I previously published something about gadgets and mentioned Amazon modularizing their entire business into reusable gadgets...well...low and behold...I've been tracking Amazon's moves in the web services space - i.e. them availing their "elastic" computing cloud for you to utilize/execute upon leveraging their web services kits/api's. Provisioning to you the capability to build, test and deploy on their infrastructure with minimal upfront investment and maintenance costs.
I know...so much for them being an online book merchant - check out their site! But remember that Amazon has always been quite smart about morphing who they are and what they are to present and future potential buyers and sellers. I remember them launching "ZShops" - this was the very first instance of them allowing Amazon.com to be used as a platform. It first allowed their client base to trade used books amongst themselves - i.e. instead of adding the new item to your shopping cart, you could click on "purchase a used copy" and leveraging the Amazon commerce engine you bought from an individual merchant off the Amazon site in the Amazon way you were used to. Likewise merchants, actually just individuals interested in getting rid of those archives of read literature, could publish their catalog of books within the Amazon cloud. It grew from there to you being able to sell just about anything to anyone...they even went as far as providing their commerce engine to business interested in Rapid Application Development (RAD) for eCommerce (check out this case study).
Back then it was simple end user commerce enablement...Now it's really grown up into enterprise grade open toolkits for end user content generation enablement and enterprise architecture RAD.
Browse their catalog of web services and you'll notice how much they offer for you to reuse and/or reassemble. This is essentially Amazon allowing you to outsource to them infrastructure you may require and reuse web services "stuff" they've built for their business.
One of the most recently published web service is Amazon SimpleDB - presently in limited beta. It's a really neat data query/modeling service and this is their key descriptives; "Traditionally, this type of functionality has been accomplished with a clustered relational database that requires a sizable upfront investment, brings more complexity than is typically needed, and often requires a DBA to maintain and administer. In contrast, Amazon SimpleDB is easy to use and provides the core functionality of a database - real-time lookup and simple querying of structured data - without the operational complexity."
I know - you're asking what's the catch or where's the cost? - they outline it here by stating; "Amazon SimpleDB requires no schema, automatically indexes your data and provides a simple API for storage and access. This eliminates the administrative burden of data modeling, index maintenance, and performance tuning. Developers gain access to this functionality within Amazon's proven computing environment, are able to scale instantly, and pay only for what they use." - not sure what the payment structures are and what you're going to be billed per use - irrespective, this is a very compelling service!
I always considered Google to be one of the most "open" businesses - i.e. the Google cloud hosting and delivering all the services you would need. I think Amazon's "elastic computing cloud" cracks through another dimension of "open"...with Simple DB and the other list of web services they're literally taking their architectural innovations and publishing that IP and infrastructure for reuse... AWESOME!
I've worked my way through all their web services and there are considerable case studies that personify some interesting execution principles that will potentially be very pervasive in future - we'll leave that for another night :)
P.S. I know there are other companies doing similar but I don't know of anyone as mainstream and large as Amazon.com doing it - let me know if you think I'm whacked ;)