The beta launched 15 years ago this week
Fifteen years ago this week August 25, 2006, AWS lit the very first beta instance of EC2, its cloud-based virtual machines. Today, cloud computing, and more specifically infrastructure as a service, is a critical part of how businesses use IT, but at that time this concept was not well known or widely understood.
EC in EC2 stands for Elastic Compute, and this name was chosen on purpose. The idea was to provide as much computing power as needed to get a job done and then stop it when you no longer need it, making it flexible like a rubber band. The launch of EC2 in beta was preceded by the beta of S3 storage six months earlier, and the two services marked the starting point of AWS’s cloud infrastructure journey.
You really can’t overstate what Amazon was able to accomplish with these moves. He was able to anticipate a completely different way of calculating and creating a market and a substantial secondary activity in the process. It took vision to recognize what was to come and the courage to move forward and invest the necessary resources to make it happen, something every business could learn from.
The origin story of AWS is complex, but it was about bringing the computing power of the Amazon enterprise to others. Amazon back then was not the company it is today, but it was still quite large and still had to deal with massive traffic fluctuations such as Black Friday when its website was inundated with traffic. for a short but sustained period. While the goal of an ecommerce site, and indeed every business, is to attract as many customers as possible, keeping the site under such stress takes work and Amazon was learning how to do it well.
Those lessons and a desire to master the company’s internal development processes would ultimately lead to what we know today as Amazon Web Services, and this side activity would help fuel a whole generation of startups. We spoke to Dave Brown, who is now vice president of EC2 and who helped create the early versions of the technology, to find out how this technological change played out.
Sometimes you get a great idea
The genesis of the idea behind AWS began in the 2000s, when the company began looking to create a set of services to simplify the way it produced software in-house. Ultimately, they developed a set of basic services (compute, storage, and database) that every developer could tap into.
But the idea of selling this set of services really started to take shape with an offsite executive at Jeff Bezos in 2003. A 2016 TechCrunch article on the origins of AWS described how it started to take hold:
As the team worked, Jassy recalls, they realized that they had also become quite good at running infrastructure services like compute, storage, and database ( due to these previously defined internal requirements). In addition, they had become highly skilled at running reliable, scalable and profitable data centers when needed. As a low-margin business like Amazon, it needed to be as simple and efficient as possible.
They realized that these skills and capabilities could translate into a side business that would eventually become AWS. It would take some time to put these initial ideas into action, but by December 2004 they had opened an engineering office in South Africa to begin building what would become EC2. As Brown explains, the company was looking to expand outside of Seattle at the time, and Chris Pinkham, who was a director at the time, was originally from South Africa and wanted to return home.