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Amazon - The Real Web Services Company

Not only Amazon is the real Web Services company now, it is becoming an icon for the 21st century software tools company

I am biased writing this article because my company is a big user of Amazon Web Services. But please read on and see why I am so excited about what the largest online retailer is doing these days. Not only Amazon is the real Web Services company now, it is becoming an icon for the 21st century software tools company. Not Microsoft, not IBM not even Google, but Amazon has been quietly, and recently not so quietly, building the blocks of the next generation software platform.

At the core of the Amazon strategy are the Web Services. The Amazon team takes the concepts of search, storage, lookup and management the data and turns them into pay-per-fetch and pay-per-space web services. This is a brilliant strategy and Amazon is certainly a visionary company. But what impresses me the most as an engineer is their ability to take very complex problems, solve them and then shrink wrap their solutions with a simple and elegant API. 

At the core of the Amazon strategy are the Web Services. The Amazon team takes the concepts of search, storage, lookup and management the data and turns them into pay-per-fetch and pay-per-space web services. This is a brilliant strategy and Amazon is certainly a visionary company. But what impresses me the most as an engineer is their ability to take very complex problems, solve them and then shrink wrap their solutions with a simple and elegant API. 

At the core of the Amazon strategy are the Web Services. The Amazon team takes the concepts of search, storage, lookup and management the data and turns them into pay-per-fetch and pay-per-space web services. This is a brilliant strategy and Amazon is certainly a visionary company. But what impresses me the most as an engineer is their ability to take very complex problems, solve them and then shrink wrap their solutions with a simple and elegant API. 

The current line up
One look at the stack above is enough to realize that Amazon is very serious about becoming a software company and monetizing both their expertise and vast amount of information that they accumulate in the last decade. But with the second look you will realize that they are doing it in a very systematic way. They take an area like messaging, search or storage and ask: What does it take to virtualize it in a way that entire world can consume? Then they build one or more services that can  collectively or individually address the problem.

The Amazon teams is very conscious about making the services minimalistic, fine-grained and interoperable. And this works out great from both technical and business perspective. Because each service is decoupled, it can be build and maintained by different teams and can play well with other services as just a building block. Its great from the business perspective too, because the pricing model around bandwidth and disk space leads to separation of services in order to maximize the revenue.

Eat your own dog food
Perhaps the most admirable thing about the Amazon efforts is that they are productizing their own infrastructure. It may not be widely known, but Amazon.com itself runs on all these services. The blocks that comprise the biggest store on Earth are servicing each other! For example, the site relies on eCommerce service and the Simple Storage Service.

The lack of the real customer feedback is a notorious problem in software engineering. The gap between the what software engineer thinks is useful and what the real customers want is a lot of times just hard to bridge. And how do you solve this problem for something like Amazon Web Services? Amazon's answer - turn ½ of the company to be the customers of the other half. This 'eat your own dog motto' forces the Web Services strategy on the success path. Failure is just simply not an option, since it is going to undermine the operations of the main business.

The eCommerce solutions
The eCommerce layer was the first layer that Amazon build. Here we see a pure information play, where the web giant is exposing a huge amount of information for people to develop a wide range of services. Except for the eCommerce service itself other services in this layer are not free. But eCommerce service is a good freebie to Amazon since in the end of the day it drives all the traffic back to the site.

There are quite a few applications using this service now. Success stories mentioned on Amazon web site include Inside C ,  Action Engine and Associate-O-Matic. The Web 2.0 community also dipped into this service. One of the more interesting examples is TheRightCart, which uses the service to fuel web-wide social shopping. For geeks, there is  Amazon CLI, which provides command line interface to the entire Amazon store. At adaptiveblue, we also use the eCommerce API to dynamically lookup information when user highlights a title of the object on a page.

A common theme that runs among all these solutions is that they ultimately drive the traffic back to Amazon, making money for Amazon, for the companies and also enabling better online experience for the end users.

Messaging and Storage Solutions
As the web turns into an operating system we see the emergence of the infrastructural elements analogous to what we have seen in the real operating systems and middleware. I have previously written an article in this magazine about the groundbreaking Amazon Simple Storage Service. This service is in essence a virtual hashtable for storing massive amounts of information based on key-value schema. With this service, Amazon opens up years of expertise in large-scale data management and enables new breed of applications – smart, thick client solutions that do not need to worry about storage.

And with the Simple Queue Service Amazon ventures into the middleware territory. This service enables developers to post and read messages from queues, facilitating simple communication mechanism between applications. The service is again, another example of Amazon strategy to  productize a piece of their own infrastructure as a Web Service. There are no success stories on the site at this time, because people are probably still a bit scared and skeptical. But it is very likely that this very service is used a lot internally within Amazon. And I bet as time goes and the paradigm shift takes place, we will see more and more users.

Search Solutions
With Google being a distant front runner in the search space other web giants are racing to catch up. Amazon's answer? A vertical search engine platform. Again another clever move that has not been acknowledged widely.

The vertical search engines promise to dethrone Google be delivering a better quality results. Amazon's approach – combat Google by making it simple to build the vertical search applications. The two examples: Camera Image search is a digital camera search engine and Zip File search,just scratch the tip of the iceberg of what is possible with this innovative service.

Conclusion
We are witnessing an amazing play in Web Services space. Amazon is becoming a software company by productizing their own infrastructure. They are carefully mapping out the architecture, but also moving very rapidly, recognizing that competition will be coming soon. In my option they now have a pretty good head start and it will be difficult for other to catch up. So watch out Google!

Even if you can not use the Amazon web services in your business today, you should take time to take a look at this innovation. The Amazon services give us a glimpse of what software will become. It is worth while to think about it, to understand the building blocks and simply to learn.

More Stories By Alex Iskold

Alex Iskold is the Founder and CEO of adaptiveblue (http://www.adaptiveblue.com), where he is developing browser personalization technology. His previous startup, Information Laboratory, created innovative software analysis and visualization tool called Small Worlds. After Information Laboratory was acquired by IBM, Alex worked as the architect of IBM Rational Software Analysis tools. Before starting adaptiveblue, Alex was the Chief Architect at DataSynapse, where he developed GridServer and FabricServer virtualization platforms. He holds M.S. in Computer Science from New York University, where he taught an award-winning software engineering class for undergraduate students. He can be reached at [email protected]

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