Tuesday, September 25, 2007

[Event] "Does Amazon do research?" Amazon CTO Vogels in Interview

Today I had the pleasure to record the interview with Werner Vogels, the CTO from Amazon.com, who held the keynote speach of the Very Large Databases Conference currently held in Vienna.

The interviewer is Dr. Ross King from Vienna University and the interview is part of our "Woche der Informatik" podcast. This podcast is actually in German, however for the English speaking audience the VLDB keynote interviews (starting with this one) are accessible as well. Just ignore the German introduction and jump right into the talk with Dr. Vogels (chapter marks...).

Actually the keynote (and the interview) was very interesting, some points Dr. Vogels discussed where:
  • The problem of state management ("state management is a dominant factor in scaling")
  • Amazon as company: "Amazon is a technology company that accidentally works as a retailer"; he also shows a series of other E-Commerce sites like Marks and Spencer, Mothercare, Smug Mug and others that are actually build on top of Amazon technology.
  • Amazon apparently goes the way (similar like EBay): from a retailer (auction house) to an e-commerce technology provider/platform.
  • A dominant issue in the talk was scalability. COTS products typically do not scale the way Amazon needs it (we tried out mainframes - for one year). Vogels refers to the stability and self-organisation features of biological systems and names particularly "Apoptosis": cell-death; allthough daily 50-70 billion cells die every day, the biological system is stable, aka the human stays alive.
  • Thus Amazon services are build highly redundent. The loss of a complete datacenter would not harm the customer experience. He additionally shares two experiences that might contradict certain academic ideas:
    • "Everything fails, all the time"
    • Systems do not fail by stopping, they might actually do all sorts of weird things in between.
  • Vogels claims, that Amazon did SOA before it became a buzzword.
  • So eventually his bottom line is "Architecture for change".
The presentation was very vivid, and I think some of the ideas were also captured in the interview (and btw. Dr. Vogels has his own Blog: All things distributed. However, parts of the ideas he expressed reminded me strongly to a very good book I like to recommend: Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer. It’s Alive: The Coming Convergence of Information, Biology and Business. Texere Publishing, 2003.

Check out the podcast website!
Or go directly to the feed page.

So, to eventually answer the question in the title, a last quote I personally liked: "Does Amazon do research? We call it production."

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