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Monday, May 7, 2007 - Page updated at 02:01 AM

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Brier Dudley

Amazon basks in spotlight

Seattle Times staff columnist

After toiling in the shadow of Google for most of the current technology boom, Seattle's tech giants are back in the game.

With or without Yahoo! I'm talking about and Microsoft. They're in the spotlight with hot new tools for building the next generation of online companies and services.

If they succeed — and sustain the buzz they've received so far — they may pull the tech industry's center of gravity back toward Seattle.

Microsoft finally wowed the Web crowd last week when it unveiled Silverlight, its new software for building and presenting multimedia Web applications.

But Amazon is the real surprise, even though it's basically doing something that's common in Seattle: recycling.

Amazon creatively repurposed the $2 billion worth of data centers and other technology it has developed over the past 12 years.

It's using that platform and its software talent to build new businesses selling technology. The first customers were retailers and Web sites adding e-commerce features.

Now Amazon's moving way beyond retail, renting out the storage and processing capacity of its data centers to all comers on a per-gigabyte or per-minute basis.

Infrastructure rental is the centerpiece of Amazon Web Service (AWS), the collection of tools the company is offering to programmers treating the Internet as an operating system.

Web startups, in particular, are using AWS to start projects on the cheap, then renting more processing and storage if business picks up.


About 240,000 developers use AWS to store 5 billion data objects, up from 800 million in July.

"We thought what we were building had a chance to be successful," said Andrew Jassy, Web services senior vice president. "We really had no idea there would be this much buzz this quickly and how much traction the services would get."

Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said during an April 24 earnings call that Amazon is adding capacity to meet AWS demand and he expects that to continue indefinitely.

Judging from the enthusiasm at a startup workshop Amazon held last month in Seattle, AWS better get bigger fast. It was standing room only for 145 entrepreneurs and 24 venture capitalists, who pressed for details, new services and more capacity.

After introducing AWS, Jassy let users such as Jamglue co-founder Casey Muller tell their stories. Muller uses AWS to store music people load and mix at Jamglue. Pre-launch, his AWS bill was $1.50 a month. It hit $15 during testing. Now, with 110,000 users, it's $600.

Amazon's poster child is, a Mountain View, Calif., photo-service storing 192 terabytes of images. Chief Executive Don MacAskill is enthusiastic about the rise of services like AWS but skeptical of my Seattle hypothesis.

"I'm sure Microsoft and Amazon would love to move the epicenter up to Seattle, but I think it's going to mean there isn't an epicenter anymore," he said, explaining that companies like his are mixing and matching services from Amazon, Google, Yahoo! and others.

There will surely be more hosted infrastructure options, but for now Amazon is in the spotlight.

"It's got to be gratifying for Jeff and his team," MacAskill said. "They've been pooh-poohed over the years — 'They're just a bookseller, they've done all they can do, they're not very interesting.' "

Now, "at every tech conference, they're the buzzy ones."

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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