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This article was published on April 4, 2008

Werner Vogels: “Everything fails all the time”

Werner Vogels: “Everything fails all the time”
Anne Helmond
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Anne Helmond

Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She is an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Anne is a New Media PhD Candidate and Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She is an analyst-designer in the newly found Digital Methods Initiative of the University of Amsterdam. Anne is also a freelance photographer for various Dutch organizations and media.

Werner Vogel is Vice President & Chief Technology Officer at and focuses on technology innovation within the company. As “the oldest guy in the slate” at the Next Web Vogel takes a few steps back and looks at the larger patterns in the media world instead of presenting a visionary view.

Werner Vogels: “Everything fails all the time”

Media have changed significantly in the past 10 years and there are dramatic shifts in how media production and consumption:

  • The tools to create content have become low cost
  • The internet as distribution medium has really taken off
  • We have many new devices and media has been transfered onto old devices such as phones
  • New business models

The world of media has changed from a few corporations that push information to you as a consumer who decides what to consume. You can pull in information at any moment you like without being controlled by a few mega corporations. The general trend is a shift from push to pull. This is not only visible online and in media production but also in many school systems where you are no longer offered 50 courses but instead you get offered 400 courses of which you have to pick 50. Education reflects the larger trend of connecting and pulling in information.

Why is this shift happening and what are the consequences of this shift from push to pull models? It causes a great amount of uncertainty and raises questions such as “will people actually watch my video?” We currently live in an era with an abundance of products and a great amount of competition. Consumers are incredibly powerful and know exactly what they want. As a startup the world has become very uncertain because with an abundance of products and picky consumers you don’t know if you’re going to succeed or not.

The main drivers of uncertainty are:

  • abundance
  • fierce competition
  • focus on learning
  • increasing consumer power

Resources are a very important part of an idea but the word “resources” has almost become a dirty word in the current era because you no longer know if you can support them. This requires a shift in the way we think about resources: you must be able to acquire resources on demand. Get them when you need them and release them when you don’t need them anymore. This lowers the costs because you only pay for those resources you need and only when you need them. This means there are no longer expensive servers sitting in the back of the room without getting used.

Running a complex infrastructure is a highly specialized job and takes a lot of money and trained manpower. As a startup you shouldn’t invest in becoming a world class infrastructure provider. Instead you should focus on managing pulled-in infrastructure(s) so you can focus on innovation instead of infrastructure. In the current era we can push and pull services and you should use them to our advantage in order to innovate.

Amazon is structured as a service-oriented model that provides cloud services based on this new model. Vogel wonders if any of the startups present at the Next Web are using any cloud services? Most startups don’t because they want to use their own stuff for a 100% but Vogel thinks they are fooling themselves because you cannot run a 100% reliable service by yourself. Vogel admits that even Amazon fails sometimes even though they are experts in providing these services. However, by providing services for startups they allow them to innovate and focus at what they are good at and focus on the idea.

This raises the question if this is not simply a marketeer’s (read: Amazon’s) dream. Why is not the whole world building applications with Amazon? What happens if startups heavily rely on their services? A very relevant question with the recent hiccups at S3. Vogel assures worried startups that they always have backups and that they are always aiming for the 100%. Vogel shares with us that “everything fails all the time. We lose whole datacenters! Those things happen.” However, Vogel assures us that as a customer never notice anything: “let us worry about those things, not you as a startup. Focus on your ideas.”