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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



how many nines does one person need?

In case you think this piece is more incoherent than usual, I should explain that you’re reading it as I write it. More on that when I finally write the final conclusion to the piece. If you’re looking at this in an RSS reader, and there’s about five million other earlier versions, I apologise. Your aggregator is doing something that I wasn’t expecting, and I think may be a little silly. As the old spammers used to say, “just hit delete!”

So the edge (which is to say, where you live: your home server, your cellphone even, whatever is closest to you on the Internet) seems to be getting more reachable than it was. But what about reliability? If you’ve ever run an important service on your home machine, you’ll know about the Vacation Effect. This is a mysterious force which causes the home computer that to handles your email to crash within hours of you leaving home for a three week vacation, causing you to have to advertise for burglars on Craigslist to break into your home and reboot it.

Even if you can imagine the hardware at your house to be somehow more reliable, there’s always your flakey Net connection, which is up and down like a sine wave’s drawers. Dynamic IPs dynamically change, cable modems reset every few minutes, DSLs are flippantly unplugged by backhoes and disgruntled CO engineers. How could you possible imagine you could run a reliable service on that?

So, as some of you might have guessed, I moved Oblomovka off its co-loc a few weeks ago when I started this series, and transferred the whole website to my Mac Mini (perversely running Ubuntu) that I have in my cupboard here at home. I haven’t heard anyone complain about its unavailabilty, but then again I haven’t invited comments. I’m pretty sure it’s been down a few times, and as its heaviest user, I know I haven’t been able to ping it on occasion.

But it hasn’t been a huge problem. Partly because I’m not really an essential service to anyone else. Oblomovka down? Oh well, I guess I only have a few hundred other blogs to search. Mostly, though, I think it’s down to my first major point:

Now, smart readers may have spotted the problem here. I began this discussion because I was confused and worried that we hand over our most private data to companies like Google, and SixApart and Amazon, when really the safest place to keep private data is on your own machine. Am I now suggesting that if somehow it’s okay that your edge server is flakey, because, hey, you can always use Google, and SixApart and Amazon. Aren’t I contradicting myself?

Yes. NO. Hold on. There’s a real difference between holding your data yourself and passing it to others in the event of emergency or changed circumstance. It would be better to think of these cloud services not as where you keep your data, but as temporary caches for the edge. I have an encrypted backup stored somewhere out there. I’m confident that only I have access to that. I’m not sure what I’d do if my home system did go down, but in an ideal world, I’d just feed that backup my key, have it float into operation on an EC2 machine, and then point oblomovka’s DNS to itself. When I had time to get things back to normal at home, I’d evaporate that EC2 machine. Oh, sure, evil gnomes from DoubleClick or the NSA might have pickpocketed that image while it was running, but I would at least have some intimation that was happening (just as the cops might break into my house and feel my pants, but I’d have a hair on the window if I was truly that paranoid). And if what we were talking about was truly just a cache of my current state (like a memcache of the last time my server was around), then it would not expose much deep knowledge of your precious life.

Especially as the benefits of being on the edge grew. For instance, for those of you peering at this from your RSS feed or on the Website before 12:20AM PDT, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been typing this directly into my home server. The words appear almost one by one on the site, as I tweak and update it. I could do that with a remote server, but it’d be a pain: the proximity of the edge to where I am gives the me the low latency and the reactivity to do these things. I feel nearer to the Net when it works like this. It feels more like I thought the Net would be, and more like how I think it will be soon.

Reached this point at:2007-11-15T00:11-0800. Keeping the message at the top to give an idea of how this might have felt to watch being typed at the time. Still under construction for typos and grammar fixes.


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petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.