Amazon’s S3 Simple Storage Service is a metered data storage service that works across the Internet.
Starting an Internet business
S3 means that you don’t have to spend time deciding how many terabytes of space you might need (wasting money if you buy too much and risking your existence if you buy too little). You don’t have to have high-security data centres with uninterruptible power supplies, with staff ready to rush in at the bleep of a pager if anything goes wrong. You don’t have to struggle with the dilemma of backup: back up too little and you risk massive data loss, back up too much and you risk one of your backups going missing, full of confidential information.
With S3, you just sign up and pay by the gigabyte. The more you use, the more you pay; the less you use, the less you pay. Amazon pay for a distributed network of data centres; Amazon pay for the staff; Amazon have software and procedures ensure that if one data centre is hit by a hurricane then another one will already have copies of all the data.
S3 seems the ideal choice for Internet startups that need data storage, and it’s already catalysing the invention of new Internet computing architectures. Whether companies will continue using it beyond the startup and adolescent phases remains to be seen, but even if S3 finds its place in the market as something you aim to grow out of eventually, it will have done a good job. It is far easier for a potential investor to assess an application with 10,000 users than it is to assess one that exists only on a whiteboard.
Individual computer users
S3 sounds perfect for backup and archiving. For every obsessive maker of daily backups, there are ten “wing and a prayer” people who know that their computer won’t go wrong today because it didn’t go wrong yesterday. And (as I fill yet another cupboard with my daily DVD backups, written and never used) I can see why they think like that.
With S3, a computer user need never make backups again. A simple invisible program (there are several on their way to the market) will work quietly in the background, taking anything that hasn’t been backed up recently and making copies of it on Amazon’s servers.
Too good to be true?
Altogether S3 looks like a Good Thing. It makes data storage really, really dull and boring. Duller than electricity, even: most electricity users have matches and a candle somewhere, just in case, but S3 doesn’t even need candles.
But is Amazon S3 boring enough to use? Can you build a business on it? If you do build a business on it, will anyone fund you or will their analysis throw up risks you never thought of?
These are the questions that this series of blog postings will explore.
These postings are intended to be non-technical and comprehensible to real human beings. If I say anything that’s unclear, please add a comment to the posting and I’ll do my best to correct it.
Next time, to make the whole discussion more concrete, I’ll describe a business that could be built on top of S3.