Infinite capacity, Facebook, iPhones and DRM-free music

This is the world that Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels inhabits. He discussed this and more with attendees of his Network World chat.

Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels discusses infinite capacity, FaceBook applications and DRM-free music with the Network World audience.

Werner_Vogels: Good morning or afternoon depending on where you're located. Thanks for joining. I'm looking forward to answering as many of your questions as possible in the next hour.

Peter K: Where do you see Amazon fitting in or in what roles for the future of Information Everywhere availability. What are some of the future tracks and R&D the company might take?

Werner_Vogels:  At Amazon we believe that we can offer the data in the Amazon platform through Amazon e-commerce service to allow access from any application. The mixing and mashing of different services to build new businesses is the economic trend of the future and EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud)  and S3 (Simple Storage Service) also fit in to this. Go read the push and pull paper by John Hagel and Seely Brown on this.

Nick: Are you seeing interest/adoption of EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) and S3 (Simple Storage Service) in 'traditional' high performance and grid computing areas? If yes, what areas are taking advantage of those services?

Werner_Vogels: We see adoption of Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3 in a broad spectrum of companies. One particular area is the traditional high performance computing field such as financial industry, pharmaceuticals and movie rendering.

Ironman: I have been curious about the Amazon EC2 business model. Can you give us an idea of the success of that model and the types of tools you have used to capture usage information and allocate costs? How applicable are those tools to internal enterprise cost allocation?

Werner_Vogels: EC2 and S3 were technologies that were developed for Amazon internally first and as such they have proven their success in an enterprise environment. We have an extensive internal monitoring and scheduling system that optimizes EC2 usage but it is very early and very research focused.

EC2_Fan: Do you plan to offer high availability and SLAs around your S3 and EC2 services?

Werner_Vogels: Regarding high availability, S3 and EC2 are built on the same technology that Amazon.com uses. With respect to SLAs, this is something we hear a lot from developers and we hope to have something to share with you soon. One more point on SLA's. They need to be meaningful in an Internet context. We are diving deep on making sure that is the case.

Moderator-Keith: Here's a pre-submitted question: Any Harry Potter VII stories? What tricks did you use to keep systems handling massive worldwide orders and deliveries?

Werner_Vogels: We often talk about how well Amazon scales, but most of those discussions are how Amazon provides rock-solid performance with respect to the number of customers, merchants, visitors, etc. HP demonstrates another side of Amazon that scales really well and this is shipments and delivery processing. To handle the additional processing that the HP scale requires we use EC2 to dynamically acquire and release capacity and our systems are built to exploit these elastic techniques.

jason_watkins: Smaller Web sites experience similar pains to larger Web sites, but we don't have the engineering or operational resources to build our own distributed computing frameworks. Things like EC2 help, but the market is really underdeveloped. Do you have any ideas for approaches that smaller companies could use to gain some of the benefits of Amazon's in-house technology, but with less daunting staff requirements?

Werner_Vogels: I don't have a magical solution either but one great place to start is the book by the 37signals guys that deals with launching a small company and developing technology for it with minimal resources.

Moderator-Keith: Pre-submitted question: Besides using a lot of paint, can data centers really be "green"?

Werner_Vogels: There are two parts to data centers that have room for improvement: power consumption and cooling. Conservative estimates that 50% of power gets lost so any improvement there is contribution to making data centers more green. Modern cooling systems with better heat management also have direct environmental impact. http://www.thegreengrid.org/home is a good source of information.

Moderator-Keith: Here’s a pre-submitted question: DRM-Free MP3? What possessed you guys to do that?

Werner_Vogels: Because it is the right thing to do for the customer. Delivering DRM-free music fits squarely into the vision of Amazon as the world's most customer-centric company. This way, customers can use their downloaded music on all devices they have -- from their home theater to their car stereo, without any restrictions. This reduces a lot of the confusion around downloadable music and it is just a great customer experience.

ShogsbroRe: AmazonMP3, can you talk about your future plans for this service? In particular, do you have plans to go beyond social tagging to enable music discovery beyond most heavily promoted? And do you see yourself branching out to allow non-signed artists to become published on your service?

Werner_Vogels: At Amazon we don't talk about what we're going to do until we do it so you'll just have to keep your eyes on the site for additional functionality.

Darren: I'd be interested in the technical perspective on the new iPhone beta interface to the Amazon site. How broad does that have on your development, and how far do you see it going?

Werner_Vogels: There's Amazon Anywhere, which anyone can use to browse Amazon.com from a mobile device. For specific mobile applications we see many developers using Amazon AWS E-Commerce Web Services to get access to Amazon data and functionality.

Moderator-Keith: Pre-submitted question: What's the one thing that most companies do wrong when implementing SOA?

Werner_Vogels: Companies think that they have to make huge up-front investments to build services. Companies should consider getting a very small team to take one business process and turn it in to a service without making any massive investments. They should then experiment to see whether that service meets the needs of the customer. That way you get early experience with services without the huge investment.

P: What are Amazon's plans around SaaS/IaaS and delivering a productize SaaS/IaaS offerings into the market? Is this a play for Amazon?

Werner_Vogels: The SaaS companies do not have much history of operating services themselves and they are forced to go into the data center business. This is exactly the area EC2 and S3 were developed for and we see tremendous interest from this industry in utility computing.

Moderator-Keith: Pre-submitted question: Give us a one-line summary of Web 2.0 for the typical enterprise, great? Dangerous? Both?

Werner_Vogels: Web 2.0 has many definitions. If we take Web 2.0 to mean services that people can connect together to innovate on then I believe this is great news for enterprises as they can get value out of previous investments that they can now offer for services.

jason_watkins: What technology are you most interested in learning about?

Werner_Vogels: The crossover of biological systems and distributed computing. Many of the concepts in distributed systems such as redundancy, replication, spatial compartmentalization are present in how biological systems keep themselves robust. Given that biological systems are capable of operating at enormous scale there are many things that we can learn from it to build better distributed systems.

Charles%20Edge: Do you have partnership plans to allow for FaceBook applications in the near future?

Werner_Vogels:  Go to widgets.amazon.com and you'll find selection of widgets that can be used on any website, including Facebook. There are also a number of specialized applications within Facebook that use Amazon Web Services to present for example, wish list data to Facebook users.

Moderator-Keith: Pre-submitted question: What's your favorite Amazon widget and why?

Werner_Vogels: The new widgets that Amazon Associates Team delivers are all really cool, but I personally like the Wish list widget because it allows any Amazon customer to display his/her wish list on their personal Web sites. I certainly use it on my home page. But everyone should visit widgets.amazon.com to select their own favorite widget and start using it.

Baxter32: What technology advancement on Amazon are you most proud of?

Werner_Vogels: There are many critical technologies to be proud of, ranging from personalization to supply chain. From search to digital technologies. Any of those teams have delivered technology that revolutionized the way we do business.

BartKnight: Whenever I get personalized recommendations from Amazon it's based on things that I buy (usually for my wife), and not from what I like myself (when people buy for me). Granted, I haven't been to the site recently, is there a better way to get personalized recommendations?

Werner_Vogels: We continue to improve our personalization, similarities, and recommendation engines. So, you'll see that over time this gets even better and better. Both in terms of quality of recommendations as well as the way that they are presented to you.

MaxwellB: Amazon.com has been around for a long time now. Does it feel like they've matured as a "Web" company, or does it still feel like a start-up?

Werner_Vogels: At Amazon we try to remain as agile as possible. For that we are organized around small teams that we call 2 pizza teams. This allows us to quickly launch new services and businesses. It very much still feels like a young, dynamic company.

MaxwellB: To follow up on my earlier question, I guess I was wondering if the growth that Amazon has experienced causes it to be more corporate than in the early days, and is that a good thing or bad thing?

Werner_Vogels: There are clearly things that in the early years that were less mature. For example, by now we've developed great distributed systems technology that is highly cost effective. Where cost in the early years may not have been of primary concern.

Drbrogers: As a large global company I'm sure Amazon.com doesn't have trouble coming up with the necessary budget to train its IT department. In what ways do you as an executive think so as to justifying greater storage and security training for your direct reports and those under them and finally, how would you yourself liked to be approached about increasing such expenditures?

Werner_Vogels: Amazon at its core is a technology company. We often joke that we just happen to do retail. So at Amazon there is no separation between business and technology and many of the small teams have both a business and technology focus.

BartKnight: Do you feel that you have to 'stay ahead of the curve' in terms of new technologies and/or features, because you're Amazon?

Werner_Vogels: At Amazon's scale often commercial software doesn't operate so Amazon develops very advanced technologies ourselves. For this we often to dive into research. What other people often call research, we call development.

Baxter32: Who does Amazon consider as its major competitor? Another e-commerce site, Google or a mainstream retailer?

Werner_Vogels:  All e-commerce sites are focused on getting more customers to add online shopping to their brick-and-mortar experience. We believe that the unique customer-centric approach of Amazon will drive those customers to Amazon.com.

Anil: What are your thoughts on payment gateway services, such as those from Google, Paypal etc.

Werner_Vogels:  We believe developers need more than a coarse grained access to payment services. For example, building a digital marketplace requires three way transactions that are not served well by traditional payment services. Amazon FPS however is solely targeted at developers allowing them to build new payment business models.

Charles%20Edge: Do you see projects such as the Gutenberg library to be a direct competitor to Amazon?

Werner_Vogels:  Absolutely not. We love the Gutenberg library and it's a good complement to products available for customers in an e-commerce world.

Ironman6: IT usage and cost allocation systems have been my focus for the past six years or so. If there is someone that could discuss further, I would appreciate more information.

Werner_Vogels: Go to Amazon.com/webservices as a first step and we'll take it from there.

Charles%20Edge: Werner - How many hours a day do you work?

Werner_Vogels: About 10 hours a day. I use it to "get things done" to organize my life.

Charles%20Edge: How do you manage the time that you spend at work and what kind of boundaries do you set between work time and home time?

Werner_Vogels: I ride a motorcycle home. Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle knows that it completely clears your thoughts. It's a Zen experience that allows you to set clear boundaries between work and home life.

RichardHWerner: - This is a bit off-topic, but how do I send you a resume for a position in Information Security at Amazon?

Werner_Vogels: go to amazon.com/careers and you'll find tools to submit resumes and investigate all the possible employment options.

Charles%20Edge: Your blog is great - what caused you to start writing it?

Werner_Vogels: I started when I was still academic. I believed that the publishing cycle in academia is old-fashioned and out of date. I believe research results should be published in smaller chunks and more frequently, such that there is better sharing among researchers. Blogs also give a great vehicle for reporting negative results... the things that you learn most from which is never done in academia. That triggered me to start writing the blog and it has taken on a life from there.

Werner_Vogels:  It looks like we're out of time. Thanks for joining me. I had fun and I hope it was informative for you.

Moderator-Julie: Thank you for attending today's chat. For an ongoing behind-the-scenes look into Amazon.com, check out his blog aptly named blog, "All Things Distributed".

Also watch for upcoming chats with and national IT employment recruiter Matt Colarusso (October 9) and All about IP routing with Jeff Doyle, Nov. 7.

Learn more about this topic

 
Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.