Can anyone stop this man?

Amazon Web Services evangelist, Jeff Barr

Who is this?

It’s Jeff Barr. Amazon’s Web Services evangelist hanging out in front of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington, USA. Here’s his blog.

So, why was FastCompany.tv over interviewing him today (my interview will be up on March 3)?

Because he’s asking enterprises to do something pretty darn revolutionary: turn off their data centers.

I can hear you now: “oh, Scoble, first you cry at Microsoft and now you have the gall to tell me that enterprises are going to move lots of their data from their own data centers and host it on Amazon’s services. You’ve really lost it this time.”

If you’re thinking this you’d be wrong. Not only are small companies like Mogulus and SmugMug moving their data onto Amazon’s services, but so are quite a few enterprises (Mogulus, in fact, stores all of its data on Amazon’s servers and brags that it doesn’t own a single server). I keep hearing about Amazon’s services being used in larger enterprises, but so far haven’t found too many that are willing to go on the record except for the New York Times, which used Amazon’s S3 to host its archives. But this movement is definitely underway.

Unfortunately getting Amazon to open up about how many companies are using Amazon’s Web Services is almost as hard as getting Steve Jobs to tell you about the next iPod.

There’s a good reason for this. Microsoft, Google, Sun Microsystems, IBM, and others are totally asleep and Jeff Bezos and Jeff Barr have no good reason to poke those other companies with a sharp stick so they wake up to what’s really going on here.

But it don’t matter anyway. It’s almost too late for the others to get into the game. It’s amazing (or maybe it should be “amazoning”) to me that Ray Ozzie over at Microsoft has let Amazon have so much runway.

So, I ask you, can anyone stop Jeff Barr and Amazon from totally taking over the corporate data infrastructure market?

UPDATE: Maybe Amazon has its own answer to my question. The Amazon Web Services were down for a few hours this morning for the first time I can remember.

Microsoft's cool new research building, a photostory

Microsoft Research

Yesterday Kevin Schofield, blog here, general manager of Microsoft Research, invited Rocky and me over to tour Microsof’s cool new research building which opened three months ago. Building 99. We’ll have a video of this tour up on March 3, as part of the opening of FastCompany.tv.

Kevin Schofield at Microsoft Research

I uploaded a ton of photos, here’s a few of the key notes and photos I made (which are, as always, in the Public Domain so you can do whatever you want with them without giving me credit or money):

Wide open spaces

It feels completely different from any other Microsoft building I’ve ever been in. Has a huge atrium with a coffee shop in it. The atrium has a huge projector and sound system, so they can hold speeches there, or show movies or do other presentations. I think they could get a good wedding business going. Wouldn’t it be cool to say you got married at MIcrosoft Research? I think so!

Equations

The building was built with the help of the researchers themselves. One thing they wanted? Tons of collaboration spaces where they could meet, along with surfaces they could write things on. Here’s some equations that were on one such collaboration area. I asked if the shipping date for the next Xbox was up on the whiteboard somewhere and was told that these walls were done by the cryptography group, so it’s quite possible that the shipping date is in code on these walls. A little geek humor.

Andy Wilson, researcher at Microsoft

Andy Wilson, who was the guy who built the prototypes that became Microsoft Surface, the table-top device that you interact with by touching the surface, showed me around his lab. He said he was a lot happier in the new building because he finally had room for all the weird stuff he’s been collecting. Here he hides behind one of the “Minority Report” holographic screens that he’s been playing with.

This conference room is mine!

Each conference room had a little computer in front of it. Want to know if the room is open to use? Just check. Or sign up. It hooks into Microsoft’s Exchange server so other people who are at their desks can see the room is taken.

Anechoic chamber at Microsoft Research, Phil Chou

Microsoft Research is doing a lot of research where they need a completely quiet room, so they built one. Called an anechoic chamber this thing was so quiet I could hear my heart beating. Here Phil Chou gives us a tour and talks to us about the research that he’s doing (which led to a new kind of conferencing system, called RoundTable, which shows video of the person who is speaking around a conference table).

Microsoft Research

The floor is actually elevated so all networking, and air control can be put underneath. The carpet isn’t actually one solid piece, but rather is tiled so that each piece can be lifted off and things underneath can be reconfigured. Kevin said that if a researcher is bothered by the location of the air vent in her office she could have it moved to some other location. He also said that all the interior walls were moveable. So, if a group wanted to change its space they could do so without costing Microsoft a lot of money in rebuilding costs.

Parking is available!

The parking garage tells you what floors have spaces available so you don’t waste time looking.

Lots of book cases

Instead of wasting lots of room building bigger offices so that researchers could have space for book collections, they built book cases into the hallways. That serves to make the building more social and more efficiently use space. Plus it lets researchers show off esoteric books to visitors like me!

The carpet is tiled, so can be lifted off

Wide open spaces make the building more social. I talked with several researchers I knew from my time there and they said it has massively changed how enjoyable it is to work. The theory group even gets together for tea at 3 p.m. every day. Now THAT is a tea that I bet is interesting!

Microsoft Research

One cool thing about Microsoft is its support of the arts. The art team is studying each room, watching how people use it, and putting appropriate art up. This makes for some of the more visually pleasing workspaces at Microsoft.

Open conference rooms

Many of the conference rooms are open to viewing from the atrium. Kevin told me that it takes a while to get used to, but leads to a more inviting work style, reinforces that Microsoft Research openly shares its research with others, and saves power thanks to the natural light that is now able to get into the conference rooms.

Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, Microsoft Researchers

What Microsoft is learning from this new building is being applied to a new research center in New England that these two, Jennifer Chayes and Christian Borgs, are building.

Thanks to Kevin and the other researchers who showed us around this fascinating building. Sure makes me want to visit more often!

Microsoft researchers make me cry

It’s not often that I see software that really changes my world. It’s even rarer that I see software that I know will change the world my sons live in. I can count those times pretty easily. The first time I saw an Apple II in 1977. When Richard Cameron showed me Apple’s Hypercard. Microsoft’s Excel. Aldus’ Pagemaker. And something called Photoshop, all in his West Valley Community College classroom. Later when I saw Marc Andreessen’s Netscape running the WWW. ICQ and Netmeeting which laid the ground for Skype.

Like I said, these things don’t happen often.

Yesterday was one of those days. Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay, researchers at Microsoft, fired up their machines and showed me something that I can’t tell you about until February 27th. I’m sure you’ll read about his work in the New York Times or TechCrunch, among other places. It’s too inspiring to stay a secret for long.

While watching the demo I realized the way I look at the world was about to change. While listening to Wong I noticed a tear running down my face. It’s been a long while since Microsoft did something that had an emotional impact on me like that.

Why torment you with a post like this? Because it’s my way of making sure that stuff that really is extraordinary gets paid attention to. And because I wanted to get down the emotional impact of what I saw before that feeling totally wears off. I also wanted to get down some lessons that others at Microsoft might learn from so that they can have this kind of impact in their own work. Imagine if Microsoft did 10 things a year like what Curtis and Jonathan showed me yesterday? If the innovation engine at Microsoft were working that well there wouldn’t be any pressure to buy Yahoo. Heck, and if there were a constant stream of stuff like what I saw yesterday Yahoo wouldn’t be resisting going to Microsoft. They’d +want+ to go to Microsoft. Yesterday is the first time since leaving that I wish I were back working at Microsoft.

Now, I can hear Christopher Coulter in my head. The thing these two guys did won’t have a business impact the way, say, Microsoft Office did. There isn’t a business model here. But does every damn thing need a business model? Does a scientific paper that changes the world need a business model? Does it need more audience than just the other 50 scientists in the world who care about that topic? No.

But back to that tear.

Note that it wasn’t a team of 100 people who did it. Two guys with a supporting cast of maybe a dozen. I’ve noticed a trend at Microsoft: that the coolest stuff is done by small teams without a ton of resources. Down the hall from Wong and Fay was researcher Andy Wilson. When I walked into his lab he was working on another cool surface computing technology for Microsoft’s upcoming Tech Fest (which happens March 4). He, and another researcher, were playing with a cool round screen. You might know of Andy’s work: it was his research and demos that convinced Microsoft to build the Surface device which you touch with your hands.

No need for big teams. I never sense a lot of bureaucracy or politics in either of these two guys’ offices.

Back to Wong and Fay’s work.

Could they have done this at a Silicon Valley startup? I doubt it. Venture Capitalists won’t see enough business value in what they are doing. Plus they would need to build a team around them, work out a business plan. Invest their own capital and time building a prototype so that people “get it.” If I told you today what they were doing, without showing you the video we’ll have up on March 3, you’d tell me “that’s lame Scoble.” But when you see it face-to-face everyone I know who’s seen it say they’ve had an emotional reaction to it. Buzz Bruggeman, CEO of ActiveWords, was the first to tell me about it and said it was the best thing he’s seen in years from Microsoft.

Maybe it could be done, but they’ve been traveling all over the world working with researchers from other institutions and getting data for their new thing. It’s a lot easier to get access when you say “I’m a researcher at Microsoft” than when you say “I’m building a startup.”

Other lessons? Keep up to date on the latest things happening in your industry. In Wong and Fey’s work you’ll see techniques that lots of startups are using and, even, that the Google Map team is using. This isn’t stuff that was possible in 1995 so it requires 2008-style Web services and data centers.

Anyway, I’m getting all geeky on you (today Rocky and I are heading to Amazon to talk with Jeff Barr of the team that built its S3 and EC2 services, among others, so that’s probably why I’m ramping up my geek level) but that shouldn’t take away that these two guys got me to cry yesterday.

And that was a good thing. Two guys working inside a big company still can change the world. Can’t wait to talk more about what they’ve done. They’ll have a bunch of press on February 27 and our video will be up on FastCompany.tv on March 3.

UPDATE: I’ve updated this post with a few additions here.