Friday, November 17, 2006

Amazon Web Services

I attended a CHIRB meeting last night (CHIcago RuBy User Group) in which a guy talked about Amazon Web Services. These are general-purpose web services provided by Amazon Web Services, a company under the same umbrella of

The most interesting services of the bunch were S3, EC2, and The Mechanical Turk.

S3 stands for Simple Storage Service. It is basically a storage web service that allows companies to store any kind of data remotely on Amazon's servers. It costs $0.15 a gigabyte a month (with a transfer fee of $0.20 a gigabyte)

EC2 stands for Elastic Compute Cloud. The fancy name is just a label for a web service that allows companies to rent a virtual server with Linux on it. Its performance is equivalent to 1.7Ghz x86 processor, 1.75GB of RAM, 160GB of local disk, and 250Mb/s of network bandwidth.

Finally, the Mechanical Turk, aka Artificial Artifical Intelligence, reverses the web services paradigm to have people serving computers instead of computers serving people. For example, if a photo storage web application needs to categorize photos, since humans can do the job much more accurately than a commercial-grade computer vision technology, the photo storage web app can simply advertise need for categorizing photos in the Mechanical Turk, and people around the world can respond to the ad and perform the service for the billing rate advertised.

A real world example is a website called The Sheep Market. It is a website that allows people to submit sheep drawings, contributing to a collection of 10,000 sheep. The website uses the Mechanical Turk to cheaply identify whether drawings submitted represent sheep or not. That costs pennies per drawing identification. The website then builds on this knowledge by selling worthy sheep drawings for $20 each. Imagine how much fortune it would be to sell 10,000 of those drawings.

These were the highlights of the presentation. Amazon Web Services are interesting indeed, both for building Web 2.0 websites and for serving enterprise needs.

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