Amazon made its reputation as an online bookstore and e-retailer, but its newest business is cloud computing. One of the first vendors in this emerging market more than two years ago, Amazon is a good starting point for any business technology organization trying to decide where and when to plug into the cloud.
Amazon's cloud goes by the name Amazon Web Services (AWS), and it consists, so far, of four core services: Simple Storage Service (S3); Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2); Simple Queuing Service; and, in beta testing, SimpleDB. In other words, Amazon now offers storage, computer processing, message queuing, and a database management system as plug-and-play services that are accessed over the Internet.
A tremendous amount of IT infrastructure is required to provide those services--all of it in Amazon data centers. Customers pay only for the services they consume: 15 cents per gigabyte of S3 storage each month, and 10 to 80 cents per hour for EC2 server capacity, depending on configuration.
Already, AWS represents three of the defining characteristics of the cloud: IT resources provisioned outside of the corporate data center, those resources accessed over the Internet, and variable cost.
Amazon's first cloud service was S3, which provides unlimited storage of documents, photos, video, and other data. That was followed by EC2, pay-as-you-use computer processing that lets customers choose among server configurations.
Why is Amazon moving so aggressively into Web services? In its rise to leadership in e-commerce, the company developed deep technical expertise and invested heavily in its data centers. Now it's leveraging those assets by opening them to other companies, at a time when many CIOs are looking for alternatives to pumping more money into their own IT infrastructures. "What a lot of people don't understand is that Amazon is at heart a technology company--not a bookseller or even a retailer," says Adam Selipsky, VP of product management and developer relations for AWS.
Selipsky is wooing developers to AWS
Amazon Web Services weren't aimed initially at big businesses, but enterprises are tapping in for the same reasons that attract small and midsize businesses--low up-front costs, scalability up and down, and IT resource flexibility. To better support large accounts, Amazon began offering round-the-clock phone support and enterprise-class service-level agreements a few months ago. For instance, if S3 availability falls below 99.9% in a month, customers are entitled to at least a 10% credit. Amazon isn't foolproof--its consumer-facing Web site recently suffered a series of outages and slowdowns.
Amazon hasn't morphed into a software-as-a-service vendor, but startups and other software developers are using AWS to offer their own flavors of SaaS. They include Vertica, which sells S3-based data warehouses, and Sonian, which built its archive service on Amazon infrastructure.