How a Linux migration led to the creation of Amazon Web Services

Dan Rose, chairman of Coatue Ventures and Coatue Growth, posted a thread on Twitter the other day, 280 characters or less at a time, in which he chronicled how it came about that AWS infrastructure is built on Linux.

Rose was at Amazon from 1999 to 2006, where he managed retail divisions and helped incubate the Kindle reader before moving to Facebook. So he was at Amazon in 2000 when the internet bubble popped,and one high-flying dot-com after another was shriveling up and dying, having burned through ridiculous amounts of capital on luxurious offices while often having nothing by way of a product to show for it.

Rose said Amazon’s biggest expense was the data center outfitted with expensive Sun servers. Amazon’s motto was “get big fast,” and site stability was critical. Every second of downtime meant lost sales, and Sun was the gold standard for internet servers back then. I can recall them having a significant software business led by a VP named Eric Schmidt.

Sun’s proprietary stack was “expensive & sticky,” as Rose put it, and it was designed that way. Back then the Unix market was Sun, HP, IBM, and SGI, and they all had variants of Unix operating systems that were designed to be less than portable.

But it is safe to say the early internet was built on Sun—and not Solaris, either. Sun had a second OS, a BSD derivative called SunOS that had no GUI. (In the pre-DNS days while in college, I cut my teeth on SunOS 3.x and had to learn Unix command line. My first ISP out of college dropped you into a SunOS shell, and if you didn’t know what to do staring at the % prompt you were lost.)

As startups died in 2000 and liquidated their data-center gear, brand-new Sun servers started appearing on eBay for 10 cents on the dollar. As a result, Sun sales took a big hit, which marked the beginning of the end for Sun.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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