With its e-business credentials firmly established, online retailer Amazon.com Inc. last week unveiled a new service through which it leverages its massive IT infrastructure by leasing storage capacity to independent and corporate software developers.
The Seattle-based company's Web services division unveiled the Amazon S3 service to sell excess storage capacity on Amazon's IT systems for 15 cents per gigabyte per month for storage, plus 20 cents per gigabyte for data transfer.
The Stardust@home space science project at the University of California, Berkeley, a test site for Amazon S3, is using the service to store some 60 million photographs of interstellar space dust collected by NASA's Stardust space probes.
Bryan Mendez, an astronomer at Berkeley, said project officials decided to use Amazon S3 a few months ago because it would have been too expensive to purchase short-term storage just for the experiment. "It would be more than we need for this one-time shot," Mendez said.
The millions of photographs are nearly ready for a review by volunteers looking for visible "tracks" of particles collected by the probe before the images are passed on to scientists.
Analysts were unsure about whether Amazon.com's service can be successful.
It's a "ploy" aimed at small and midsize businesses (SMB) that won't likely appeal to large organizations, said Chris Foster, a storage analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. in Hampton, N.H. "Even if I'm an SMB, I don't know if I want to start storing stuff outside [my own network], particularly customer data."
Foster also noted that there are plenty of established vendors offering such services. "I'd rather go to someone whose core competency is managing or storing data," Foster said.
Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst at ZapThink LLC in Baltimore, said that Amazon is trying to position itself as a technology platform, rather than as just an e-commerce site. "It's a stretch of the business plan," Schmelzer said.
Amazon created its Web services division in July 2002 to encourage software developers to create and offer custom applications to Amazon.com sellers. The sellers then pay to use the applications, including specialized inventory and tracking software, to customize their online stores.
The unit has signed up more than 150,000 registered developers since its creation.
The Secure S3 service is now available to any developer, from college students to entrepreneurs and enterprise developers, with no start-up or monthly maintenance fees.
Amazon S3 allows developers to write, read and delete objects up to 5GB in size, with each object stored and retrieved via a developer- assigned key, the company said.
The service uses standards-based Rest and SOAP interfaces designed to work with any Internet development tool kit, according to Amazon.