Thursday Threads: Websites for Small Libraries, Open Source in Govt, Measuring Reliability

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It has been the longest of weeks and the shortest of weeks. Longest because of a working weekend with the ALA Midwinter conference in San Diego. Shortest because the activities leading up to, during, and after the conference didn't leave much time for reading items to prepare a DLTJ Thursday Threads article. This edition has three short pointers: a report from Midwinter on a project from OCLC to offer a basic website for every library, why governments are coming around to liking open source software, and a discussion of measurements of reliability.

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A Web presence for every library

We are ready to share our work to date on a very early, experimental service aimed at providing a low cost and easy-to-use Web site service for small and rural public libraries and are looking for feedback and direction from the library community.

Late last year -- just about a week before ALA Midwinter -- came an announcement of a project by OCLC's Innovation Lab to offer an inexpensive website to every small library. At a price of about $5 per month, a library could have a basic desktop and mobile website. At about $40 per month, the library could have a simple inventory and circulation module. You can see what is possible at the Loremville, TN public library sample site and read more information about the project in my write-up of the public demonstration.

A Walled Wide Web for Nervous Autocrats

At the end of 2010, the "open-source" software movement, whose activists tend to be fringe academics and ponytailed computer geeks, found an unusual ally: the Russian government. Vladimir Putin signed a 20-page executive order requiring all public institutions in Russia to replace proprietary software, developed by companies like Microsoft and Adobe, with free open-source alternatives by 2015.
The move will save billions of dollars in licensing fees, but Mr. Putin's motives are not strictly economic. In all likelihood, his real fear is that Russia's growing dependence on proprietary software, especially programs sold by foreign vendors, has immense implications for the country's national security. Free open-source software, by its nature, is unlikely to feature secret back doors that lead directly to Langley, Va.

Despite the backhanded slight to open source software advocates ("fringe academics and ponytailed computer geeks" -- really?), this Wall Street Journal article talks about how being able to inspect the source of software used by governments can reduce the likelihood that other governments can eavesdrop on computer activity.

Why Internet Services Aren’t Achieving Ma Bell’s Reliability

AT&T’s dial tone set the all-time standard for reliability. It was engineered so that 99.999 percent of the time, you could successfully make a phone call. Five 9s. That works out to being available all but 5.26 minutes a year.

Can we realistically expect that such availability will ever come to Internet services?...As more and more Web services companies acquire years of experience, we’ll see more consistent reliability — it’s just a matter of time and learning. Attaining Four-9s availability will become routine. That means available all but 52.56 minutes a year.

As for moving to 99.999, well, that may never come. “We don’t believe Five 9s is attainable in a commercial service, if measured correctly,” says Urs Hölzle, senior vice president for operations at Google. The company’s goal for its major services is Four 9s.

Ever heard the phrase "five nines"? It is a mystical measure of reliability where, as this New York Times article points out, one would only see roughly five minutes of downtime a year. You'll hear computer people talk about five-nines -- 99.999% uptime -- but now you can come armed with information about what today's most popular internet service companies are doing to try to achieve it (and ask if the company promising you five-nines is doing the same thing).

On a side note, the article also has a paragraph about Amazon's Simple Storage Service, or S3, cloud-based disk service: "'We talk of durability of data — it’s designed for Eleven-9s durability,' says James Hamilton, a vice president for Amazon Web Services. That works out to a 0.000000001 percent chance of data being lost, at least theoretically." This topic came up at presentation I gave during ALA Midwinter on Options in Storage for Digital Preservation. With digital preservation, we don't have a good way of thinking about probability. Is eleven-9s durability good enough for the long-term preservation of our digital archive masters?