Developers, Entrepreneurs Tap into Amazon`s Cloud

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2008-02-21 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Not content with merely going after book buyers and small merchants, Amazon.com is also targeting software developers.

“We are trying to create a suite of building-block Web services that meet certain fundamental needs that all developers have, such as storage, raw compute capability and messaging,” says Adam Selipsky, vice president of product development and developer relations at Amazon Web Services (AWS).

AWS offerings such as EC2 and S3 already appear to be hitting a sweet spot for developers, especially software engineers at startups. Sean Knapp, an engineer who helped create Google’s Web interface and iGoogle, founded his current company, Ooyala, using Amazon Web Services for all IT infrastructure.

“Why waste our time building out our own infrastructure when we could be spending our time building a good product?” says Knapp, who also serves as Ooyala’s president of technology. Ooyala, which does content management, analytics and delivery of enterprise video, uses half a dozen AWS services, including EC2, S3, Simple Queueing Service (SQS), SimpleDB, AWS’ payment service and Mechanical Turk (see p.XX).

“We didn’t want to waste our time putting up a data center when it’s so remarkably cheap to use Amazon’s,” Knapp says.

The queueing service helps users figure out whether they need more computing instances. “SQS is like a line at the shopping center, or a list of things to do,” Knapp explains. “Our machines take items off that list, and the longer that list is, the more machines we need. We already have 20 to 30 encoding machines, but we can bring up 100 machines if we need them.”

Another startup taking advantage of AWS is Mashery, a year-old company that serves as a front end for other companies’ Web services, providing them with API and infrastructure services. If a company wants to insert a Google map into its Web site, Mashery provides the appropriate Web services API.

“AWS is the reason we have zero network administrators employed here,” says Mashery founder and CEO Oren Michaels. Mashery uses more than 60 Amazon computer instances, he says.

For Mashery, the inability to run Windows-based applications on EC2 isn’t a big deal. “We were all open source and running Linux to begin with,” says Michaels. “With most startups I’m aware of, the Windows limitation is not an issue. That might be a bigger issue for a larger company.”

Currently, Mashery is considering using AWS’ new SimpleDB. Launched in December, SimpleDB enables AWS customers to run queries on structured data in real time, working hand in hand with both EC2 and S3.

Instead of requiring a clustered relational database, Amazon SimpleDB provides the core functionality of a database, including real-time lookup and simple querying of structured data, without the operational complexity. SimpleDB automatically indexes data and provides a simple API for data storage and access.

Zillow.com, a two-year-old real estate Web site that receives four million visitors per month, has used EC2 for what CFO and vice president of marketing Spencer Rascoff calls “overflow computational capacity.” Zillow’s service lets customers obtain a “Zestimate,” a free and instant home valuation for an address anywhere in the United States.

“We built a new algorithm last week that requires recalculating 12 years worth of history for all homes,” says Rascoff. “To accomplish the recalculation, we used 500 AWS servers.” He adds that Zillow first took advantage of AWS for a one-off project similar to the one implementing the new algorithm.

Animoto had already started purchasing its own servers when company executives began exploring alternatives. “We were worried about the cost of our service,” says Brad Jefferson, CEO and co-founder. “We realized that to buy enough servers to support our business’ growth would quickly become a huge capital expenditure.”

Unlike Zillow.com, Animoto uses EC2 and S3 to run its Web servers and to process still images and music files uploaded by its customers. Animoto’s algorithm considers photo elements and the energy, beat, genre and climactic elements of the music, then synchronizes them. The end product, which typically takes just a few minutes to produce, is a unique video customers can run on MySpace and other sites.

“Our entire infrastructure is on Amazon Web Services,” Jefferson says. “We like having the ability to expand or contract in line with true demand for our service.”

So far, Animoto has been able to launch and expand with only bootstrap funding from its founders and their families and friends, Jefferson says, adding “Amazon is enabling businesses like the one I’m doing.”

In addition to AWS, Amazon offers entrepreneurs and small businesses a family of services under its “All Business Center” umbrella. Small and midsize businesses can avail themselves of a host of products, including software for getting started, and industry-specific tools for financial services, design, professional services and retail.



 
 
 
 
Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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