Amazon, It’s Not Just the Rainforest That’s Shrinking

It’s funny how we seem to take things for granted that just work. You never think about it, you just kind of expect that stuff works the way it is supposed to. Take for example the light switch. If you walk into a dark room you reach for the light switch. You just assume that when you flip it then the lights will go on. If for some inexplicable reason the lights don’t come on you immediately think it is a personal problem. You check to make sure you flipped the right switch or that you flipped it in the right direction. If the light continues to be difficult and not work you then begin looking for a replacement light bulb since that has to be the problem. It is only after exhausting these efforts that you finally conclude that perhaps there is a malfunction with the electrical infrastructure. Why is that? I think it is because we have become so accustomed to the fact that we have energy on demand that we are shocked when we find that is not the case. I remember as a kid growing up in Idaho, it seemed like the power went out every week. It probably wasn’t that often but it sure seemed like it. In that environment you never took electricity for granted. You were just grateful when you had power. Since that time the electrical grid has become much more stable and my expectations are much greater that the power is always on.


The Internet is quickly becoming a similar commodity. When I first got dial-up I never expected to get on. There were a finite number of modems available and you felt fortunate when you happened to get anything but a busy signal. Once you got on there was always the chance that the modem connection would break and you would find yourself back in the pool trying to get an open modem. This was just a fact of life and you dealt with it. When I moved to broadband I left that behind and my expectations were again raised to where I just expected the Internet to be available. When it wasn’t I began troubleshooting my personal network first assuming the problem was at my end rather than with the infrastructure. Early on the network was down relatively often but as time has gone on the service levels have gotten better (at least from a connectivity perspective; the quality of service is still not so great). So as the infrastructure has gotten more robust I have become accustomed to being able to get to whatever site I wanted. Web site availability is also becoming better. For the most part when you navigate to a site you expect the page to load. That is why last Friday was such a strange day.
On Friday morning I happened to navigate to Amazon.com to place an order for a camera battery. Instead of loading the page, the browser brought up a cryptic error message. I just naturally assumed there was a problem with my end since Amazon is never down. After several unsuccessful troubleshooting attempts I went to the net to see if anyone else was experiencing similar issues. It was then that I learned that Amazon was indeed down. The outage lasted for over an hour and the site was unavailable in the United States. Estimates placed a value on the outage of $31,000 per minute that the site was unavailable. That is an amazing statistic. I had no idea how big Amazon was to incur that kind of cost for an outage. It signaled a couple of things to me. First, no matter how highly available you make a system you can still sustain an outage. Second, the age of internet shopping has officially reached the mainstream and become pervasive. No longer will we hear about differentiating between online and brick-and-mortar shopping. Consumers will go to wherever they can get goods and purchase. The Internet as a shopping medium is no longer the domain of geeks and sites will need to be designed accordingly. Now that Amazon is back up I wonder if they sell battery generators? I might need one to make sure I can still get online incase the power goes out so I can blog about the outage.


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