How Amazon puts Linux to the test

Amazon's vice president of infrastructure describes in detail how the online retailer is using the open-source operating system in nearly every corner of its business.

Stephen Shankland
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Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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2 min read
NEW YORK--It's not the first time Amazon.com has proclaimed its support for Linux, but it's the most detailed.

At the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo here, Amazon Vice President of Infrastructure Tom Killalea described in detail Wednesday how the online retailer is using the open-source operating system in nearly every corner of its business.

Amazon began to use Linux in 2000 for basic tasks, Killalea said. It then spread to more critical areas, notably the company's database.

The transition received attention in 2001, when the company noted in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that moving to Linux had cut costs by $17 million.

By the holiday season of 2003, Amazon's computers supported a heavy load, with peak demand of 1 million packages shipped in a day and 20 million inventory updates processed in a single day. The company has nine worldwide distribution centers with a total of 4.2 million square feet. "Everything that happens in them is driven by Linux," Killalea said.

Amazon's Linux switch began in the third quarter of 2000 with Web servers, lower-end machines that deliver Web pages. In the second quarter of 2001, the company moved its own applications for fulfilling orders, managing customer relationships and tracking company accounting.

The most recent phase, begun in 2003 and continuing, is moving database servers to Linux computers running Oracle's database software. "We're a very demanding and heavy user of Oracle," Killalea said.

The final phase will be moving its data warehouse to Linux, he said.

Amazon uses a message-based system in which one server, such as a machine that just logged a customer order, sends messages to other machines, such as those that take care of billing or shipping, Killalea said. With tasks handled by the next available system in a large pool, the design can easily expand to meet demand, he said.

Amazon's Linux systems also are the basis for the e-commerce engine the company sells to other retailers, including Toys "R" Us, Target, Borders Group, Nordstrom, The Gap, CDNow and the National Basketball Association.