I wouldn’t have thought that Lady Gaga would have much to teach us about cloud storage and programming for scale, but the Grammy-winning diva found a way. Her latest album, Born This Way, was released last week (on May 23rd, 2011). It was expected to break records for album sales (and it may well do so), but it ended up breaking Amazon’s cloud storage solution.
Below is what happened and what it means…
Downloads of the album are delayed, leaving folks unable to get the entire album immediately upon purchase. Amazon issued the following statement:
Amazon is experiencing high volume and downloads are delayed. If customers order today, they will get the full Lady Gaga, Born This Way album for $0.99. Thanks for your patience.
However, the damage has already been done, as users are meting out one-star ratings in droves, most of which deal with Amazon’s slow service as opposed to the quality of the music (although some reviews in the lower bracket did dub the disc “disappointing”). As a result, the album has a relatively low three-star rating.
Reviews of the following nature reign: “This review isn’t a review of the album, but of the Amazon’s digital music service. I tried this as an experiment to see if I wanted to order more music this way, but it only downloaded half the songs. Still a deal at 99cents, but not an experiment I’ll want to repeat with a full-price album.”
Since Lady G is a forward thinking gal with a savvy marketing team, it seemed like a special promotion was created in tandem with Amazon, but reports from Gaga’s camp and Universal Music suggest that they had no idea about the promotion. This implies that Amazon acted alone, offering the entire album for only $0.99 if fans purchased from Amazon using their newly launched “Cloud Drive,” effectively subsidizing the costs of the album in order to promote its new online music/media solution (further entrenching themselves in the battle with Apple for music sales).
Demand was apparently so high that it “melted some servers” according to Craig Pape, director of Music for Amazon.
This is very concerning for potential customers of the infrastructure supporting the Cloud Drive. It’s built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), the well known on-demand computing and storage platform. With supposedly unlimited computing power behind it, how did the system fail? Does this mean that AWS is not reliable? After all, they did have a major outage just last month…
Fortunately for current and future customers of AWS, it doesn’t seem like the issues have anything to do with the platform. In spite of the troubles in April, the EC2 and S3 offerings remain among (if not atop) the best in the business. It just turns out that while Amazon is great at providing scalable infrastructure on-demand, they are still learning a lot about software development for end users. These issues were almost certainly the result of the Cloud Drive software – not the web services that back it.
This brings us to the lesson – infrastructure matters, but it not enough. You have to have great software in order to provide a cloud storage service at scale. In spite of having limitless processing and storage, you can (you will!) fail if you haven’t designed, tested, and deployed a great system.
In any event, the Amazon music team is still going to try to make this work and will continue the promotion, pledging to get it right this time. We’ll see how it goes the second time around…
Thanks to Lady Gaga – you not only put on a hell of a show, but you’ve taught an important lesson about cloud storage.