When #Amazongeddon happened this past Sunday, Echo owners awoke to find Alexa at a loss to play their music, answer their questions, give them their flash briefings, or do any of the other things they’ve come to rely on.
Many took to their preferred discussion boards and social media outlets to compare notes with other Echo owners, everyone asking some variation on a plaintive, “Is it just me, or is your Echo down, too?”
There are some very fast and easy things you can do to answer that question for yourself the next time a service interruption happens, and that’s what today’s post is all about.
Is It The Echo, Or The Streaming Service?
When it comes to streaming content, like Audible audiobooks, Pandora music, TuneIn podcasts, Amazon Prime Music and so on, if the problem is with your Echo that content will still stream normally on other devices. If the problem is with the streaming service itself, the content won’t stream anywhere.
To zero in on the source of the problem, just try streaming the same content on a different device.
Is It The Echo, Or Amazon’s Server(s)?
This week’s Alexa downtime was due to problems on Amazon’s servers in North Virginia—the servers that happen to host and run Alexa Voice Service, Alexa skills and related technical services, among other things.
All of us developers who have Alexa skills in release immediately went to our computers to check the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Service Health Dashboard, where Amazon lists current and recent status for all Amazon Web Services, and you can do it too, because it’s a free, publicly-available resource! Tap or click on images to view an enlarged version in a new tab or window.
The top section of the Dashboard lists every AWS service and shows current status. Note that you can even subscribe to status reports on specific services via RSS feed (red arrow in image above).
To clarify: Amazon does not list status for specific servers, probably because there could be many individual server “boxes” in use to support a single AWS service. This post references “servers” in the title because that’s how most people tend to think about uptime and downtime: in terms of individual servers, rather than in terms of a single service that’s supported by a multiple servers. The status dashboard cannot give you the status of individual servers on Amazon’s end, but it can give you status on services, and that’s really all that matters for purposes of this discussion.
The Current Status list pictured above will show you at a glance if any services are currently experiencing downtime or known issues, while the Status History table (lower down on the page, you have to scroll quite a bit to find it) allows you to check on historical service status:
The signal-light graphic used to show service status at a glance is easy enough for non-techies to understand (green = service is online, yellow = service is online but is experiencing performance issues, red = service is down, i = notes available). The rest of the information that’s provided when you mouse over a given status icon in the Status History table (as shown in screenshot above, red arrow indicates icon that was moused over) is only really intended to provide developers and tech administrators with status updates, so it’s not written to be consumer-friendly. Still, most Echo owners fall squarely into the Early Adopter demographic so I figure many of those reading this post will be able to understand those notes.
I wish I could provide a reliably accurate list of all the services that could possibly be involved in supporting all Echo/Alexa features, but Amazon hasn’t published such a list. Also, I am not personally aware of all the Amazon services in use by Alexa skill developers. All I can do is direct you to check status for any service listed as being located in “N. Virginia” (indicated by red boxes in image above). Not all of those services will be involved in Alexa stuff, but as of this writing (on 9/22/15) all Alexa stuff is being run on N. Virginia servers.
There are two services I can definitely say are involved with Alexa/skills processing as of this writing, so if immediate status information is vitally important to you, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feeds for these two. These are not pictured in the screenshots above, but you can find them by scrolling down the lists:
1. Amazon Dynamo DB (N. Virginia)
2. AWS Lambda (N. Virginia)
Click here to visit the AWS Service Health Dashboard, and bookmark the page for future reference.
Those who are familiar with database and server terminology may want to read Amazon’s final report on this week’s AWS problems, here.
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Echo owners looking for an alternative to Philips/HUE in the smart home starter kit area will want to take a look at the Samsung SmartThings Hub and Outlet Bundle (as of 7/29/16, priced at $148.99). Samsung lists over 100 smart home devices that are compatible with their SmartThings Hub, such as Cree smart bulbs, GE smart switches, dimmers and outlets, Kwikset smart locks, Leviton smart bulbs, switches, dimmers and outlets, and more. Alexa can communicate with the SmartThings hub, and the SmartThings hub communicates with the various connected smart home devices. If you’d like to do some further research, see the Smart Things posts in the Home Automation subreddit for tips, questions and answers from Smart Things Hub owners.
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