FaunaDB – Pay-as-you-Store/Query database

FaunaDB, from the technical team that led the Twitter database team, have come out and announced their offering of a new style of database aimed at the serverless model.  

FaunaDB, from the technical team that led the Twitter database team, have come out and announced their offering of a new style of database aimed at the serverless model.

Aside – Serverless isn’t really serverless – that is one of its misconceptions.

What it means is that you as the consumer no longer think in terms of a physical (or virtual) servers – you instead think of just executing a function or small piece of code.

The service providing you with the environment to execute that function will worry about which server to run it on provisioning as many servers as required to cope with scale.   You are only charged for the execution of the function.

It is like being charged on a per-call API call.  Contrast that against being charged for the cost of a server running all the time.  Functions have only a limited time to execute within and can’t generally be stateful (think global variables).

Services like Amazon Lambda and Google Functions provide such a framework.

Databases are historically one of the most difficult components within the Enterprise to properly scale.  Provisioning enough scale for a database is a fine art with a lot of trade-offs to reach some of the dizzy scales that are required.   You are either over-paying for unused resources, or conversely, have not got enough resources to cope with sudden spikes.  But what if you didn’t have to think about all that nonsense and just thought about storing and querying your data without consideration of all the logistics of servers and scale?

And this is what FaunaDB is attempting to do.

Instead of spinning up a database farm, like you would with Amazon RDS/DynamoDB, you simply call the functions to store or query your data.  You are charged on a per-usage along with a per-GB-per-hour rate.  To keep the billing simpler, FaunaDB charges using points, where different functions will use different amount of points, depending on the complexity and CPU usage.   You are then charged for the points you consume.

  1. Every 1,000 points (about 1,000 queries) costs $0.01
  2. Every gigabyte-hour of data stored costs 20 points, or $0.0002

It is not clear just how much points are used for an average call.

FaunaDB is essentially a NoSQL database, but with the ability to do joins, foreign keys and unique indexes, while managing this in a globally replicated consistent architecture.

On the surface, this looks a very solid offering, from a highly qualified and pedigreed team.   The question though is how reliable is it?   While the appeal of not having to run or manage servers, you do lose a lot of control when it comes to being able to do anything when (not if but when) FaunaDB runs into problems.   You have nothing to do but wait and hope it all comes back to normal.

In fairness, this problem is not unique to FaunaDB, the more control you yield, the more reliant you become on others providing you the service you need to run your business.   Your customers will complain to you, not Amazon or FaunaDB, and you will always look weak if you turnaround and blame another.

The question you always have to ask – what price are you willing to put on your reputation when things go wrong?  Even Amazon has had outages.

FaunaDB is an exciting entry to the world of SAAS database offerings and will be interesting to see how this evolves, and which one of the big 3 cloud providers will scoop them up.

More reading:

Moved from RackSpace to FastMail

Moving from RackSpace to FastMail as I trial a new email service provider with more features and security.

I have had my private email handled by RackSpace for many years now.   I never really had a major problem with RackSpace, offering quality email hosting at a very low cost ($2 per mailbox per month), and a nice web interface as well as secure IMAP access.

I utilize wildcard email addresses – (*@mydomain goes to a single mail box) when I sign up for services.  This way I can track who sells my data (and some of the big boys have been found out over the years) and more importantly shutdown the email if it no longer serves the purpose.

It is with this last requirement that RackSpace struggled with.  Something changed, somewhere, but their incoming rules and spam filters weren’t really doing the job any longer.   Maybe it was time to have a look around.

I had three main requirements from my email host (outside of the usual security)

  1. Support secure IMAP
  2. Provide wildcard/catch-all email address
  3. Provide alias support that can email external email addresses

I have been keeping my eyes open as various email providers pop up, especially in the light of the whole Edward Snowden, claiming to be super secure.  However, even they lacked the ability to support my 3 requirements.   Enter FastMail.

FastMail was previously owned by Opera (the browser people) and then it was spun out as a separate entity, based down under in Australia.  They are a subscription only service, which basically means, no free-loaders and therefore earning enough money to stay in business without relying on advertising.

I am currently trialing their service for free for 30 days, then it will be $50 a year (for 25GB).  This is definitely more expensive than RackSpace ($24 per year for 10GB) but still around the ball park for email services.  In addition, FastMail can also host your domain with that price.  They do have a $30 per-year 10GB service too, but no custom domain.

With respect to security, they are outwith the reach of the US government for any inspection of your inbox as well as pre-loading any remote images on their servers so you won’t get dinged with unnecessary tracking or snooping by remote loaders.  Speaking of security, the standard username/password gets you into the website, but you must create separate passwords for any application wishing to access your inbox via IMAP.  I really like this extra touch – including all the tracking of who/what has been accessing your inbox.

I am actually going to try and live with their web-ui and stop using Thunderbird as my email client.  I like their UI, extremely fast and responsive.   It interacts with the desktop beautifully so we will see.   They have a dedicate mobile app that is very sweet.  So no complaints on my tablet or phone.

But what really swayed it for me, was their rule filtering.  They give you access to the underlying Sieve scripts.   This makes it extremely powerful and flexible to do whatever crazy ass rule concoctions that I can dream up.

Couple of other nice features are popping up as I use it more, including 2-way synchronization with Google Calendar, custom login screen and extremely easy to import data from another IMAP provider.

I will see how it goes.  I am not deleting my RackSpace account just yet, but gut tells me I will be sticking with FastMail.

More later.

‘Internet Trends 2017’ Kleiner Perkins Report – my highlights

My highlights of the annual Kleiner Perkins report that looks at the Internet of 2016

Here are some of my thoughts on the recently released Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends 2017 355 page report.

  • Average daily time spent online remains constant for desktop users at 2.2 hrs, where mobile time is up a little to 3.1 hrs.   This feels a little low, considering all the office workers that are sitting in front of computer all day. [src]
  • Use of ad-blockers is way higher than I imagined it would be, given 18% of USA users and 16% of UK users block ads. [src]
  • Pinterest users really love to buy when clicking on stuff, versus Facebook users who rarely purchase. [src]
  • Google loves geo-location ads, tracking over 5 billion store visits, up 5 times from the previous year. [src]
  • Hyperlocal targeting, Nextdoor for example, really drive engagement. [src]
  • User Generated Content drives 6.9x more engagement than brands themselves.  In other words, infinitely better if you can get someone else talking about you instead of yourself. [src]
  • 20% of all mobile searches were made via voice.  Much higher than I would have thought; wonder how much of that is people repeating the same phrase to get it right!   Accuracy is reaching, for Google, near the 95% mark. [src]
  • Number of parcels being shipped rose 9%, resulting in a number of landlords now being makeshift warehouses to accommodate growth. [src]
  • Retail store closings reaches 20 year record; ironically Amazon starts opening retail stores. [src]
  • 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of a Wal-Mart; they are experiencing large eCommerce growth.  Overall, the online retail sales is up 15%. [src]
  • Amazon’s private label of basic goods is rocketing, grabbing larger market share. [src]
  • Average age of gamers is 35; 2.6B gamers worldwide; $100B market. [src]
  • Daily minutes – Games 51mins, FaceBook 50mins, Snapchat 30mins and Instagram 21mins. [src]
  • Millennials are starting to favor eSports over traditional sports. [src]
  • Music streaming represents 52% of the revenue (vs. physical / downloadable). [src]
  • Netflix has 95MM users, and to 30% market share in only 10 years. [src]


  • YouTube and Netflix are the big juggernauts of the online video world. [src]
  • Amazon is the juggernaut of cloud computing with Azure coming a distant second.   Azure experienced a huge increase in growth in the last year. [src]
  • Spam and phishing attacks are up 350%. [src]
  • China and India are experiencing a huge GDP growth. [src]
  • 25% of Americans own a wearable device (up 12% from previous year). [src]
  • Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook are the top Internet companies. [src]


A good report overall, though very little on the state of online education (healthcare was explored) and a lack of insight into the world of IoT (Internet of Things).    Not much was discussed on the impact of Artificial Intelligence or Virtual Reality (there was a little nod to augmented reality in the world of advertising), though suspect that is still relatively new and we haven’t really seen much of a change yet.

There doesn’t seem to be as many big surprises in this year as there was in last years I felt, which points to a general growth of everything.

Let Amazon Echo Show you the future

Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem is far more than just novelty voice activated devices. Do not underestimate the vision to which Amazon is painting for us.

You have to hand it to Amazon, for a company whose net worth is over $450B, they sure as hell do not act like a big slow bureaucratic corporate; but have a speed that leaves most startups with their heads spinning.  Amazon this week done it again, outflanked the industry, and announced a brand new device to its hardware lineup; Echo Show – Alexa now has a face.

The device had only been leaked literally 48hrs before Amazon officially started taking orders – a level of secrecy the likes of Samsung or Apple can only dream of.  Why is this?  Because Amazon is a company we all underestimate.  Many write them off too quickly as simply an online retailer.   They are not scared to fail.   They fail fast, which is a fancy way of saying, they don’t dwell on their mistakes, and simply dust off the experience and move on.

Echo is the hardware ecosystem around the Alexa AI intelligent voice-activated service.  It gives a body to Alexa.

2017-05-11_14h53_21Yet the Echo range is part of a much longer game that most people have not yet realized.

First came the voice activated 2001 esq cylindrical monolith that would sit in your room listening for commands to serve you.   Things like the weather status, daily news briefings and then of course controlling your music collection.   You could of course have Alexa add things to your Amazon shopping cart – after all, Amazon is your consummate retailer and it needs to see those tills ring.

Though Alexa Echo had it’s shortcomings, something I detailed back in January of this year, it still found a place in my life, namely the bathroom where it provides me with my acoustic diet each morning in the shower.

But Amazon have bigger plans for Alexa than just being my shower buddy – this week they introduced a touchscreen with it, to make things a little bit easier.  Many assume that the screen is there to help with some of the issues that voice-activated devices pose.  Oh you are so wrong.  Amazon is already ahead of you.

Amazon is well on it’s way to integrating into all of our daily lives.  Alexa is already starting to pop up on cars and other devices, all linked back to your Amazon account.  She can follow you around, like the Ship’s Computer in Star Trek, ever present to help you out.

But why the screen?  Well, as part of the experience is the video calling.  Amazon wants to make it as simple as possible to make hands-free video calling a real thing, and this goes a long way to make that happen.  A couple of days after announcing this new device, they announced that anyone with the Echo device or even just the app, can enjoy voice calling for free to another Echo user.

Now this is where it is getting interesting.   Amazon is now going to be making it real easy for us to connect to each other, not just Amazon.   Instead of fumbling for our phone in our pocket, looking up contacts, we can easily say “Call mom”, up to my arms in either the kitchen, bathing a child, and get a helpful voice (or video call) all without detracting from what we are doing.

For the record; many a time, I have been knee deep in a project, hands busy with other stuff, loving to be able to call in help for some assistance, on the task at hand.

Think about that for a minute … what seems a simple movie-like feature is actually a very powerful game changer.

It isn’t a huge leap to think Amazon will connect this voice network to the public PSTN network and be able to dial up anyone in the world.   Amazon AWS recently started offering build-your-own call center technology as part of its cloud offering.   So you know they have the ingredients to easily and quickly add to the Alexa universe.

The Sony Dash – epilogue

For those of you that feel there is something a little familiar with the Amazon Echo Show, then allow me to help you there.  Sony, in 2010, tried building an Internet helper device to sit somewhere in your house many years ago; the Sony Dash.  I had one of these devices, and as soon as the novelty wore off (which took all of 2 weeks) it was relegated to the cupboard and never used again.

Sony creates and sells good devices, and outside of the Playstation, sucks at creating communities.  The Dash suffered from a drought of updates, widgets and general features.  It was also horribly slow and often locked up.

Sony is officially killing off all support and updates this July 2017.


Amazon, I believe will succeed where Sony failed, because it is more about just the physical device, but the overall story and vision.  You are not buying a voice activated device when you jump into the Alexa/Echo world, but a fast paced evolving world of experimentation as we figure out just exactly what it is we want from such a device in our normal daily mundane lives.

This is what Amazon Dash should have been

Alternative to Amazon’s Dash is announced but runs on the SigFox network.

A company from Singapore has announced their version of the popular Amazon Dash button, which is just a button that is connected to the Internet and once clicked can unleash no limit of destruction – though in most cases ordering more toilet paper!

Amazon’s Dash works by connecting itself onto the local WiFi – a right old pain in the ass and something that is dragging down many a great IoT innovation.   However, alternative networks now exist that are becoming practical from a business point of view – one of those is SigFox.


UnaBiz has announced their version, which is a single button that is pre-registered on the SigFox network and costs approximately $1 per month.   While it is more expensive than Amazon’s alternative (one off cost of $5) the ease of setup cannot be underestimated.

Will/should Amazon release a SigFox version of Dash?  probably.

The problem with Amazon’s Alexa

My woes with Amazon’s Alexa as I try to coax into doing things she claims she can do!

I have had Amazon’s Alexa for a number of years now.  I was one of the early testers and it has moved from living room, to kitchen with it now residing behind the toilet in the bathroom.   The problem with this voice activated wonder, is that I blank every time I try to ask it something.

Sure it is easy to ask it the state of the weather (though you can easily just look outside the window for as much data), or you can ask the current time (really?) or set a timer (though, trying turning the bloody thing off again when there is bang ground noise).

The big thing however, is playing music from your Amazon Prime account.   You can ask it play to a whole manner of combinations.  The problem however, is that you completely blank when it comes to choosing something.  What happens is that you keep playing the same shit over and over again because you can’t think of anything new.


The problem with a voice activated device with no UI, is that you can’t be inspired.  You can’t scroll past some albums and discover something from your archive.  You can’t even even do this with the Alexa app and then send it to the device for playing.

Then there comes to actually trying it to get to play the album you want.   It’s a frigging nightmare.  It simply can’t handle long complicated titles.   Miranda Lambert’s, Weight of these wings, is a constant problem to try and get it to play.

And this is where I have to take issue with Amazon.  They happily display in the app, the successful voice commands asking if Alexa did what you asked.  However, they do not show the unsuccessful ones.  I therefore cannot feedback this poor interaction with Alexa.

It scares the crap out of me that the future of computer interaction could be our voice.  No way. Alexa is suppose to hear even when playing music, but it can’t.  Once you are rocking to a track, it frequently misses your command to stop.   I have had to resort to hitting the button on top of the unit to kill the play.

Alexa is a great idea.  The notion of it sounds fantastic, the reality however, is that it is like talking to your elderly grandparents, who are half deaf and have no clue what the zeitgeist of the day is.

Here is hoping for a better linguistic future.