SEATTLE-Amazon Web Services has leveraged its head start in the cloud space to address a nagging barrier to greater cloud adoption in the enterprise-the ability to bridge internal corporate IT infrastructure with the cloud in a secure, reliable and cost-efficient way.
The company’s release of the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) enables this and, hopefully, though Amazon officials are reluctant to say, helps put to rest competitor claims that Amazon’s Web services business might be more of an experiment by a huge retailer than the serious competitor the organization has become, as quiet as it has been kept.
Amazon officials, such as Adam Selipsky, vice president of product management and developer relations at the company, maintain that Amazon’s head start in the cloud is “an important advantage” for the company. “Very few advantages are eternal or indeterminate,” Selipsky said. “But I don’t think there’s a substitute for the learning we’ve had over the last three and a half years.” Selipsky spoke with eWEEK in a wide ranging interview at AWS offices here.
Perhaps some will argue over whether or not Amazon even has a head start in the cloud, though the company was clearly among the first, if not the first, to generate revenue selling generic, horizontally focused cloud computing as a service. That translates to a head start. Salesforce.com began pushing its cloud-based CRM solution earlier and has been very successful, but that was a more specific offering and another story. Since then Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, VMware and others have entered the fray announcing or preannouncing products and strategies that leverage the cloud.
Selipsky echoed other AWS officials who display something of an “Aw, shucks” attitude to the company’s continued success in the cloud space. “We are surprised that there haven’t been more companies out on the market with broad, horizontal platforms that look and behave like ours,” he said. “AWS has had platforms and services on the market for more than three years now-since 2006. S3 [Amazon’s Simple Storage Service] alone has over 64 billion objects in it.”
At an event in New York in the fall of 2008, Mike Culver, a Web services evangelist for Amazon, said a very similar thing: “We were really surprised that we were able to take off as fast as we did and maintain our lead.”
However, going a step further, Selipsky said, “We see this shaping up to be a very big market. I think enterprises, SMBs and startups are indicating the direction they’re moving, and the cloud will be part of the IT landscape for years to come. In any large market there are going to be multiple winners. We expect to be one of those winners.”
Yet, a knock against Amazon has been, despite any head start, whether the company has the capacity to scale not only to support the growing needs of large enterprise customers, but also to sustain the onslaught of deep-pocketed, indefatigable competitors such as Microsoft.
In another eWEEK story from last fall, John Shewchuk, a Microsoft distinguished engineer, appeared to look beyond Amazon when discussing Microsoft’s plans to deliver cloud services. Said Shewchuk:
““We’re probably one of the biggest acquirers of data center space around the world. I think you’ve probably seen these statistics. There’s Google, there’s Microsoft, Amazon to a degree, but really we’re making a massive, massive, massive investment in having the computational capabilities, the Internet connectivity capabilities and the geo-presence to be a leader in that business. Now, it’s a little bit hard to see what we’re doing until we bring more of those pieces together, but I think you’ll be excited about the work that we’re doing in that space.”“
At the same time, Selipsky seems bemused at the notion of Amazon being viewed as a solution for SMBs or mom and pop operations. “Our services have been tested and used for mission-critical applications by thousands of customers, and I’m slightly surprised there haven’t been more competitive offerings,” he said. “We’ve had large enterprises-Fortune 50 companies-using us from Day 1. Microsoft was even a launch customer of S3. It’s true we’ve created a lot of excitement and usage among startups and VCs, but at the same time we’ve seen significant interest, testing, integration and adoption by enterprises of all sizes.”
Invaluable Cloud Computing Experience
Selipsky then listed a number of AWS’ large enterprise customers, including Eli Lilly, ESPN, eHarmony, Netflix, the Indianapolis Speedway, Pfizer, Harvard Medical School and Playfish, a gaming company that is the maker of five of the top 10 games on Facebook and has more than 25 million users. He also pointed out Amazon’s ongoing partnerships with enterprise players such as IBM, Oracle, Red Hat, CA, Cap Gemini and others to enable their solutions to run in the cloud. “I’d hold up our solution to anyone else’s enterprise solutions,” he said.
Why? Because of the company’s invaluable experience in delivering cloud computing, as well as lessons learned supporting the Amazon.com retail operation.
“We’ve iterated many times on each of the services that we’ve released, and each has had significant new features added over time,” Selipsky said. “These are battle-tested services that are in use all over, and I don’t think there’s a good substitute for that learning. We’ve earned a reputation for being innovative in this space.”
However, Selipsky said he believes AWS’ greatest competition “is likely to be the disk drive on the server. Companies are used to doing IT a certain way. And AWS is one way, but any change of that magnitude will have to be over time, with decision makers getting comfortable with new ways of doing things.”
Thus, the way Amazon intends to differentiate itself is with rock-solid performance, security and reliability, he said.
“We firmly believe in providing our customers with as much flexibility as possible,” Selipsky said. “We don’t care about the OS or programming language, be it Java, Ruby, PHP, Perl, C# or whatever. In EC2 [Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud] you can have Linux, Solaris, Windows and more over time. We want our service to be flexible and easy to use. I don’t think that will be the approach that every vendor will take, but it’s something we hold very dear,” he said in an apparent dig at Microsoft’s Windows focus.
Despite the name of Amazon’s new service, the “private cloud” part is more of a nod to industry acceptance of the term than to the company’s core thrust in the area.
“We have difficulty understanding the concept of a private cloud and what that really means,” Selipsky said. “It’s just another means of virtualization. Private clouds don’t offer true elasticity; they offer what I call ‘fauxlasticity.’ We think there is just ‘the cloud.” And Amazon VPC is meant to bridge internal IT with ‘the cloud.'”
Selipsky expanded on AWS’ heritage in running Amazon.com. “There was a decade of building Amazon.com before there was AWS.” In the early days Amazon was driven primarily by big iron, and then the core Amazon.com application emerged from being a hard-wired application to a service-oriented architecture supported on massive amounts of low-cost, commodity hardware. The map leading to AWS has been marked with Web services and APIs, he said.
Looking beyond Amazon is a mistake. As Selipsky said, he expects the company to be one of the winners in the cloud space as things shake out. The company is shoring up some of its weak spots in middleware and tooling with partnerships and building out libraries, code samples and new services. Moreover, Amazon has its track record. Central to the company’s cloud strategy is that track record-that Amazon can run cloud infrastructure better, more reliably and less expensively than anyone else.