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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Twitter Conundrum

John Webster writes:

Think back 10 years ago today. eBay outages were in the news on an almost daily basis and Sun Microsystems wound up wearing the blame. Yes eBay was charting territory in a brave new world and therefore offered no service or availability guarantees. And yes there were more vendors in the mix at the time (Oracle and Veritas to name two). But the outages were very visible and Sun's image suffered disproportionately. While not explicitly stated, eBay users nonetheless had an implicit expectation of quality of service from eBay, a level that was never formally agreed to, but understood and expected.

Fast forward 10 years. Twitter is in uncharted territory, too. The temporary and periodic "system busy" messages are tolerated by users, but not without complaint. Jokes about Twitter's Fail Whale are common. Hey, it's not a critical app. We're all just having fun here, right? However, the elections in Iran have changed that perception. Twitter and other social-networking sites have become windows on a pivotal event with worldwide implications. The world wants to watch. Indeed, what the State Department's request says is that the whole world needs to watch. As a infrastructure vendor in this new and uncharted environment, do you now want to be blamed for an outage? For data loss? For a security breach?

This all adds up to the Twitter Conundrum. The owners of Twitter and other social-networking sites aren't likely to buy highly available, highly secure, redundant systems and storage of the type common to 24 by 7 production data centers. Their business models simply won't support big enterprise gear. But does that stop the federal government from stepping in and saying "sorry, you can't go down right now, not even for a few hours?" No. Twitter, YouTube, and FaceBook have created windows on the world, windows that could in fact change the world for the better. You can't fail (whale).

Here's the conundrum: No one presently pays a fee for posting to these sites. You get what you pay for or, in this case, you don't get what you don't pay for. You don't pay for and therefore don't get guaranteed availability or data integrity. Is the federal government now willing to subsidize Twitter so that it can function like a production data center? Probably not. Are users willing to pay a fee to get a guaranteed level of service? Again, probably not, at least not in the near future.

link: CNET News


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