SmugMug isn’t your normal Silicon Valley startup. We do everything differently. And Jessica Guynn’s Column One article on the front page of the LA Times this morning captures our quirky nature perfectly. If you want a glimpse into our mad, wonderful world, head on over there for a great read.
Special thanks to Terry Chay and Stan Chudnovsky for introducing Jessica and making sure I followed up with her. 🙂
And an extra special thanks to all of our customers who’ve become part of the family and made SmugMug the company it is today. You’re the best!
I’m flattered! TechCrunch, GigaOM, Read/WriteWeb and VentureBeat have joined forces to award prizes to the best startups. And SmugMug is one of the finalists – for Best Design! I’m so used to us getting overlooked in these sorts of things that I was completely blindsided. 🙂
But enough about that – do me a favor and go vote for SmugMug! (And you can vote once a day – so keep coming back. Please?) I know we have *lots* of iPhone readers, so don’t forget to vote on your phone!
DevPay basically lets you layer your own service offerings on top of Amazon’s and get compensated for doing so. I can’t tell you why we’re so excited about this one, just yet, but we have some neat ideas we’re playing with that I hope I can talk about soon. Meanwhile, if you’re a developer wanting to re-sell Amazon’s services with your own special sauce mixed in, now’s your chance. 🙂
This service is particularly interesting, to me, because it doesn’t stand on its own. Most of the other services work great together, but you can easily use them independently to do interesting things. I’ve been expecting layers of services to start forming where some of the core components are pre-requisite building blocks (say a CDN on top of S3 or a Load Balancing API on top of EC2), and I think DevPay is the first of these. Can’t wait to see what kind of neat businesses come out of this.
Sweet! Amazon finally took the wraps off of SimpleDB. They’ve been working on this for awhile, and as you can probably tell, it’s a natural fit with S3 and EC2. There’s a great write-up about it over on inside looking out.
This is nearly a perfect solution for some of our data-related scaling challenges, except for two issues:
- Physical proximity. Some of my datacenters aren’t close to Amazon’s, so the actual time to query SimpleDB is query time plus latency. This isn’t a problem if you’re doing all your queries from EC2, but we’re not there yet (we’d like to be, but a few pieces are missing. SimpleDB is one of those pieces, so we’re getting closer…). Amazon has promised me they’re workin the speed of light issue. 😉
- Attribute size limits. We have some data fields that are longer than 1024 bytes (most aren’t and would work fine). We’ve thought about chunking the data up to get around this, which is a possibility, but it gets messy. Storing them in S3 is both overkill and probably too slow – if I need to get a few thousand photo captions *fast*, doing it through S3 isn’t optimal. If we could solve the latency problem I already mentioned, I’d be fine storing that specific data in some other store and working around it that way.
On the plus side, SimpleDB should be screaming fast, incredibly scalable, and almost all of our SQL queries would work with no changes other than syntax. Like many of you, I’m sure, we’re using much of our RDBMS as a fairly simple data store and aren’t using many advanced RDBMS capabilities. All of those queries could just use SimpleDB and then we could devote our DB iron to just the rare complex queries. We’re not alone – tons of web apps are gonna love this.
I’m thrilled to see the Amazon AWS stack continue to grow, and I’m shocked that they have as big of a lead as they do. I would have thought Microsoft / Google / Sun / whomever would have been out with some competition by now. It’s gonna happen – but I never would have guessed it would take this long.
Oh, and while I have your attention – SmugMug is now a fairly heavy user of EC2 and I have a write-up coming. So check back later if that’s of interest.
I’m a sucker for companies that listen to their customers. I’m sure you are too. How many times have you gotten a product that’s nearly perfect but is missing that final touch? Or worse, the product just doesn’t live up to it’s expectations? Don’t you usually feel helpless in the face of some huge software/electronics/car/whatever company? I know I do.
For example, the monopolistic cable company I’m forced to use, Comcast, hasn’t figured out how to deliver TV to my house for more than a month (isn’t that sorta what they do?) – and I’m helpless!
I’m happy to report that Sun listens to their customers. Really, truly, listens. Even to small ones like me. Even to small ones like me who complain loudly when a product isn’t right (but who cheer equally loudly when it is).
As you may have gathered from Jonathan Schwartz’s blog post ‘The Internet As Customer’, we were one of the attendees at Sun’s information gathering event, and it was fascinating.
One of my biggest takeaways (other than that Sun listens to their customers) is that Sun’s customer base is amazingly schizophrenic. Check out this small cross sample of some of them:
- Some customers don’t want to buy Sun hardware unless they’ve embraced Linux (like, say, us). Others are freaked out that Sun is embracing Linux and are afraid it shows a lack of commitment to Solaris. (Wonder what they think about the new Windows deal? 🙂 )
- Some customers wouldn’t even be customers if it weren’t for AMD/Intel support (us again). Others see this as the death knell for Sun’s custom hardware and are worried.
- Some customers don’t want to use Sun technologies unless they’re open source (us yet again). Others think Sun’s giving away the farm and that proprietary software (and hardware!) is the only way to survive.
- Some of us can’t stand the complicated buying process and just want ‘Amazon for servers’ through a web UI (can you guess if this is us?). Others love having complicated, but complete and thorough, ordering channels.
- A few of them worry that a focus on Java could possibly mean a de-emphasis of datacenter technologies (we don’t use Java, but this isn’t a fear I share). Others wish Sun would just focus on the most important thing to them, Java, and get rid of all this boring datacenter muck already!
I hope you get the general idea – and I’m so super glad that I don’t have to deal with a customer base nearly this broad and fractured. Whew! I don’t know how they do it!
A few quick notes:
- This was an incredibly expensive event for Sun. Not in the the-food-must-have-cost-a-fortune sense of the word, but in the sheer-man-hours sense of the word. Going to the event, I knew Jonathan was speaking for an hour or so on the first day. I assumed that, being a busy guy with a multi-billion-dollar business to run, he’d speak and then leave to go run Sun. How wrong I was. Jonathan stayed the entire time, as did Scott McNealy, and an amazing braintrust of top executives and engineering talent. I completely believe it was absolutely worth it for much of Sun’s brainpower to be focused on listening to their customers – but honestly, I was surprised to see them actually do it.
- About 6 months ago, we asked Sun for a product that would be incredibly difficult to design, but would dramatically change how we build datacenters. They nodded, said they’d look into it, and we crossed our fingers. Apparently we weren’t the only ones, because it’s coming – and it’s far better than we had initially asked for.
- One of the attendees, who spends obscene, ungodly amounts of money with IBM, can’t even get engineering staff on the phone. Apparently, IBM has a big sales force who’s trained to buffer customers away from the engineers. Ugh. It’s an attitude like that which ensured IBM came in dead last in our vendor shoot-out. They literally didn’t want our business. Thank goodness Sun gets me in front of technical people when I need it.
- I only read the dress code requirements after arriving. They said “Business” for the meetings. Since I don’t even own any “Business” clothes, that was a problem. T-shirt, Crocs, and a baseball cap it was! (And, of course, no-one cared. Or they were polite enough not to say anything 🙂 )
All in all, I’m still feeling pretty dang good about our decision to go with Sun for our servers. An emphasis on innovation and willingness to listen to their customers is a winning strategy in my book.