In 2006, the online retailer launched a pioneering range of utility computing services aimed at small businesses and startups. Amazon Web Services now offers a range of storage, server processing and messaging services, available to buy by the hour or by the gigabyte.
The service was launched in response to demand from software developers who had used Amazon’s first generation of web services, says Andrew Hardener, senior communications manager at Amazon.com. ‘We had a lot of developers using that service, which let them incorporate our product data and some shopping functionality, but they wanted more,’ he says. ‘Increasingly, we were being asked for access to the Amazon.com back-end infrastructure.’
Why buy your IT from Amazon? Because you won’t get the same technology anywhere else, says Hardener. ‘We built all the technology we offer,’ he says. ‘When Amazon was starting to grow massively, there wasn’t software available that matched our needs, so we had to build it ourselves. We still do – most of the software doesn’t offer the scalability we need.’
The other big selling point is that Amazon Web Services are cheap. Access to the company’s flagship utility service, Simple Storage Service (S3), costs about 15 cents per gigabyte, while the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) offers processing on a 1.7GHz server for 10 cents an hour.
The services are designed to be accessible through open interfaces, and created using industry standard languages, primarily C++ and Java, and some Perl. Customers wishing to use the services can set up an Amazon Ecommerce Services account, and sign up online for the web services. Amazon then bills customers each month on either a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis, depending on the service used.
Using many of the services requires a good understanding of simple object access protocol (Soap) and HTML along with programming languages, but should be straightforward for an experienced web developer, says Hardener. ‘All the technical information you need can be found on the web site, the blog or the forums,’ he says.
With 200,000 developers already signed up to use the services, and spots on the beta programme changing hands at up to $10,000 (£5,000), Amazon seems to have made an impact on the market. Hardener admits that the company is pleasantly surprised by the early success of its utility services.
‘It’s not just the number of companies using the service, but how many different industries and how quickly they are applying the services in so many different ways,’ he says.