Structure 2010: Amazon's CTO Says the Cloud Has Arrived

Werner Vogels, Amazon’s chief technology officer, said at GigaOM’s Structure conference this morning that the biggest change in cloud computing over the past year is that “we went from talk to action.” In 2009 and before, he said, many companies were considering implementing cloud services, or were doing small ‘proof of concept’ tests, but “we’ve left that phase behind…we are no longer discussing it, we are doing it.” Vogels said that he’s been in many meetings with corporate IT managers, and they’re directing their organizations to start implementing cloud services and systems now because “the benefits are too great. IT departments realize that they’re at a disadvantage if they are not getting on board right now.”

The Amazon CTO noted that one of the major entities implementing cloud services rather than just talking about them is the federal government, with the rollout of data.gov, followed by recovery.gov (which tracks the government’s recovery spending), and more recently the launch of treasury.gov by the Treasury Department. Vogels quoted Vivek Kundra, the U.S. government’s first Chief Information Officer, who said that cloud computing “frees us to focus on mission-critical tasks instead of purchasing, configuring and maintaining redundant infrastructure.”

Vogels also talked about the rapid rise in use of Amazon cloud technologies and services that he helped develop and launch, including its EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) server business and its S3 (Simple Storage System). He said that in 2008 the company was talking about how the S3 service hosted close to 20 billion objects, but that this number is “now just a blip,” and the company’s data storage business now has more than 100 billion objects hosted on it, and handles an average of 120,000 operations per second.

The Amazon CTO also dealt with what he called the “top myths of cloud computing,” including the idea that it’s not reliable, not secure, that cost is all that matters, that the cloud “locks you in,” and so on — most of which he said are being gradually dispelled. He said the most bizarre myth he’s heard is that “when Christmas comes and Amazon has a better-than-expected quarter, it will yank all your capacity away from you.” The Amazon executive called this idea “ridiculous,” and said that the company is “investing enormous capital resources” in its cloud computing businesses, which it hopes might some day be as large as the company’s existing online retail business is.

The future of mobile consumer applications will be powered by cloud computing, Vogels said, because it allows for rapid innovation. These applications will involve rich media, will allow for multidevice access, will be location-aware and social graph-based, with support for virtual goods and other features. “All these services and building blocks are here today,” he said, thanks to companies such as Drop.io, Panda, SimpleGeo, Twilio, Chargify and OpenX. “All you need is an idea and the cloud will build it for you, and execute and send you money,” he joked.

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