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Former Amazon cloud engineer spills to Reddit audience

Amazon is notoriously hush-hush about its internal operations

By , Network World
May 17, 2013 10:00 AM ET

Network World - Usually Amazon Web Services, which many consider to be the leader in the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud computing market, is pretty hush-hush about the internal workings of its massive cloud.

But recently an anonymous person who claims to be a former AWS engineer gave an in-depth, inside look at AWS's cloud during a question-and-answer session on Reddit. (Reddit moderators routinely authenticate the credentials of "I am a (IamA) ... "ask me anything" (AMA) participants.)

[ MORE AMA: Bill Gates does Reddit, talks cheap cheeseburgers, his new Surface Pro and eradicating polio ]

The engineer says he used to work on OS/software issues at the cloud division of Amazon.com, and he now gets paid more to do development outside of AWS. Reddit has verified his identity, but not provided his name. Given the breadth and depth of his responses in the post, he seems to know what he's talking about.

Read the full post here. Below are some of the highlights.

Amazon uses a lot of secret sauce

Amazon customizes both its hardware and software that make up its cloud. Most hardware nodes run one of a variety of flavors of "Amazon Linux," for example. The company's Amazon's Elastic Block Storage (EBS) service is also custom-built. "It's simply just a lot of commodity disks with 100% custom written software running the show. Keep things cheap that way. EBS volumes are true block devices underneath, they're not sitting in some filesystem."

Working on Amazon's cloud isn't all it's hyped up to be

The engineer says he and a friend were both disappointed in the "mundane" tasks they were doing at AWS. But, it did pay off. "Putting Amazon SDE (software development engineer) on your resume is quickly turning into the same thing as putting Google SDE on your resume. So, while you may feel it's boring, the real reward will be the job opportunities in the future." He did not make more than $100,000 working there, and he says the stock plan isn't great. Employees do get a 10% discount, up to $1,000 worth of purchases at Amazon.com. "The company's core values include 'frugality' and that's just the word 'cheap' wrapped up in a bow."

AWS can guarantee some pretty hefty security

One questioner asked if AWS can support Level 4 data security, to which the engineer said yes, but at a cost. AWS recently released a new hardware security module (HSM), which is literally a piece of hardware that sits in its cloud to provide extra security for customers through encryption of Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes, and Amazon Machine Instances (AMI), two of the major offerings from AWS. This allows customers who are willing to spend the money to deploy these systems across their infrastructure to achieve HIPAA, SOX and ITAR compliances.

"The cloud" isn't really a new technology and is a lot of marketing hype

"The cloud, [is] an 'interesting' concept, because in a lot of ways it's still just a VPS [virtual private server]," the engineer says. "Sure it has some redundant features, but the definition of cloud is fairly dynamic and bent to fit whatever a company wants to sell as a 'cloud.'"

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