Alexa.com suffers availability problems

Serious availability and performance problems with the Web site of Amazon's Alexa Internet division

As Amazon.com trumpets its hosted IT infrastructure services, the Web site of its Alexa Internet division, responsible for some of the company's best known Web services for developers, has been experiencing serious availability and performance problems.

Alexa's Web site has been down for over 18 hours this month, with the most serious problems experienced since Nov. 16, according to Pingdom, a Web site monitoring company based near Stockholm.

For example, on Monday, the site was offline for 6 hours and 42 minutes, and already today (Wednesday), at press time, it had been unavailable for over 90 minutes, according to Pingdom's GIGRIB (Green is good, red is bad) service.

Another monitoring company, Netcraft, also detected "significant" outages and delays at Alexa.com on Tuesday, which it detailed here.

It isn't clear whether the problems are limited to Alexa's Web site or whether they have affected the online infrastructure it makes available to third-party developers. An Amazon.com spokesman couldn't immediately comment on the issue but said via e-mail he is looking into it.

At least one user of an Alexa Web service hasn't been seriously affected by the downtime: Alexaholic.com, which lets its visitors, like webmasters, search engine marketers and publishers, contrast Web site traffic statistics on up to five domains at once.

"We just wrap the Alexa graphs in a fast, Ajax interface, so we haven't been affected as much by Alexa's downtime. Occasionally I see a graph load a bit slowly, but overall it's not too bad," wrote Ron Hornbaker, founder of Alexaholic.com, in an e-mail interview.

Hornbaker, in Missouri, U.S., speculates that the code that generates the Alexa graphs his Web site displays may run on different servers from the Alexa Web site. "Their graph servers are really outstanding, and it's a fantastic free service," he wrote.

Still, the intensity and length of the performance problems affecting Alexa's Web site, as documented by Pingdom, are jarring at a time when Amazon.com's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jeff Bezos has heavily promoted the company's hosted IT infrastructure services for developers at public appearances and press interviews.

Bezos sang the praises of Amazon services like Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco two weeks ago and at the Emerging Technologies Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in September. S3 and EC2 have become quite popular because they let developers lease storage space and computing capacity from Amazon over the Web, providing them with an option to having to buy expensive hardware, Bezos has said.

This month, BusinessWeek magazine ran a story about this topic and put Bezos on the cover.

The Alexa division offers four hosted services designed to let developers build Web sites and applications based on Alexa's Web index and data. "Users can access Web site traffic data, related links, contact information, as well as a powerful search engine based on the Alexa crawl, and a wide variety of other functionality and data," according to a page on Amazon.com's Web site.

With the improvements in storage and bandwidth, many are saying that the much-anticipated era of network computing is finally here, and that it is now finally feasible to provide, over the Internet, hosted storage, computing and application services.

At the Web 2.0 Summit, Google CEO Eric Schmidt also championed the hosted, software-as-service model, calling it superior to the packaged software model upon which Microsoft Corp. built its empire. "Finally now the architecture works," he said. Google plays in the software-as-service software market with its word processing, calendaring, Web mail, wiki and spreadsheet hosted applications.

Yet, Google has also at times disappointed users of its hosted applications. Users of Google's Blogger have recently complained about performance problems that have hobbled that popular blog hosting and authoring service. Likewise, Google Analytics suffered crippling performance problems when demand for it surged after Google made it a free service in November.

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