Fascinating data point from Jeff on the Amazon Web Services blog. Seems that the folks at Linden Lab (who run Second Life) have a massive, bandwidth-intensive update cycle that runs every few weeks. Tens of thousands of people are downloading 30 MB files at the same time.
Back when I was at Feedster, our cage was located next door to the ever-expanding Linden Lab data center, so I know that they have a ton of servers, and were adding them at an astonishing rate. But these servers are for Second Life itself (my understanding is that each server represents one sector of the Second Life world), and it would not make sense to build out such substantial infrastructure for intermittent use.
The "traditional" solution for this would be to call Akamai, who does an excellent job providing caching and bandwidth for downloads, video, images, and even high-traffic text pages. We even used them at Feedster, and they did a terrific job.
But Linden Lab used Amazon S3 to provide the storage and bandwidth needs, an application that I would not have previously thought of. Why?
It just turned out that the S3 solution was ready for deployment immediately, where akamai requires more negotiation. In other words, we already had an amazon S3 account where I was test something out, and then when we noticed the bandwidth was pegged, we made a fast decision to speed up our plans to put our viewer elsewhere, and chose S3.
Yes, there's that Web-Scale thing again. You need a place to make some bits available for high-volume downloading, you push it up to S3, set the ACL for public read, and start handing out the URL. No planning, no negotiation, no setup charges or residual fees.
This mirrored my Feedster experience with Akamai as well. They have a "sales process" - a rep contacts you, often there is a visit, and contracts are negotiated and signed. Then you are provisioned. All of it takes time, and is very un-web-services-like.
S3 has the necessary infrastructure to provide rapid, self-service access to their web services, but still maintain security and control. And they have detaile documentation and a strong, active developer community to help make sense of it and provide peer help. So when a developer needs a solution now, they go with the one that they can implement quickly.
S3 is not a solution for all that Akamai does. But for this application, they are a reasonable alternative, and Akamai lost a customer.