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The Origins of Amazon's Cloud Computing

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Greg Papadopoulos (Sun) and Werner Vogels (Amazon) join Om Mallik on stage at Structure 2009 in San Francisco California.

The story of Amazon (s amzn) creating a cloud computing business to take advantage of capacity left over from the peak holiday season has settled into the Internet apocrypha, but blogger Carl Brooks claims he’s uncovered the real reason the online bookstore got into the cloud: homesickness.

Brooks interviewed Jesse Robbins, the guy who formerly kept Amazon’s servers running. As he tells it, the project began as a way to keep an engineering talent named Chris Pinkham with Amazon after he wanted to return to his home country of South Africa. From Brooks’ story:

Now half a world away, Christopher Brown, who joined Pinkham as a founding member, architect, and lead developer for EC2, set about finding resources to test his ideas on automation in a fully virtualized server environment. Robbins, who knew about the project, gave Brown the interdepartmental cold shoulder.

“I was horrified at the thought of the dirty, public Internet touching MY beautiful operations,” he said with all the relish of a born operator. Robbins had his hands on the reins of the worlds most sucessful [sic] online retail operation from soup to nuts and wasn’t about to let it be mucked up with long-distance experimentation.

So Pinkham and Brown created the world’s first cloud for Amazon in a separate data center in South Africa. My hunch is that this post is part of the press blitz for Opscode, a startup Robbins co-founded and leads, which recently raised a large amount of venture capital. Opscode is behind an open-source systems integration framework for the cloud called Chef. I couldn’t reach Amazon to confirm the story, but interested folks can ask Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, at our Structure 2010 conference next Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco.

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7 Responses to “The Origins of Amazon's Cloud Computing”

  1. That’s an awesome story. It’s great to see more going on here in South Africa. I’m looking forward to seeing Chris Pinkham’s new (partly Cape Town based) startup launch next week.

  2. It absolutely did come from Opscode’s marketing push- the story was related to me in part of an briefing on an upcoming announcement from Jesse and Co.

    It had nothing to do with the news, but it was just too good a tidbit to let go, so I wrote it up.

    If you’ve followed much of the story behind AWS, there’s plenty of context that supports the story-Benjamin Black’s blog, for example.

    This just fills in some color around the basic story, which is well known; and its a nice little object lesson in serendipity- a traditional IT mindset drove the creation of EC2, which blew that traditional mindset to smithereens.

  3. Hey Stacey,
    Christopher Brown here. Just to correct one minor detail, our data center was in the US, but the team (and thus all the development at the time), was in South Africa. It looks like Chris Pinkham and I will both be at Structure, where Chris will be launching his new startup. Perhaps we can find time to answer questions, along with Werner.