Amazon lauds Linux infrastructure

Visitors to LinuxWorld in New York yesterday would not have been surprised to hear Amazon.com vice president of infrastructure...

Visitors to LinuxWorld in New York yesterday would not have been surprised to hear Amazon.com vice president of infrastructure Tom Killalea say how pleased he is with the performance of his Linux infrastructure.

Amazon.com has been a Linux evangelist for some time, having adopted Linux in 2001 It first migrated its web servers to the operating system, then moved the servers running its custom-built applications for handling systems such as order fulfilment and customer management. Its goal was to develop an IT infrastructure reliable and fast enough to meet customer demands as inexpensively as possible .

Much of the company's IT infrastructure is devoted to handling millions of back-end daily operations, and to serving the 550,000 sellers sharing Amazon.com's platform.

Amazon.com is now in the throes of the next stage of its Linux adoption: Moving the servers and warehouse for its Oracle database to Linux boxes. Amazon.com's data warehouse is about 14Tbytes, and it needs speedy processing of several gigabytes per second of data. Using Oracle's Real Application Clusters on Hewlett-Packard ProLiant servers and HP Modular Smart Array storage systems, Amazon.com is trying to hit all three corners of the "fast, reliable, cheap" technology triangle.

"It's difficult, but from the proof-of-concept we've done it looks like we can do it," Killalea said.

While Amazon.com has smoothed out many of the technology challenges involved in building an always-on, worldwide retail system, others remain daunting. He cited personalisation as one of the biggest problems bedeviling Amazon.com's IT team.

"It's an area where today we're doing a horrible job, as technologists," he said. "We're doing 1% as good a job as we hope to be doing in 50 years."

Amazon.com's latency goals call for information to appear before customers within fractions of a second. Meeting that goal, while juggling the myriad factors that go into tailoring content, is a problem that pushes the limits of available technology, Killalea said. Demand forecasting was another area where he anticipated improvement through advancing hardware and software capabilities.

Killealea strayed from the Linux theme toward the end of his speech, when he touted the functionality made possible through web services and associated standards such as XML and Soap (Simple Object Access Protocol).

In July 2002, Amazon.com released the first version of a software development kit allowing developers to interact with Amazon.com systems exposed through web services.

That kit has now been downloaded more than 50,000 times, Killalea said, and Amazon.com has a list of hundreds of applications created to work with its system - from tools for sellers to help them better manage Amazon.com inventory, to more whimsical toys such as http://www.baconizer.com/, an application that graphically maps connections between any two items in Amazon.com's extensive catalogue.

Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service

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