SimpleDB: MapReduce for the masses?

Posted by chetan on December 16, 2007 in development, madras, software

On Thursday, Amazon announced SimpleDB, “a web service for running queries on structured data in real time.” As many others have noted this more or less completes the cloud computing stack that Amazon has been steadily building, ever since they launched the Simple Storage Service (S3), early last year.

Where their earlier releases (S3, Elastic Compute Cloud [EC2], Flexible Payments, Mechanical Turk) commoditized much of the infrastructure required for building scalable applications, SimpleDB (SDB) and the earlier Simple Queue Service (SQS) are bringing cutting edge technologies and design patterns to the masses. First they made it cheap and easy to have a cluster; now they’ve made it cheap and easy to use a cluster! Amazing.

What’s even more startling is just how much Amazon gets it, and just how far off base Salesforce was earlier this year when they announced Force.com, as a “platform as a service”.

Then again, maybe they’re not even competing services at all.

Amazon is clearly providing services targeted towards developers and entrepreneurs with the goal of enabling them to explore new and innovative ideas by lowering the cost of entry. They’re providing the basic building blocks for developers to do exactly what they have done (and spent the last 10 years building) and they’re providing it at a very competitive price.

The Force.com proposition is different: they market to the same target audience but the selling point is not their tools — they offer a run of the mill JAVA-based platform — their selling point is the market that they can deliver. A built-in customer base of salesforce.com [enterprise] users and a marketplace for connecting those users with the applications they want.

But I digress. Amazon’s SimpleDB is an important, if small, step towards moving the web to column-oriented databases like Google’s BigTable, or the relatively unknown, opensource Hadoop project, now largely sponsored by Yahoo!.

What sticks out to me most, however, is the choice of name. It’s called “SimpleDB” and yet it’s neither a “database”, as most would understand it, nor is the concept of a column-oriented database “simple”; it requires an orthogonal way of thinking. What is clear, however, is that the choice of name was a very deliberate move by Amazon to market this technology to the masses. It will take some time for developers to come around and see the light, but when they do, we’re in for another huge advance in dynamic web applications.