Amazon and Cloud Computing

June 10, 2008

Intelligent Enterprise’s very good journalist Doug Henschen has an excellent interview with Amazon’s Adam Selipsky here. The interview is meaty, running to three sections. (Snag this now. Content can be tricky to find after a day or two.) Mr. Henschen has made an effort to capture the detail that many editors deem irrelevant. This interview is a keeper if you are a collector of Amazon business thought.

Two key points struck me as I was reading Amazon’s VP of product management’s answers to Mr. Henschen’s questions. Let me highlight these two points and then offer several observations.

The first point is this comment by Mr. Selipsky:

I’d also say that part of the whole point of computing in the cloud is that you don’t have to worry about where the resources are. If you decide to do enterprise backup in S3 — which is a great application that we’re seeing more and more of, by the way — do you really need to know exactly where and when those copies are replicated and how our replication works? That’s time you could be spending on something else. What you want to know is that we’re never going to lose the data, that your people are going to be able to access the data whenever they want, and that it’s secure.

As I understand this comment, Mr. Selipsky wants to shift a customer’s concern from the physical location of data to comfort that “we’re never going to lose the data.” I recall that one of my college professors explained the notion of categorical affirmatives and categorical negatives. In my aging Kentucky brain I have boiled down that learning to one precept: Never say never. I think Mr. Selipsky is saying “never”.

The second point is this exchange between Mr. Henschen and Mr. Selipsky. I have marked Mr. Henschen’s question with the label “question” and Mr. Selipsky’s response as “answer”:

Question: Would you say that Internet-based, customer-facing businesses like Amazon are at the center of the target and that enterprises business might be ceded, one day, to cloud vendors that specialize in enterprise services?

Answer: I would absolutely not say that. We had Fortune 500 companies using Amazon Web Services literally from the day we launched S3. It’s true that the majority of our early usage was from smaller companies and startups because they tend to be a little more risk tolerant. We thought it would take several years to get to the enterprise stage in a meaningful way, but we’ve actually been rather surprised at how quickly enterprise adoption and interest have accelerated.

As I understand Mr. Selipsky’s remark, Amazon is prepared to compete with firms yet to enter the cloud computing arena. For example, there’s the loose tie up between Google and There’s the rumor of interest in utility services from Verizon, AT&T, and other telecommunications companies. I’ve heard chatter that Cisco and Intel as unlikely as this seems to me are thinking about cloud computing. Most of these companies have the potential to make a monopoly play in cloud computing. Also, I think I see another categorical in Mr. Selipsky’s remark: “absolutely”. I find this an interesting word choice in a market sector that is in its infancy.


Let me wrap up with several unasked for remarks:

  1. I find that categorical affirmatives and negatives jejune. Maybe the word choice is colloquial and unintentional, but I think it shows the shallowness of Amazon’s positioning of its Web services. It’s tough for me to accept absolutes and categoricals when so much is uncertain in this cloud computing space.
  2. My recollection is that Amazon’s core service suffered service outages on Friday, June 6, 2008, and then again on Monday, June 9, 2008. The information about the problem has been sparse. Regardless of the cause, these recent problems suggest that Amazon’s engineering has some details to which it must attend.
  3. Certain services naturally tend toward monopolies. For example, I don’t buy my electric power in rural Kentucky from the cheapest vendor. I use the only vendor, a non-US outfit with control of the local power company. I think cloud computing may share some DNA with the pre-break up AT&T; that is, it will make economic sense for one company to control the market. Because cloud computing is an engineering problem, I think the winner will be a company that can do great engineering economically. A system failure doesn’t translate in my mind to great engineering.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know. Use the comments section to push back or provide additional insight. This is a Web log, so weigh in.

Report about Amazon technical issue from Network World is here.

Stephen Arnold, June 10, 2008


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