I’m becoming an AWS fanboy

Business by on December 8, 2008 at 4:58 am

Despite the fact that I despise fanboyishness, I’m developing a deep admiration for Amazon’s work with AWS. This admiration only deepens when I compare their ‘cloudy’ approach to Google’s.

App Engine reminds me of the Transformers that I used to play with as a kid. They were way cooler than any other plastic toys available, but they were still plastic toys. They had some flexibility, but ultimately you were playing with either plastic robots or machines.

Amazon’s Web Services remind me of the Erector Sets I adored. They came with electric motors, gears, pulleys and tons of structural pieces. I felt that you could build anything with an Erector Set. Not only that, but you could combine pieces from the set with just about anything else by bolting it together.

I’ve toyed around with both services and even built a simple tool on Google App Engine that we use for Regular Expression development at BrandVerity: PythonRegex, and a SimpleDB Query Tool. However, I increasingly find that App Engine isn’t an option for any project of reasonable scale or complexity (not to mention that I find the SDK cumbersome and unstable). It seems ideally suited for the next housingmaps.com, but not for most projects.

However, Amazon Web Services offers an incredibly deep and powerful set of tools that only continues to expand in scope and capability. Browsing the available AWS services feels a lot like a visit to Home Depot - the potential excites me. The building block nature of AWS allows the services to be mixed and matched with just about any application. EC2, S3, SimpleDB, Cloudfront, mechanical Turk, are all serving to drastically lower the cost of starting and operating a web business. Not only are the services super-useful but their very nature encourages a number of extremely beneficial programming practices (particularly dependency reduction and linear scalability).

I love that the pricing is incremental. My bill for toying around with AWS was $0.14 in the first month. I’m always wary of Google’s ‘free services’, and find that they require a careful read of the TOS to determine if it is a good idea to lock into their services. With AWS, I know my prices up front and can build very simple forecast models. Nothing is hidden. Not only that I love that AWS is constantly lowering prices. Prices have dropped for nearly all the major services in the last year.

Beyond the automated tasks, Mechanical Turk is purported to have 300,000 ‘Turkers’ earning extra income performing straightforward tasks that automation can’t solve well. Apparently the average lifespan of a task is less than a few hours. Photo tagging can be accomplished for 1 to 2c per photo. Semantic Web applications could be built with slight technological investment and instead depend on the semantic abilities of a small army of people.

The announcement that really impressed me was the aggregation of public data sets (Elastic Block Stores). I’ve long believed that the data sets maintained by governments and similar organizations possess a tremendous amount of knowledge that when freed from access constraints could expose deep knowledge. Amazon removed a significant barrier to this analysis and I can easily see a future where the world’s collected knowledge is available for easy analysis.

I eagerly await new developments from our new overlords in the cloud.

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