Amazon's Game-Changing Cloud Was Built By Some Guys In South Africa

Christopher Brown OpscodeChristopher Brown moved to South Africa to build Amazon’s cloud

Photo: Opscode

You never know how big something will be while you’re working on it, says Christopher Brown, one of the guys that helped build Amazon’s cloud. Brown is now the CTO of a hot startup he co-founded, Opscode. But along the way he worked at Microsoft three times and at Amazon once — just long enough to help build EC2.

The time was 2004. Amazon already had cutting edge tech. “Amazon is a high tech company that just looks like it sells books,” he laughs.

The powers that be wanted to somehow make money on their IT.

Rick Dalzell (CIO at the time) and Chris Pinkham (the vice president of IT Infrastructure) had been pondering a paper written by Amazon website engineer Ben Black that summarized the idea, says Brown.

CEO Jeff Bezos needed almost no convincing. He “was on board from the beginning,” says Brown. The team “had a plan to build and sell it as a service sell from Day 1,” he says.

There was a catch. Pinkham was moving back to his home country, South Africa. But Amazon convinced him to keep his job and build EC2 from there. 

So Pinkham invited Brown to come with him. Brown packed up his family and left the U.S.

They assembled a team in South Africa and for two years worked in Cape Town. Brown says. “From our corner, we had no idea EC2 was going to be this big.”

Now that EC2 has become the 800-pound cloud gorilla, Brown says he still impressed with it. “It’s part of Amazon’s culture, the way they stay ahead of the competition.”

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