There and back again

For the longtest time, Cablevision’s Optimum was the only game in town when it came to TV, and high speed internet, then FiOS arrived and seems to be giving Cablevision a run for their money, literally.

We switched to FiOS shortly before buying our house last December, and it was an entertainment upgrade in nearly every regard. The picture quality was noticeably better, and the tuner/receiver was far more advanced. Optimum’s internet download speeds (with ‘boost’) typically varied between 20 and 30 Mb/s and around 5Mb/s upload, FiOS was able to give me a solid 25/25 Mb connection.

A few weeks ago, a charismatic young man from Cablevision rang our bell, and had some compelling arguments for switching back, so we invited him inside. He took a look at our Verizon bill and claimed he could provide the same service for less money, port our number from Vonage, install extra lines upstairs, and in the office and even pay the termination charge from Verizon all without any contract agreement. It would be around $50/month less, for pretty much the same thing. Sure, why not? We don’t watch a whole lot of television, or make many phone calls and there’s isn’t a whole lot different when it comes to internet service.

A few weeks later, the Cablevison installer comes to the house and connects the modem next to the TV, so Saturday afternoon I reconnected it into the new line he ran in the office. Sunday afternoon, both televisions stopped working. Tess calls Cablevision and they tell her that there ‘might’ an outage in the area, but she should try connecting the component cables instead of the HDMI cables and call back. Doesn’t work. I call next time and they do some kind of diagnostics and inform me that the signal strength to the box is too low, and they’ll have a service person come by before 8p that night. Great, alright. After waiting around until 8p, and not hearing anything from Cablevision, we call tofind out what’s going on. Cablevision claims that we had canceled the repair call earlier that afternoon, which was flat-out wrong. I’m pretty sure we’re switching back to FiOS as soon as we can, even if there’s a $360 termination fee.

Amazon Web Services

So, I’ve been doing some work with Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently and It’s been an interesting experience so far.

Until recently, I’ve been mostly resistant to using hardware virtualization for web applications. Most of my early career has been focused on squeezing the most performance out of physical servers, and adding another layer of software on top of that didn’t make sense to me.

Hardware has come a long way since then, modern CPUs now have hardware-assisted virtualization technology, and the software has become much smaller and more transparent. Scaling large web services nowadays is mostly focused on distributing demand across many small, individual servers. Cloud platforms, such as AWS, lends itself nicely to this paradigm.

To me, the strangest thing about Amazon’s Elastic Cloud Computer (EC2) is that the servers, and all the data on them, are temporary (they even charged by the hour!). You have a fully functional (virtual) server: RAM, CPU, disks and all, that come into existence and disappear with a few clicks of a mouse, and a few pennies on the dollar.

Software development has to be approached quite differently because AWS is not just virtual servers, it’s a complete ‘Cloud Environment’: persistant data can be stored in a ‘bucket’, using the Simple Storage Service (S3) or on a sort of virtual, external hard drive called Elastic Block Store (EBS).  If you need to handle extra traffic, you can program in some logic to spin up more servers, and even load balance the requests. There’s even a turnkey MySQL solution called Relational Database Service (RDS).

It’s quite nice not having to think about hardware (and the cost), and be able to focus more on creating software. On the other hand, parts of software may have to be rewritten specifically for the AWS platform, making it difficult if you ever want to return to a more traditional environment.

Overall, I think the future of the internet is cloudy …