Gut Check

Analysts who cover Amazon may not be crazy about Jeff Bezos' new offering, but startups certainly should be ...

Amazon has spent 12 years and $2 billion perfecting many of the pieces behind its online store. By most accounts, those operations are now among the biggest and most reliable in the world. "All the kinds of things you need to build great Web-scale applications are already in the guts of Amazon," says Bezos. "The only difference is, we're now exposing the guts, making [them] available to others."

And, he hopes, making money. With its Simple Storage Service, or S3, Amazon charges 15 cents per gigabyte per month for businesses to store data and programs on Amazon's vast array of disk drives. It's also charging other merchants about 45 cents a square foot per month for real space in its warehouses. Through its Elastic Compute Cloud service, or EC2, it's renting out computing power, starting at 10 cents an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer. And it has set up a semi-automated global marketplace for online piecework, such as transcribing snippets of podcasts, called Amazon Mechanical Turk. Amazon takes a 10% commission on those jobs.

Bezos is initially aiming these services at startups and other small companies with a little tech savvy. But it's clear that businesses of all kinds are the ultimate target market. Already, Amazon has attracted some high-powered customers. Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) is using the storage service to help speed software downloads, for instance, and the service is helping Linden Lab handle the crush of software downloads for its fast-growing Second Life online virtual world. Highly anticipated search upstart Powerset Inc. plans to use the Amazon computing service, even though it's still in test mode, to supplement its own computers when it launches its service sometime next year. And the search engine marketing firm Efficient Frontier uses Mechanical Turk to determine the most effective keywords that drive traffic to Web sites.