Amazon.com’s ultimate goal seems to be to give anyone on the planet access to almost unlimited computing power by expanding access to cloud computing. Its three giant computer regional centers in the United States each consist of multiple buildings with thousands of servers. Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, is now interested in setting up cloud-computing installations for other governments.
There is a start-up called the Climate Corporation that writes crop insurance for thousands of farmers by combining data on root structure and soil porosity with data from over 10,000 simulations of the next two years’ weather for over one million locations around the United States. A start-up called Cue creates a service that can outline the biography of a given person you meet, warn you to be home to receive a package, or text a lunch guest that you are running late by scanning up to 500 million e-mails, Facebook updates, and corporate documents for information. Each of these start-ups now rent data storage and computer server time from Amazon through its Amazon Web Services division along with thousands of other companies.
These companies are paying what they say is a fraction of the cost of owning and running their own computers. Daniel Gross, Cue’s 20-year-old co-founder, said, “I have 10 engineers, but without A.W.S. I guarantee I’d need 60. It just gets cheaper, and cheaper, and cheaper.” He figures the company would spend “probably $2 million to do it ourselves, without the speed and flexibility,” but spends something under $100,000 a month with Amazon. He continued, “I don’t even know what the ballpark number for a server is — for me, it would be like knowing what the price of a sword is.”
Cloud computing is now powering all kinds of new businesses around the globe. More than 185 United States government agencies run some part of their services on A.W.S. A global online education program from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard called EdX had nearly 120,000 students taking a single class together on A.W.S. Andrew R. Jassy, the head of A.W.S., said, “We are on a shift that is as momentous and as fundamental as the shift to the electrical grid. It’s happening a lot faster than any of us thought.” Amazon will not reveal the number of people now working at A.W.S., but the company’s Web site has over 600 job openings currently listed.