Amazon Returns To Search Business With CloudSearch

Amazon gave up on its search subsidiary A9 six years ago, but has now jumped into the fray with CloudSearch.
Amazon wants to allow companies to google without Google: It has added a cloud-based search service--called, perhaps unsurprisingly, CloudSearch--to its Amazon Web Services portfolio.

Amazon CloudSearch offers a way to integrate search into websites and applications, whether they're customer-facing or for use behind the corporate firewall. It's the same search technology that's available at It's a significant development because so many e-commerce websites have poor search capabilities and lose potential sales as a result.

Students of ancient history, circa 2004, may recall that Amazon once had its own search engine, A9, which initially relied on Google for search results. Amazon shuttered A9 in 2006 and Google ended up hiring the technical leader of the project, Udi Manber.

With Amazon's return to the search market, search has officially become a commodity: That's the business of Amazon Web Services, selling commoditized, pay-as-you-go, information technology. Conspiracy theorists may see some significance in the coincidence that Google is scheduled to report its Q1 2012 earnings on the same day of this announcement.

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"Amazon CloudSearch will have democratization effect as it offers features that have been out of reach for many customers," said Amazon CTO Werner Vogels in a blog post. "With Amazon CloudSearch, a powerful search engine is now in the hands of every developer, at our familiar low prices, using a pay-as-you-go model. It will allow developers to improve functionality of their products, at lower costs with almost zero administration."

CloudSearch gives companies and individual developers an alternative to buying a search appliance--Google happens to make such a device--or to maintaining a server with open source search software like Apache Lucene.

Amazon Web Services evangelist Jeff Barr says in a blog post that customers can get set up in less than an hour and that the service can cost as little as $100 per month.

Billing varies with search instance size--there are three, small, large, and extra large ("medium" apparently didn't test well with focus groups). These instances are priced at 12 cents, 48 cents, and 68 cents per hour respectively. There are additional charges for uploaded data. Configuration changes that require data to be re-indexed incur a 98 cents charge per Gigabyte. Outbound data is billed a normal AWS rates.

Photo hosting and sharing site Smugmug relies on CloudSearch to power its photo browsing capabilities. Other companies that have implemented CloudSearch include Search Technologies, NewsRight,, Car Domain, and Sage Bionetworks.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)