The Stunning Scale of AWS and What it Means for the Future of the Cloud
Monday, January 12, 2015 at 9:05AM
Todd Hoff in Example

James Hamilton, VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon, and long time blogger of interesting stuff, gave an enthusiastic talk at AWS re:Invent 2014 on AWS Innovation at Scale. He’s clearly proud of the work they are doing and it shows.

James shared a few eye popping stats about AWS:

The major theme of the talk is the cloud is a different world. It’s a special environment that allows AWS to do great things at scale, things you can’t do, which is why the transition from on premise x86 servers to the public cloud is happening at a blistering pace. With so many scale driven benefits to the public cloud, it's a transition that can't be stopped. The cloud will keep getting more reliable, more functional, and cheaper at a rate that you can't begin to match with your limited resources, generalist gear, bloated software stacks, slow supply chains, and outdated innovation paradigms.

That's the PR message at least. But one thing you can say about Amazon is they are living it. They are making it real. So a healthy doubt is healthy, but extrapolating out the lines of fate would also be wise.

One of the fickle finger of fate advantages AWS has is resources. At one million customers they have the scale to keep the engine of expansion and improvement going. Profits aren't being taken out, money is being reinvested. This is perhaps the most important advantage of scale.

But money without smarts is simply waste. Amazon wants you to know they have the smarts. We've heard how Google and Facebook build their own gear, Amazon does too. They build their own networking gear, networking software, racks, and they work with Intel to get faster processor versions of processors than are available on the market. The key is they know everything and control everything about their environment, so they can build simpler gear that does exactly what they want, which turns out to be cheaper and more reliable in the end.

Complete control allows quality metrics to be built into everything. Metrics drive a constant quality increase in all parts of the system, which is why against all odds AWS is getting more reliable as the pace of innovation quickens. Great pools of actionable data turned into knowledge is another huge advantage of scale.

Another thing AWS can do that you can't is the Availability Zone architecture itself. Each AZ is its own datacenter and AZs within a region are located very close together. This reduces messaging latencies, which means state can be synchronously replicated between AZs, which greatly improves availability compared to the typical approach where redundant datacenters are very far apart. 

It's a talk rich with information and...well, spunk. The real meta-theme of the talk is how Amazon consciously uses scale to their competitive advantage. For Amazon scale isn't just an expense to be dealt with, scale is a resource to exploit, if you know how.

Here's my gloss of James Hamilton's incredible talk...

Everything in the Talk has a Foundation in Scale

There are Big Cost Problems in Networking

Networking Explained Layer by Layer, from the very top to the Network Interface Card

AWS Worldwide Network Backbone

Example AWS Region (US East ((Northern Virginia))

Example AWS Availability Zone

Example Datacenter

Example Rack, Server & NIC

AWS Custom Server & Storage Designs

Power Infrastructure

Rapid Pace of Innovation

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