Neat trick: Amazon just made one of my iPhone apps crash — Twinkle, the Twitter app by Tapulous. Not on purpose, of course. But still, a reminder to companies that relying on third-party “cloud” hosting services — even from giant, normally excellent Amazon — has its drawbacks.
What happened? Sometime this morning, Amazon’s (AMZN) S3 storage service went down. Or, according to Amazon’s official note, S3 is “experiencing elevated error rates.” A lot of companies — Twitter, 37signals, etc. — rely on S3 to host static files like images, style sheets, etc. for their Web apps. So when S3 goes down, those sites lose some/most/all functionality, depending on what the company uses S3 for.
So how’d Amazon’s storage service bork my iPhone? Tapulous relies on S3 for images like Twinkle user icons. And they must not have included a “plan B” in their code to handle an image server outage. So when S3 hiccuped, and Twinkle couldn’t download images, the app crashed, taking me back to the iPhone home screen. (And, hours later, it’s still crashing.)
Annoying? Yes. Enough to get me to never use a Tapulous (or 37signals, or whatever) product again? Of course not. Will Amazon lose customers over this? Probably not. Five hours (and counting) is an awful long outage. But S3 is still the best, most efficient Web storage service for many companies.
But we bet every S3 customer that doesn’t have a solid backup plan in place is rethinking theirs this afternoon. Tapulous, for example, is publishing an updated version of Twinkle — which (we hope) includes a “don’t crash if S3 dies” provision — to Apple’s (AAPL) app store as soon as it can. (Side note: Chalk up another bug fix that’s already taking too long to roll out because of Apple’s tight grip on its iPhone app platform.)
As of 4:39 p.m. ET, Amazon says it’s “accelerating progress on restoring internal communication as all signs continue to look good.” We assume that means the problems will be fixed soon, and that many of our favourite Web sites and services will be back to normal.
Déjà Vu from February: Amazon’s S3 Storage Chokes, Startups Gag