The world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, with its subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS), has revolutionised the world of technology with cloud computing. And the man behind AWS is Dr Werner Vogels, vice-president and chief technology officer, Amazon. During a visit to India, he spoke to Shivani Shinde on cloud-computing adoption here, and how AWS has grown in this space. Edited Excerpts.
When Amazon opened its technology architecture to the outside world, did you think you would be creating a completely new platform?
We never thought we were getting into the cloud space; we wanted to help some of our customers to be more successful. Amazon has had a long history of opening up its technology to partners. We opened our fulfilment centres to partners. In 2002-03, we opened our e-commerce catalogue as an application programming interface (API) for others. We realised that while businesses did create amazing products, as soon as they got successful, they had trouble scaling up, funding and in resource management. And this funding was not going in for creating better business, but was used to buy more hardware. We had solved this problem for ourselves. We decided to take these technologies and rebuild them and offer as services to outside business purely with the idea to help businesses to be scaleable.
The industry has created several segments in cloud computing — public, private and hybrid. Do you think they will co-exist?
Enterprise will not move to cloud in one night. Look at Amazon.com, it is a large enterprise and there are pieces within Amazon.com that have not yet been moved to cloud. Just because it does not make sense to do it now. It’s the same for enterprises. They are looking for a transition path.
I see hybrid cloud as a part of transition strategy. Private cloud is just a lot of talk — not much is happening. For me, cloud is about benefits and not just about technology. It needs to reduce operational cost, give capital and allow you to move fast. You should no longer need to compromise on resources or care about hardware. If you look at private cloud, you still need capital; there is no reduction in operational cost, resources continue to be constrained, you are responsible for fault tolerance and maintenance. None of the benefits applies. The software may look like cloud, but it is not cloud. It may give you some flexibility, but only over traditional IT setup.
How are Indian chief information officers (CIO) adopting cloud, and how are they different from their counterparts in other regions?
India is one of the markets where we had customers even before we created a south east Asia region. We had customers such as Hungama, Redbus and others. One reason for this is the education system here and the number of engineers it creates. Companies from media, e-commerce, internet portals, etc. opting for cloud was a given. But I see that a number of traditional enterprises that have taken longer to adopt cloud in other regions are adopting this faster in India. BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), oil & gas, construction, and manufacturing are some of the examples. Many of these companies are looking at their peers in markets such as the US and Europe and what they are doing with cloud. They are choosing not to wait to spend time on testing.
Indian CIOs are no different from others. Companies here have issue in terms of capital. Especially in media, most companies don’t have too much capital and, hence, cloud is attractive. I also feel that more and more CIOs are looking for new world IT space. They are looking at vendors who have cloud in their DNA.
AWS’s recent offering, Amazon Glacier, seems to be aiming to make tape technology redundant.
It is one of those things where customers have real pain. Many enterprises have requirement for keeping emails for five-six years. But look at the quantity of emails now. So your tape library is also growing exponentially and it’s not easy to maintain it. This is costly, and you need more people to manage that tape library. It is available for $0.01 per gigabyte per month and has a durability of 11 nines (99.999999999 per cent). It is a usage-based subscription model.
A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles and a lot of studios said they want to move to this. They are fine even if the access is only for four-five hours. Hospitals use digital formats for data, but to store they put it on film and store it. This saves time, money and space for several of them.
Do you think cloud computing will change the whole paradigm of the IT services model?
Look at the attendance of people for the AWS Summit 2012, (about 1,000 people attended the recent AWS Summit in Mumbai). This means customers are looking at cloud seriously. I always joke that if companies do not change, their fate will be similar to what happened to dinosaurs.
What has been Amazon’s experience with big data and how has the company used it for better business decisions?
Measuring things have been extremely important for Amazon. In the famous open letter of 1997, one of the things that Jeff wrote is that we will relentlessly measure our business operations and learn from them. Search and analytics have been core to our business. So we can make business decision. We have been always thinking about how can we make data help customer to make better decision. All our recommendation systems for the past 10 years are example of big data. My definition of big data is to help customer to do large-scale analysis for companies to create a competitive advantage. That is why companies are interested in big data. From an engineering point, big data is about collecting it, storing it, organising, analysing it and using it.
The big difference in big data is, business intelligence would foresee what questions you want to ask. Now you collect data and then decide your questions. Cloud is the ideal partner with big data as you have unlimited computing power. We do a lot of big data analytics. We use Hadoop for executing these. We have used this for our associate eco-system on Amazon.com.