Amazon fortifies Web Services strategy

Building on its core business of utility computing, Amazon is filling its stables with more focused IT services, muscling out middleware and making services available on its own platform.

Claiming nearly half a million users, Amazon Web Services is the world leader in cloud computing.

Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) provides virtual servers, and Simple Storage Service (S3) provides on-demand storage. Distributed, multihomed Xen-based virtualization powers Amazon's cloud. The company has a comfortable lead in infrastructure services. Since October 2008, when EC2 officially opened its doors, Amazon has steadily bolted on products and services that streamline usage of its core compute resources, creating a place for users to develop their own products and services.

Amazon did not respond to repeated requests for comment or interviews about its new product lineup.

According to Frank Gens, the chief analyst for cloud computing at IDC, Amazon is making a well-considered push into the cloud services marketplace that extends beyond selling infrastructure and aims to leverage its success and built-in user base. "They are filling out the entire stack" between cloud compute consumers and end-user sales, he said.

For more on Amazon cloud computing:
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Reducing the development time sink
Aside from core services EC2 and S3, Amazon has amassed products that users can snap into their Amazon Web Services (AWS) accounts with a minimum of fuss; Amazon hopes that it can convince current users that there is potential cost savings in paying Amazon to do things they would otherwise develop on their own.

In March 2009, Amazon Elastic MapReduce -- a batch processor on steroids -- opened to much acclaim. It provides supercomputer-grade number crunching for users' applications and data. A dedicated internal cloud based on Hadoop, it already enjoys high-profile endorsements from online retailers such as Netflix and is another effort to leverage Amazon's economies of scale for a specific computing need.

Released December 2008, SimpleDB provides many common relational database tasks between a user'sEC2 and S3 instances and touts its lean feature set and one-size-fits-all indexing as advantages.

A part of AWS since its inception in 2006, Simple Queue Service provides messaging between systems for a fraction of a penny per shot and promises hassle-free scalability and reliability. It targets users who might otherwise run their own message stacks within virtual servers.

Debuting in November 2008, CloudFront is a content distribution network that Amazon says "caches copies of your content close to end users" enlisting an "edge network" built-in Amazon's cloud. CloudFront moves your S3 data wherever it sees fit and charges you when it delivers files to viewers.

With these various services, Amazon now offers servers, storage, databases, queue messaging and data processing-- all for pennies per minute per service. From the other end, AWS uses its cloud capacity to offer facilities users can drop into place for bread-and-butter business needs.

And in December 2007, Amazon introduced DevPay, a billing system for applications developed and hosted in Amazon's cloud, and in April, it announced Amazon Financial Services, which can be dropped into any website, in or out of AWS to handle subscription services. For both, Amazon peels a fee off what companies charge their customers and handles all the work, including automating attractive features such as promotional gimmicks and a Web portal to manage your subscriptions.

Amazon also owns and sells Alexa Web Information Service to all looking for Web traffic analytics as well as access to Amazon's own sales and marketing data. Experimental "crowdsourcing" hydra Mechanical Turk is still in use, although after four years, it has not moved out of beta testing.

Many of these new offerings are in beta; Elastic MapReduce, SimpleDB and AFS are still not fully formed. But in theory, Amazon can sell you a rudimentary IT infrastructure, content distribution, marketing analysis and find you cheap production labor -- all in one place and as much or as little as you need. That's a lot more than a server farm; it may be an ecosystem unto itself.

Carl Brooks is a Technology Writer for Write to him at

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