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Aardvark Update – They’re Being Purchased by Google

Aardvark, which we gave a positive review last Fall, was in the news today as they are reportedly going to be a member of the Google empire.

The deal, which was first reported by Techcrunch and confirmed by Mashable yesterday, is said to be for around $50 million.  We’ll see how Google puts Aardvark’s functionality into play, but Mashable’s post has some good guesses.

NY Times: Russians Wary of Cyrillic Web Domains

We just wanted to share this great piece from the NY Times on the coming availability of Cyrillic domain names.  Our take on these new domains is that they won’t impact us here in the States much, if at all.  The piece does point out a number of interesting issues, and points out the impact of language differences in regards to web publishing.  It’s worth a read.

GNU and You: Open Source Software from a Business Perspective

If you’ve been paying attention to the computer world for the past 10+ years, by no doubt you have heard about Linux.  For those who don’t know, Linux is an operating system that has put a small dent into the Microsoft stranglehold of desktop operating systems, and drove a massive nail into the server market.  Linux is an open-source operating system.  The source code for Linux, and a majority of the distributions (variants) of Linux, are open for anyone to view, and for anyone to make modifications to the code to suit their needs.

Now what does this mean for you?  I’m not expecting all of you to go out there and learn C++, Python, or any of the assorted languages you can use to write a program.  However, thanks to the GNU Public License, there are many software options for you at no charge that rival software made by large corporations.

GNU’s Not Unix

GNU (Guh-Noo), in its true nerd fashion, is a recursive name.  It stands for “GNU’s Not Unix”.  One of the original operation systems, Unix, was a powerful operating system that was widely used throughout universities and corporations.  One man, Richard Stallman, began the GNU project because he believed so strongly in open source software that he thought that software should be open and available to everyone.  In his quest to create a completely open source operating system, he created his own versions of many of the programs that Unix used to perform many of its functions.  Before he could create the kernel (the software that manages resources on the system) a man named Linus Torvalds created the Linux kernel which could use the GNU programs to complement it.  In short, a majority of the Linux distributions are technically GNU/Linux systems which run thanks to both of these men, and the hundreds of contributors to both projects.  Linux is released under the GPL which is the GNU Public License which allows for free distribution of the program and the source code, and open modification.

What does the GNU Project have to do with my business?

More often than not, web servers typically are running some variant of Linux which provides a few benefits to not only the web host itself, but to you as the client.  Since Linux is a free operating system, you immediately negate the cost of having to run a costly Windows server and the upkeep that comes along with it.  The benefit to this is not only the obvious cost, but the fact that the community behind the software is huge.  Thousands of people submit bugs (and updates!) to the Linux kernel, and Apache, the web server typically used on Linux servers.

Not only is the operating system running your server open source, but if your site is written in PHP, yup, that’s another piece of open source software.  PHP is a powerful language that can process dynamic pages based on elements from a submitted form, user information (like location) or information from a database.  Instead of updating your page by editing the HTML, you can have a tool written for you, a CMS (Content Management System) that will let you quickly update a post or news article on your site.  Since your data would be stored in a database and not hard-coded into the page, if you choose to change your site design, or want to generate an RSS feed, then it’s very easy to make modifications.

Some Final Words…

Open source software is huge.  Some of the best and most powerful programs are open source, whether you know it or not.  A prime example of this is the now leader in the browser wars, Mozilla Firefox.  This time I talked about open source software in the server environment, but next time I’ll let you in on some open source software that you can use in your desktop environment to cut costs so you don’t break the budget on your business.  So if by chance you do have some programming background, find an open source project and start submitting bugs or fixes, but if you don’t…stay tuned and I’ll show you how you can support the open source movement.

Google’s Official Response to this week’s Postini Spam-Filtering Problems

From: Google Enterprise Support <enterprise-support@google.com>
To: justin@wsg.net
Subject: Postini Services Incident Update
Date: Fri, 16 Oct 2009 01:17:21 -0400 (EDT)

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA  94043

Postini Incident Report
Service Disruption – October 13, 2009
Prepared for Postini Services Customers

Dear Postini Customer,

The following is the incident report for the issues with mail delivery and Administration Console access
that some Postini customers experienced on October 13, 2009. We understand that this service
disruption has affected our valued customers and their users, and we sincerely apologize for the impact.

Issue Summary
Beginning at approximately 10:25 PM PDT, Monday October 12 | 5:25 GMT, Tuesday October 13,
affected customers experienced severe mail delays and disruption. Also, during this time, affected
customers had intermittent access to the Administration Console, Message Center, and Search Console.
The root cause of the delivery problem was an unintended side effect of a filter update, compounded by
database issues that further slowed message processing.

Incoming messages may have been deferred; no messages were bounced from recipients or deleted. In
some cases, sending servers may have stopped resending messages after a deferral and returned
delivery failure notifications to senders. (Typically, servers are set up to retry sending for up to five days.)
During the incident, timely status information about the incident was not consistently available to
customers. We posted information on the Support Portal and from the @GoogleAtWork Twitter account;
however, customers often experienced problems accessing the portal due to load issues, and updates
were not included on the Postini Help forum. Also, the Postini status traffic lights intermittently showed a
“green light” instead of indicating the delivery delay. Customers calling in to report cases experienced
very long wait times.

Actions and Root Cause Analysis
At approximately 11:30 PM PDT, Monday October 12 | 6:30 GMT, Tuesday October 13, monitoring
systems detected severe mail flow issues and automatically directed mail flow to the secondary data
center. Upon receiving the error alerts, the Engineering team immediately began analyzing the issue and
initiated a series of actions to help alleviate the symptoms. Message processing continued to perform
poorly in the secondary data center.

Mail traffic was then directed across both the primary and secondary data centers to maximize processing
resources. During this time, Engineering temporarily disabled the Administration Console and other web
interfaces to reduce impact to the processing infrastructure. Engineering performed a set of extensive
diagnostics and tests and determined the cause to be the result of a combination of the following
conditions:

• A new filter update appears to have inadvertently impacted the mail processing systems.
• Unusual malformed types of messages triggered protracted scanning behavior, and its
interaction with filter update affected mail delivery.
• A power-related hardware failure with database storage servers reduced input/output rates. The
latency in database access reduced our overall processing capacity.

The combination of these conditions resulted in high failure rates for mail processing and the deferral of
new connections from sending mail servers.

To fix the database issue, Engineering worked with the hardware vendor to replace the faulty hardware
component. At 11:00 PM PDT, October 13 | 6:00 GMT, October 14, database disk input/output
throughput returned to normal.

At 12:30 AM PDT | 7:30 GMT Wednesday October 14, the filter update was revoked, and mail processing
returned to full capability. As a precautionary measure, Engineering continued to process a portion of
traffic through both the primary and secondary data centers. Mail processing was restored to the primary
data center at 1:39 AM PDT | 8:39 GMT. Although mail processing was at normal speed and capacity,
some users may have seen delayed messages continue to arrive in their inboxes. These potential delays
occur when the initial or subsequent delivery attempt is deferred and the sending server waits up to 24
hours before resending the same message.

Corrective and Preventative Actions
The Engineering and Support teams conducted an internal review and analysis, and determined the
following actions to help address the underlying causes of the issue and help prevent recurrence:

• Implement standard procedures for reverting filter updates as a mitigation measure and to help
speed time to resolution.
• Perform an in-depth analysis of the filter update to help ensure this class of error is not
propagated.
• Investigate the unusual malformed messages to quickly identify the message pattern and
thoroughly understand any impacts.
• Enable monitoring for notifications of the class of power failure that may affect the database
storage system.
• Determine whether the database storage servers can be configured to maintain the throughput
level during reduced power situations.
• To improve communications during incidents, we will:
◦ Post timely status updates to the Postini Help forum for better visibility.
◦ Accelerate the work to monitor and communicate the Postini services status on the
Apps Status Dashboard. The dashboard offers a single location for the latest service
status and options for RSS feeds. This will replace the traffic lights system and provide
more accurate and in-depth information.
◦ Moving forward, update the phone status message more quickly to inform customers
during an incident.
◦ Expand phone support capacity to handle spikes in call volume. This capacity is
expected to be available within the next several weeks.
◦ Update the maintenance pages with up-to-date information that are displayed when the
Administration Console is unavailable.

Over the next several weeks, we are committed to implementing these improvements to the Postini
message security service. We understand that system issues are inconvenient and frustrating for
customers. One of Google’s core values is to focus on the user, and we are committed to continually and
quickly improving our technology and operational processes to help prevent and respond to any service
disruptions.

We appreciate your patience and again apologize for the impact to your organization. Thank you for your
business and continued support.

Sincerely,
The Postini Services Team

This Week’s Favorite Links – June 7, 2009

Information Week: Anti-U.S. Hackers Infiltrate Army Servers

We got into the nation’s cyber war capabilities and challenges on the radio last Thursday.  The story about Turkey-based (basted? lol) hackers M0sted infiltrating US Army web servers very much stuck out in my mind.  Not because hacking into a web server is that unique, or even the military element of it.

Most interesting to me was the very common method used to carry out the attack, namely SQL injection.  As described in a comment by InfoWeek user DigitalGrimm on the article linked in our post here:

These ‘hacks’ are easy enough for any person worth their weight to exploit and happen every days to hundreds of web sites. Most likely, judging by the described defacement, these were 90% automated attacks. Furthermore, if the web server is setup correctly (be it Linux, Windows, MAC, BSD, etc) the most the group would have access to is the web site’s database which should have nothing more then information for dynamic content. As I doubt any company would be foolish enough to actually have an externally accessible server to have access to internal only data.

Sorry, but there will be no ‘kudos’ to the ‘hackers’ on this one.

We have seen many sites fall victim to this method of attack, and that an Army-maintained site was vulnerable just emphasizes what another recent Information Week article details quite well: Cybersecurity Review Finds U.S. Networks ‘Not Secure’.

DumbLittleMan.com

This blog is one of my favorite recent discoveries.  Their tag line is Each week we provide a handful of tips that will save you money, increase your productivity, or simply keep you sane” and it has feel similar to LifeHacker.  With posts like “Mono-Task and Work More Effectively” and “How to: Share iTunes Media With All Your Computers” how can you not like it?

Reuters via the New York Times: Facebook Sells 1.96% Stake for $200 Million

According to the story “the stake, sold to Digital Sky Technologies based in London and Moscow, values the social networking site at $10 billion” which should bother you, even if you love Facebook.

Big Yawn – Microsoft Steps Up Browser Battle

The BBC News Technology section trumpets Internet Explorer 8 as Microsoft stepping up its efforts in the browser battles.  I only wish the average user could understand how bad a product IE is.  6, 7, and I’m sure 8 are just bad.  The designers and programmers with whom I work are already preparing for the changes IE8 will bring to the development and design world.  I played with one of the beta versions of IE8, and it broke a fair share of good web pages.  I am hoping that the rendering agents are more kind when it rolls out.

Folks should save themselves the trouble and use Firefox, Chrome or Opera.  Safari for Windows even.

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