Monday, December 10, 2007

The Technology Platform: Building Block for Innovation

At QCON London 2007, Werner Vogels gave a talk on technology platform. The Amazon technology platform services 5 kinds of clients:

1. retail customers

2. Retail market place sellers

3. Enterprise Retail Customers

4. Associates

5. Web Service Developers

Werner describes the original Amazon business model as increase in selection, leads to more customers, which leads to more sellers and so on. This results in a fly wheel in motion which leads to growth. Economy of scale leads to lower cost structure and thus lower prices which feeds back into more customers which gets an additional swing in the fly wheel.

Amazon started out with selling books. Due to the enormous selection, books are the ideal candidates to sell online.

From books, there was a move for more breadth and depth (screws, springs, grocery, movies, TVs).

Werner explains how to extended selection, Amazon invites other vendor onto the platform, even if they offer the same products at lower prices. These vendors get to take advantage of reviews and customer feedback. Amazon takes in xml feeds containing item and inventory descriptions and pushes back information about transactions.

In terms of Services, Amazon offers webstores, fulfillment, and selling on Amazon.

Ecommerce platform: opening up the data through web services. It will drive traffic back to application.

Clients can pick and choose the services of the platform that they want

1. Identity management

2. Order Processing, payments, fraud protection

3. Fulfillment & customer service

4. Product and offers management

5. Content generation and discovery

Next Werner looks back at the history of Amazon. It started out as on large application connected to a large database. This grew to multiple large applications connected to several databases. However, scaling bottle neck was always at the database, each Christmas presented a new challenge. It took 6 years to redo the platform to what it is today. A thin webserver talking to business logic. There is no longer direct access to data. One can only access data through webservices. This allows the database to change/scale independent of clients.

Werner describes Amazon as a service oriented process and organization:

· A single team per service. Large shop with small startup inside. Hard API to outside world. Inside, up to each team to develop the way they feel most effective.

· End to end ownership of design and development

· No virtual wall between development and operations

· A continuous feedback loop

· Infrastructure focuses on self-help

Amazon provides layered services: Foundation/primitive services (example: identify), aggregators, clients.

Amazon provides scalability and reliability with a pay as you go option. Reliability of hard disks: 6 to 10% of disks fail per year. Half of those failure will happen in the 1st 3 months. Amazon enables clients to change fixed costs and turn them into variable cost with a pay as you go service.

Werner wraps up by summarizing the different technologies that live inside the Amazon platform. There is data integration to extend selection, service integration to improve utilization of the overall platform, and web scale
computing to enable utilization of competencies that Amazon has developed.

This presentation is available on InfoQ at