Modular services drive value in the cloud

Adam Selipsky of Amazon Web Services (AWS) describes the origins of AWS and the role modular services play in a cloud-oriented business model.

Interview conducted by Vinod Baya, Bud Mathaisel, and Bo Parker
Photo: Adam Selipsky

Adam Selipsky is vice president of Product Management and Developer Relations for Amazon Web Services. He oversees developer support, product strategy, demand generation, evangelism, and marketing communications. Before joining Amazon Web Services in 2005, Selipsky served as a vice president in several areas for RealNetworks. Selipsky was also a partner at Mercer Management Consulting, specializing in business strategy for telecommunications and technology companies.

Selipsky earned his bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard College and his M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

In this interview, Selipsky recounts the genesis of Amazon Web Services and how making internal capabilities accessible in the cloud can reveal new customer value.

PwC: How did come to develop AWS [Amazon Web Services]?

AS: There’s this myth that we created AWS to sell underutilized capacity at, but this had absolutely nothing to do with why we built AWS.

It turned out we’d been working on this for a decade without knowing it. We were building a series of Web sites for and its international affiliates, which had to be incredibly scalable, highly reliable, and extremely cost-effective. We learned that to do those three things simultaneously is highly nontrivial. Any two of those three actually becomes a much easier challenge.

At the beginning of the company, a lot of big iron and expensive software were purchased, and a lot of it wasn’t very scalable. We tried to buy things that were supposedly super resilient, but guess what? Even the super resilient things break. Even if they don’t break very often, they are going to break, and so you must architect around the fact that they’re going to break.

Given the scale at which we operate and the fact that the retail business had to be a very efficient cost structure, we spent years and lots of top engineering talent figuring out how to do this well, because there was no AWS out there to use. So we started very early, before a lot of other companies were working on it, looking very intently at things like service oriented architecture.

AWS is about bringing that deep technological expertise, which we developed over a decadelong period, to a new market. We started working on this in earnest probably in late 2003. The first services came to the market in early 2006. Our storage service, S3, was the first of the infrastructure services in March 2006.