AWS launched the first test instance of EC2, its cloud-based virtual computers, fifteen years ago this week, on August 25, 2006. Cloud computing, and more specifically infrastructure as a service, is now a standard for how businesses use computing, but it wasn’t then. The EC in EC2 stands for Elastic Compute, which was chosen on purpose. The concept was to give you as much computational power as you required to do a task, then turn it off when you weren’t using it, making it flexible like an elastic band.
The beta release of EC2 came six months after the beta release of S3 storage, and both services marked the beginning of AWS’ cloud infrastructure adventure.
It’s impossible to overestimate what Amazon has accomplished with these moves. It was able to foresee a whole new style of computing and, as a result, develop a market and a considerable side company. It takes foresight to see what was coming, as well as the fortitude to go ahead and spend the resources needed to make it happen, something that every company should learn from.
The AWS founding story is complicated, but it all started with the goal of bringing Amazon’s IT capability to the rest of the world. Amazon was not the behemoth it is now, but it was nonetheless a significant company that had to deal with enormous traffic swings such as Black Friday when its website was overwhelmed with visitors for a brief but persistent period of time. While the goal of any e-commerce site, and indeed any business, is to attract as many customers as possible, keeping the site up and running under such pressure requires some skill, which Amazon was discovering.
Those lessons, combined with a desire to manage the company’s internal development processes, would eventually lead to Amazon Web Services, a side business that would help drive a generation of entrepreneurs. We chatted with Dave Brown, who is now the VP of EC2 and was involved in the development of the initial versions of the technology, to learn more about how this technological transition occurred. The idea for AWS arose in the year 2000 when the firm looked into developing a collection of services to streamline how they generated software internally. They eventually created a set of core services — compute, storage, and database — that could be used by any developer.
But it was at the 2003 executive offsite at Jeff Bezos’ house when the idea of selling that set of services began to take shape. How that started to come together was recounted in a 2016 TechCrunch piece on the origins of AWS:
Jassy noted that as the team worked, they realized they had grown pretty adept at handling infrastructure services such as compute, storage, and database (due to those previously articulated internal requirements), Furthermore, they had developed expertise in running dependable, scalable, and cost-effective data centers as a result of their requirement. They have to be as lean and efficient as possible as a low-margin business like Amazon.