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3/13/2006
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Amazon Launches Storage Service That Could Bring Closer Competition With Google

The online storage service will let developers pay only for the storage they use and tap into Amazon's Web computing infrastructure.

Looking to wring some cash flow from its massive investment in computing infrastructure, Amazon.com Inc. is trying to sell software developers an online storage service, dubbed Amazon S3.

"The motivation is to enable developers to worry about building innovative applications with their data, and not to worry about where to store it," says Adam Selipsky, VP of product management and developer relations at Amazon Web Services, an Amazon division.

Amazon Web Services already has about 150,000 registered developers, and Selipsky says some of them asked for help with storage, among other things. As it turns out, Amazon, like Google and Yahoo, has a fast, reliable, scalable computing infrastructure based on commodity hardware that it can make available quite affordably. AWS is charging $0.15 per gigabyte of storage per month, and $0.20 per gigabyte of data transferred. There's no minimum fee. Developers pay only for what they use--rather than having to purchase storage and bandwidth in advance, with additional fees for exceeding the prepaid capacity.

"And we're going to charge you the same amount for the same reliable service, regardless of how big of a customer you are," says Dave Barth, product manager for Amazon S3. "We think that will do a lot to empower smaller developers to innovate."

Selipsky dismisses the notion that selling storage infrastructure moves Amazon into closer competition with Google. "We've been in this business since 2002, helping developers innovate and build businesses using our technology and our data," he says. "I don't view us as being particularly in competition with anybody around these services." Rather, he expects the new service will help AWS developers innovate.

Google is developing a storage service of its own, tentatively called GDrive and has also been slowly extending its tendrils into business software through its corporate search hardware. It clearly has ambitions to offer its IT infrastructure to support corporate computing.

If Amazon and Google aren't yet stepping on each other's toes, they're headed toward one another. In addition to storage, Amazon has made available to developers its A9.com OpenSearch service, its E-commerce APIs, its Mechanical Turk API for soliciting solutions for computing problems from independent programmers, and its Alexa Web Search Platform, a massive index of the Web not unlike the one Google guards so zealously. AWS is essentially selling other companies the tools to compete with Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.

AWS already sells services to online retailers who want Amazon to handle any elements of E-commerce. But while Amazon has demonstrated its competency as an infrastructure provider for Target's E-commerce operations, this move into storage "seems like another effort to throw something against the wall and see if it sticks," says Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

For developers, however, there are more immediate issues than Amazon's grand strategy, like getting projects up and running with a minimum of time and expense. And Don Alvarez, development manager for FilmmakerLIVE.com, a maker of storyboarding software for the motion picture industry, gives Amazon's S3 high marks in helping to hasten projects. "The API that Amazon put together is incredibly simple, and that's a huge advantage," he says. "Within a day of getting their [software development kit], we had our own sample application working with their storage system."

Amazon has also made its S3 service available to the University of California at Berkeley science team working on NASA's Stardust@Home project, a distributed computing effort that will consume some 7.5 terabytes of bandwidth and 750 gigabytes of stored data. Volunteers from around the world will help scan pictures looking for cosmic dust particles. With any luck, both Amazon and the UC scientists will strike pay dirt.

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