The Origins of Amazon’s Cloud Computing

Greg Papadopoulos (Sun) and Werner Vogels (Amazon) join Om Mallik on stage at Structure 2009 in San Francisco California.

The story of Amazon (s amzn) creating a cloud computing business to take advantage of capacity left over from the peak holiday season has settled into the Internet apocrypha, but blogger Carl Brooks claims he’s uncovered the real reason the online bookstore got into the cloud: homesickness.

Brooks interviewed Jesse Robbins, the guy who formerly kept Amazon’s servers running. As he tells it, the project began as a way to keep an engineering talent named Chris Pinkham with Amazon after he wanted to return to his home country of South Africa. From Brooks’ story:

Now half a world away, Christopher Brown, who joined Pinkham as a founding member, architect, and lead developer for EC2, set about finding resources to test his ideas on automation in a fully virtualized server environment. Robbins, who knew about the project, gave Brown the interdepartmental cold shoulder.

“I was horrified at the thought of the dirty, public Internet touching MY beautiful operations,” he said with all the relish of a born operator. Robbins had his hands on the reins of the worlds most sucessful [sic] online retail operation from soup to nuts and wasn’t about to let it be mucked up with long-distance experimentation.

So Pinkham and Brown created the world’s first cloud for Amazon in a separate data center in South Africa. My hunch is that this post is part of the press blitz for Opscode, a startup Robbins co-founded and leads, which recently raised a large amount of venture capital. Opscode is behind an open-source systems integration framework for the cloud called Chef. I couldn’t reach Amazon to confirm the story, but interested folks can ask Werner Vogels, Amazon’s CTO, at our Structure 2010 conference next Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco.

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