Headed to #TCDisrupt this week, Looks like an amazing line up

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This week I am headed to the Tech Crunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco.   It’s going to be hard trying to split time digging into the Startups in Startup Alley and a fantastic array of speakers this year.  My Twitter feed will likely play host to my thoughts throughout each day and I will likely post my thoughts here on Loosebolts after the close of the event as well.  If you would like to connect or reach out while I am at the event you can always reach me at  @mjmanos on Twitter or shoot me a quick email.

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CES International 2013

CES

This week I will be at CES in Las Vegas.   For a technologist, this is perhaps the greatest event to observe, explore, and get a good feel for all of the emerging technology trends.  AOL Technology will also have a very large presence from Games.Com to the rest of our media and entertainment sites.   It’s a massive event with so many different tracks that its almost impossible for me to choose.  If you will be attending and would like to connect up and compare notes, please feel free to drop me a line or stop by one of the AOL booths on the off chance I will be hanging out.

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Lots of interest in the MicroDC, but do you know what I am getting the most questions about?

 Scott Killian of AOL talks about the MicroDC

Last week I put up a post about how AOL.com has 25% of all traffic now running through our MicroDC infrastructure.   There was a great follow up post by James LaPlaine our VP of Operations on his blog Mental Effort, which goes into even greater detail.   While many of the email inquiries I get have been based around the technology itself, surprisingly a large majority of the notes have been questions around how to make your software. applications, and development efforts ready for such an infrastructure and what the timelines for realistically doing so would be.   

The general response of course is that it depends.  If you are a web-based platform or property focused solely on Internet based consumers, or a firm that needs diversified presence in different regions without the hefty price tag of renting and taking down additional space this may be an option.  However many of the enterprise based applications have been written in a way that is highly dependent upon localized infrastructure, short application based latency, and lack adequate scaling.  So for more corporate data center applications this may not be a great fit.  It will take sometime for those big traditional application firms to be able to truly build out their infrastructure to work in an environment like this (they may never do so).   I suspect most will take an easier approach and try to ‘cloudify’ their own applications and run it within their own infrastructure or data centers under their control.   This essentially will allow them to control the access portion of users needs, but continue to rely on the same kinds of infrastructure you might have in your own data center to support it.   Its much easier to build a web based application which then connects to a traditional IT based environment, than to truly build out infrastructure capable of accommodating scale.   I am happy to continue answer questions as they come up, but as I had an overwhelming response of questions about this I thought I would throw something quick up here that will hopefully help.

 

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On Micro Datacenters, Sandy, Supercomputing 2012, and Coding for Containerized Data Centers….

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As everyone has been painfully aware last week the United States saw the devastation caused by the Superstorm Sandy.   My original intention was to talk about yet another milestone with our Micro Data Center approach.  As the storm slammed into the East Coast I felt it was probably a bad time to talk about achieving something significant especially as people were suffering through the storms outcome.  In fact, after the storm AOL kicked off an incredible supplies drive and sent truckloads of goods up to the worst of the affected areas.

So, here we are a week after the storm, and while people are still in need and suffering, it is clear that the worst is over and the clean up and healing has begun.   It turns out that Super Storm Sandy also allowed us to test another interesting case in the journey of the Micro Data Center as well that I will touch on.

25% of ALL AOL.COM Traffic runs through Micro Data Centers

I have talked about the potential value of our use of Micro Data Centers and the pure agility and economics the platform will provide for us.   Up until this point we had used this technology in pockets.  Think of our explorations as focusing on beta and demo environments.  But that all changed in October when we officially flipped the switch and began taking production traffic for AOL.COM with the Micro Data Center.  We are currently (and have been since flipping the switch) running about 25% of all traffic coming to our main web site.   This is an interesting achievement in many ways.  First, from a performance perspective we are manually limiting the platform (it could do more!) to ~65,000 requests per minute and a traffic volume of about 280mbits per second.   To date I haven’t seen many people post performance statistics about applications in modular use, so hopefully this is relevant and interesting to folks in terms of the volume of load an approach such as this could take.   We recently celebrated this at a recent All-Hands with an internal version of our MDC being plugged into the conference room.  To prove our point we added it to the global pool of capacity for AOL.com and started taking production traffic right there at the conference facility.   This proves in large part the value, agility and mobility a platform like this could bring to bear.

Scott Killian, AOL's Data Center guru talks about the deployment of AOLs Micro Data Center. An internal version went 'live' during the talk.

 

As I mentioned before, Super Storm Sandy threw us another curveball as the hurricane crashed into the Mid-Atlantic.   While Virginia was not hit anywhere near as hard as New York and New Jersey, there were incredible sustained winds, tumultuous rains, and storm related damage everywhere.  Through it all, our outdoor version of the MDC weathered the storm just fine and continued serving traffic for AOL.com without fail. 

 

This kind of Capability is not EASY or Turn-Key

That’s not to say there isn’t a ton of work to do to get an application to work in an environment like this.   If you take the problem space at different levels whether it be DNS, Load Balancing, network redundancy, configuration management, underlying application level timeouts, systems dependencies like databases, other information stores and the like the non-infrastructure related work and coding is not insignificant.   There is a huge amount of complexity in running a site like AOL.Com.  Lots of interdependencies, sophistication, advertising related collection and distribution and the like.   It’s safe to say that this is not as simple as throwing up an Apache/Tomcat instance into a VM. 

I have talked for quite awhile about what Netflix engineers originally coined as Chaos Monkeys.   The ability, development paradigm, or even rogue processes for your applications to survive significant infrastructure and application level outages.  Its essentially taking the redundancy out of the infrastructure and putting into the code. While extremely painful at the start, the savings long term are proving hugely beneficial.    For most companies, this is still something futuristic, very far out there.  They may be beholden to software manufacturers and developers to start thinking this way which may take a very very long time.  Infrastructure is the easy way to solve it.   It may be easy, but its not cheap.  Nor, if you care about the environmental angle on it, is it very ‘sustainable’ or green.   Limit the infrastructure. Limit the Waste.   While we haven’t really thought about in terms of rolling it up into our environmental positions, perhaps we should.  

The point is that getting to this level of redundancy is going to take work and to that end will continue to be a regulator or anchor slowing down a greater adoption of more modular approaches.  But at least in my mind, the future is set, directionally it will be hard to ignore the economics of this type of approach for long.   Of course as an industry we need to start training or re-training developers to think in this kind of model.   To build code in such a way that it takes into effect the Chaos Monkey Potential out there.

 

Want to see One Live?

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We have been asked to provide an AOL MicroData Center for the Super Computing 12 conference next week in Salt Lake City, Utah with our partner Penguin Computing.  If you want to see one of our Internal versions live and up-close feel free to stop by and take a look.  Jay Moran (my Distinguished Engineer here at AOL) and Scott Killian (The leader of our data center operations teams) will be onsite to discuss the technologies and our use cases.

 

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Your personal Internet Era Communications Dashboard has Arrived!

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Today my engineering teams and I are launching a phenomenal new product in beta that in my opinion will fundamentally transform how you consume electronic communications across email, social media, and beyond.   The product is called ALTO and I wont lie, I am totally pysched that its finally emerging.  In true “eating your own dog food” style I have used every iteration of this product for my own personal aggregation of mail accounts, social media accounts like Facebook and Linked In to name a few. I am sure my engineering teams are sick and tired of my endless “assistance” as the product has matured.  But in my mind it represents a new way to manage all those online communications we are bombarded with every day. 

What I love most about it is that it can be used by people like me with numerous e-mail accounts, online persona’s, and the like.  It can be equally effective for the casual user with a plethora of accounts and social media interactions.  It takes your digital world, organizes it, and returns control to you.

Maybe your red flags are going up already…  Does this mean I have to use AOL mail?  Nope, it definitely works with your AOL mail, but it also works platforms like Yahoo, and GMAIL, and more.  You might be thinking – Oh I see, you aggregate everything to this new Alto thing…forcing me to lose my mail stores across my various accounts right?  Nope.  Your mail stays right where it is, safe and sound.  However – it is now accessible in a format and a location that allows you be a powerful user of your own life!

So what is it?  Here is a quick high level glance…

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Here is the interface at a glance.   One of the great little features that I love is that “Snooze button” on emails.  I can’t tell you how often I get a message that I definitely want to respond to, but I just cant in that exact moment.  I can snooze a message for however long I wish, and when the “alarm” goes off, the message reappears at the top of my mailbox.  Perhaps its small, but I find it super handy.

We are also introducing a whole new concept — Stacks!  Stacks are totally customizable ways of organizing your world and even allow you to create custom rules for those stacks and allow your mail to get organized in ways that matter to you!

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Speaking of Stacks, we also have a few specialty pre-loaded stacks that make life so much easier… Imagine being able to search photos across all email boxes and social media platforms, and gives you an interesting and compelling set of views to go through those pictures.

 

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The same capability is true for all attachments as well, there is a specialty stack allowing you to quickly scan through all attachments everywhere, all at once!

 

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Get a lot of advertising and retail mails?  We solved that as well by creating a special retail stack, making your deal browsing something easy and fun to do…Just in time for the holidays!

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I also love the search capability that allows searching your digital life in ease.  Instantly find matching messages, contacts, pictures and media, and photos.

 

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Want to see more?  How about a nifty marketing video?  Click the picture below to watch the video or click here!

 

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In the coming weeks, we will add additional capabilities and features and are targeting full commercial launch early next year.  So proud of the work done here on something truly innovative and different in our space!

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The AOL Micro-DC adds new capability

Back in July, I announced AOL’s Data Center Independence Day with the release of our new ‘Micro Data Center’ approach.   In that post we highlighted the terrific work that the teams put in to revolutionize our data center approach and align it completely to not only technology goals but business goals as well.   It was an incredible amount of engineering and work to get to that point and it would be foolish to think that the work represented a ‘One and Done’ type of effort.  

So today I am happy to announce the roll out of a new capability for our Micro-DC – An indoor version of the Micro-DC.

Aol MDC-Indoor2

While the first instantiations of our new capability were focused on outdoor environments, we were also hard at work at an indoor version with the same set of goals.   Why work on an indoor version as well?   Well you might recall in the original post I stated:

We are no longer tied to traditional data center facilities or colocation markets.   That doesn’t mean we wont use them, it means we now have a choice.  Of course this is only possible because of the internally developed cloud infrastructure but we have freed ourselves from having to be bolted onto or into existing big infrastructure.   It allows us to have an incredible amount geo-distributed capacity at a very low cost point in terms of upfront capital and ongoing operational expense.

We need to maintain a portfolio of options for our products and services.  In this case – having an indoor version of our capabilities to ensure that our solution can live absolutely anywhere.   This will allow our footprint, automation and all, to live inside any data center co-location environment or the interior of any office building anywhere around the planet, and retain the extremely low maintenance profile that we were targeting from an operational cost perspective.  In a sense you can think of it as “productizing” our infrastructure.  Could we have just deployed racks of servers, network kit, etc. like we have always done?  Sure.   But by continuing to productize our infrastructure we continue to drive down the costs relating to our short term and long term infrastructure costs.  In my mind, Productizing your infrastructure, is actually the next evolution in standardization of your infrastructure.   You can have infrastructure standards in place – Server Model, RAM, HD space, Access switches, Core switches, and the like.  But until you get to that next phase of standardizing, automating, and ‘productizing’ it into a discrete set of capabilities – you only get a partial win.

Some people have asked me, “Why didn’t you begin with the interior version to start with? It seems like it would be the easier one to accomplish.”  Indeed I cannot argue with them, it would have probably been easier as there were much less challenges to solve.  You can make basic assumptions around where this kind of indoor solution would live in, and reduce much of the complexity.   I guess it all nets out to a philosophy of solving the harder problems first.   Once you prove the more complicated use case, the easier ones come much faster.   This is definitely the situation here.  

While this new capability continues the success we are seeing in re-defining the cost and operations of our particular engineering environments, the real challenge here (as with all sorts infrastructure and cloud automation) is whether or not we can map similar success of our applications and services to work correctly in that space.   On that note, I should have more to post soon. Stay Tuned!  Smile

 

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WANTED: Mobile Engineers in Alpharetta, GA

AOL is expanding and growing in the Atlanta area.  We are looking for strong, tech savvy mobile engineers to help us drive the next generation experience for some of the Web’s most well known and iconic brands!

If you are a developer in the Atlanta area and really want to work on platforms and products that operate at a huge Internet scale.  This could be a phenomenal chance for some incredible experience to work at a re-energized Internet company looking to drive and blend Technology and Media.

The only downside would be that you would have to work in my organization! Smile

So here is what we are looking for!

 

Title

Requisition Number

Link

Software Engineer (iOS), Mobile First

124300

http://bit.ly/Qn7X03

Software Engineer (Android), Mobile First

124298

http://bit.ly/MKzBmc

Sr Mobile Web Developer

124294

http://bit.ly/NyQ64B

Sr Mobile Web Developer

124293

http://bit.ly/MbJfhT

Sr Mobile Web Developer

124292

http://bit.ly/N93qH0

Data Engineer

124291

http://bit.ly/MpXlrg

Sr Mobile QA Engineer 

124289

http://bit.ly/MKAond

Mobile QA Engineer

124288

http://bit.ly/MbJJEK

Software Engineer (Android), Mobile First

124271

http://bit.ly/SXQh8W

Software Engineer (iOS), Mobile First

124270

http://bit.ly/MQgm7a

Sr. Android Software Engineer

123631

http://bit.ly/MQgDHg

If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me directly or send me a comment.  Staffing Firms and Recruiters need not respond.  

Here are just a few of the brands that we host and support:

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