Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Amazon S3

Another event that went down while I was out in the field was the launch of Amazon S3, a web service for storing data. Amazon S3 was known internally as "Amazon Storage" until about a week before launch, at which point the folks running it sat down with Jeff Bezos, who opined that soon we'd be competing with Google Storage and Yahoo Storage, and how thus would we ever successfully brand or trademark our particular service? Hence Amazon S3 (S3 = "Simple Storage Service") was born. And thus have you learned an important lesson about being the CEO of a major corporation.

Being able to get generic storage space somewhere out in the ether is not a particularly spectacular innovation. When the first iMac came out (which was, what, ten years ago at this point? Good lord) and there was general uproar over the fact that it lacked a floppy drive, some wonk offered everybody with an email account a couple of megs of storage space on his server so that they wouldn't need one. L. backs up her data by attaching .doc files to emails and sending them to herself at her Yahoo mail account, being that they now provide a Gigabyte of storage for your mail. I suspect this practice is quite widespread. There are, though, two actual innovations with Amazon S3, one lesser and one greater: the lesser one is that this is an enterprise level service (which is code for it being reliable and available enough for Amazon's own use--we're drinking our own Kool-Aid, as it were). The greater innovation here is that we're now able to meter the usage and charge for it (Capitalism: it's what's for dinner).

S3 was slashdotted (here 'slashdot' appears in its past participle form, meaning "to post an item for comment on") a day or so after it launched, and 99% of the posts imagined it as an ethereal backup for ones personal data. You encrypt it (and here I'll make my little pitch again: any electronic data that you would mind if everyone in the world were to read, you should be encrypting. This, sadly, now includes stuff you think is only ever going to be sitting on your harddrive. Don't ask why. Just do it) and send it to S3, where it's reliably stored and available from anywhere. Even with a superfast internet connection, retrieval times aren't going to approach the speed of, e.g., a firewire drive, but if you're just storing and retrieving once in awhile, it works fine. At $0.15 a Gig per month, and $0.20 a Gig for bandwidth (to store or retrieve data), it's a pretty reasonable price for a highly reliable archive. But personal (or even business) archive storage like this isn't the point of S3.

If you're a regular OaO reader and pay very close attention to my postings on things Web 2.0 (hi Sam), you might notice that this is one more piece to the puzzle I laid out six months ago, just after I joined Amazon Web Services. S3 is a virtual harddrive. One use for such a virtual harddrive is to store your data. But in the brave new world of Web 2.0, it's also a data store and information server for this brave new virtual computer running brave new virtual software. The virtual computer is not a machine (hence the word 'virtual'), it's a distributed network of computers that are all somewhere out in the world, and the software isn't a piece of code that's loaded onto a machine, it's tens or hundreds or thousands of distributed functions that, again, run on arbitrary machines somewhere.

So, possibly you're not as excited about this as I. Maybe it really isn't that cool. It might just end up being a place to store your data, that's all, the end. Or it might not.

Next: Something you might conceiveably give a crap about!
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