Amazon Silk

http://amazonsilk.wordpress.com/

Ok, so I am breaking with tradition here and talking about a cloud service that really doesn’t fit within the definition of SaaS but that life sometimes. A quick disclaimer: I am proud to be an Amazon shareholder, AWS user and I think this will be my first Kindle.

Amazon has announced their latest Kindle Fire with a new browser called Silk. Silk’s claim to fame is that the work it performs of downloading and rendering web page is performed partially on the device and partially in the Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure. The use of remote cloud grunt allows them to deliver a heavily optimised, cached and lower bandwidth rendering of the web pages you view using the massive and virtually limitless machine power they own and run. Only a few companies who are vertically integrated like Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft can offer services like this affordably, because they own or control much of the browser, device, network and servers.

From the Amazon Kindle Fire website, here is a quick summary of the advantages and technologies in use. I look forward to getting my hands on an early Fire and try Silk out for myself.

Revolutionary Cloud-Accelerated “Split Browser”

Modern websites are complex. A typical web page requires 80 files served from 13 different domains. This takes a regular browser hundreds of round trips, and adds seconds to page load times.Amazon Silk is different in a radical new way. When you use Silk, without thinking about it or doing anything explicit, you’re calling on the computing speed and power of the Amazon Web Services cloud (AWS). We’ve refactored and rebuilt the browser software stack to push pieces of the computation into the AWS cloud. This lets Silk do more work, more quickly, and all at once. We call this “split browser” architecture.Silk browser software resides both on Kindle Fire and on the massive server fleet that comprises the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). With each page request, Silk dynamically determines a division of labor between the mobile hardware and Amazon EC2 (i.e. which browser sub-components run where) that takes into consideration factors like network conditions, page complexity and the location of any cached content.

Shorter Transit Times

Amazon EC2 is always connected to the backbone of the Internet where round-trip latency is 5 milliseconds or less to most web sites rather than the 100 milliseconds that’s typical over wireless connections. AWS also has peering relationships with major internet service providers, and many top sites are hosted on EC2. This means that many web requests will never leave the extended infrastructure of AWS, reducing transit times to only a few milliseconds.

Computing Power in the Cloud

EC2 servers have massive computational power. On EC2, available CPU, storage, and available memory can be orders of magnitudes larger than on mobile devices. Silk uses the power and speed of the EC2 server fleet to retrieve all of the components of a website simultaneously, and delivers them to Kindle Fire in a single, fast stream. Transferring computing-intensive tasks to EC2 helps to conserve your Kindle Fire battery life.

Persistent Connections

A typical web request begins with resolving the domain names associated with the server and establishing a TCP connection to issue the http request. Establishing TCP connections for each request consumes time and resources that slow down traditional browsers. Silk keeps a persistent connection open to the backend server on the AWS cloud so that there is always a connection at the ready to start loading the next page. In addition, the Silk backend server keeps persistent connections open to the top sites on the web. This approach further reduces latency that would otherwise result from constantly establishing connections. Further, the connection between Silk and the backend infrastructure uses a pipelined, multiplexing protocol that can send all the content over a single connection.

Page Indexes

Traditional browsers must wait to receive the HTML file in order to begin downloading the other page assets. Silk is different because it learns these page characteristics automatically by aggregating the results of millions of page loads and maintaining this knowledge on EC2. While another browser might still be setting up a connection with the host server, Silk has already pushed content that it knows is associated with the page to Kindle Fire before the site has even instructed the browser where to find it.

Machine Learning

Finally, Silk leverages the collaborative filtering techniques and machine learning algorithms Amazon has built over the last 15 years to power features such as “customers who bought this also bought…” As Silk serves up millions of page views every day, it learns more about the individual sites it renders and where users go next. By observing the aggregate traffic patterns on various web sites, it refines its heuristics, allowing for accurate predictions of the next page request. For example, Silk might observe that 85 percent of visitors to a leading news site next click on that site’s top headline. With that knowledge, EC2 and Silk together make intelligent decisions about pre-pushing content to the Kindle Fire. As a result, the next page a Kindle Fire customer is likely to visit will already be available locally in the device cache, enabling instant rendering to the screen.

Notifo

http://notifo.com

Ok, so this is an app very close to my heart. I have been looking for a way of avoiding writing an app for delivering notifications to my users on http://www.mittosms.com. The cost of app development is still too high ($5,000+ for a basic application is the standard quotation I get) and I only need it for some basic communication with my clients. Notifo offers a managed third-party service with no-or-little cost of accessing the service and a trivial API to access all the functionality I need.

So, what does it offer?

For the developer (i.e. me):

  • Low cost and low stress technique for delivering a notification message (and a URL link) to a user
  • Multiple interfaces: API, Email, RSS
  • A free app for my users to download and use (it does other stuff as well!)

For the consumer (i.e. you?):

  • A free iPhone and Desktop app to use and abuse
  • A notification system for many different services: Twitter, RSS news feeds, Github, Nagios, Splunk, etc.
  • An awesomely simple one-click browser plugin for sending URLs to your phone
  • A basic P2P instant message system
So why do I love Notifo so much? It is the perfect integration model for startups like mine. I get free use of a critical service without having to code and distribute an app. It bridges gap perfectly between old world SaaS services and new world mobile SaaS apps. Then as my business grows I can afford to share a small amount of the love with them. Everyone has to make a living (except Google of course).

Alternatives:

Modapt

http://www.modapt.com

This is not a product that is relevant to the everyone but certainly relevant to myself and to every company that has a web page (who doesn’t?)

This month’s statistics on smartphone purchases and usage have blown experts’ preconceived ideas about where the Australian marketplace is with mobile browsing. 46% of Australian mobile phone owners now have a smartphone and 79% of handset sales were smartphones this quarter. Apple iPhone’s penetration is growing (40%) and Google Android powered phones are skyrocketing (30%) (Source: IDC Report, May 2011). In the USA mobile app usage has surpassed desktop browsing. The era of “I will deal with mobile later” is gone. Any business that doesn’t provide a mobile presence within the next 12-24 months is going to pay a heavy price.

The problem is most companies simply don’t know what to do or don’t have the budget to do it. There are a bunch of tools that will either help you make mobile websites or convert (mobilise) your pages, one at a time. This approach works ok for the tech savvy or those with a budget (either for the tools or the man-power to use them). But what do you do if your website has thousands of pages? And what about if it is littered with Flash animations and menus?

That’s where Modapt steps in. Modapt claims it can automatically and on-the-fly convert your webpage to support the mobile handset that is reading it. You don’t have to do anything on your website to make it work, other than redirect mobile users away to Modapt. It doesn’t matter how complex your website is, Modapt will render each webpage visited for each handset visiting. Here is an introductory video to explain the process: http://bit.ly/p9hEfm.

My approach to date has been to “make it look ok on the phone” which has bought me a little extra time. But as the mobile device becomes the primary means for browsing that attitude will need to change. There is an ongoing debate over applications (that execute on the phone itself) or web-apps (that are delivered as web services) will win the SaaS war. Currently the quality of applications is far superior to web-apps but HTML5 appears to be shifting that rule. I am betting on web-apps and not spending more than a minimal effort on applications. As long as I am delivering a solid experience for all mobile users, I believe this is the right approach. Your milage may vary.

Alternatives:

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