of the services. If something fails in the vendor's data center, there is little for customers to do but sit and wait for a solution while fielding end-user complaints.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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