A slide of a data center from a presentation at the Amazon Technology Open House.

A slide of a data center from a presentation at the Amazon Technology Open House.

Estimate: Amazon Cloud Backed by 450,000 Servers

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A slide of a data center from a presentation at the Amazon Technology Open House. (Source: James Hamilton)

How many servers does it take to power Amazon’s huge cloud computing operation? Like many large Internet companies, Amazon doesn’t disclose details of its infrastructure, including how many servers it uses. But a researcher estimates that Amazon Web Services is using at least 454,400 servers in seven data center hubs around the globe.

Huan Liu, a research manager at Accenture Technology Labs, analyzed Amazon’s EC2 compute service using internal and external IP addresses, which he extrapolated to come up with estimates for the number of racks in each data center location. Liu then applied an assumption of 64 blade servers per rack – four 10U chassis, each holding eight blades – to arrive at the estimate.

That’s one of several assumptions at the heart of Liu’s estimate, which he notes in documenting his methodology, complete with caveats. Photos from a 2011 presentation by AWS Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton show 1U “pizza box” rackmount servers rather than blades, but it’s not known if that was a recent depiction of Amazon’s infrastructure (see Hamilton’s presentation for more). But the server estimate seems feasible given Hamilton’s assumption that an 8 megawatt data center could include 46,000 servers.

One interesting aspect of Liu’s research is that it shows the concentration of Amazon’s IP addresses in its US East region in northern Virginia, where Amazon maintains several data centers. He estimates that Amazon has 5,030 racks in northern Virginia, or about 70 percent of the estimated total of 7,100 racks for AWS. By contrast, the new Amazon US West (Oregon) region has just 41 racks, which are reportedly deployed in containers.

Liu’s estimate is bound to generate some debate. But it provides an additional point of reference for Amazon’s scale, along with earlier analyses from Randy Bias and Guy Rosen. It clearly places the size of Amazon’s structure well above the hosting providers that have publicly disclosed their server counts, but still well below the estimated 900,000 servers in Google’s data center network.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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9 Comments

  1. Gavoir

    I somehow think not. They have ~17,000 cores. (http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2011/11/amazon-powers-silk-with-one-of-the-worlds-fastest-supercomputers/). You can't have 17,000 cores in 454,000 servers. They have less than 1500 machines to do this, assuming they use the same sort of kit as the rest of us supercomputing sites (22,000 cores in ~1800 machines).

  2. If they need to spread out to the west, we have room out here in western Nebraska. 46 unused fiber strands are waiting to be lit up and with connection to Silicon Mountain(Denver)

  3. Ben Interactive

    "64 blade servers per rack – four 10U chassis, each holding eight blades" So 4*8=64? What kind of researcher is this guy?

  4. All that heat... I hope they have attached greenhouses.

  5. Gavoir, you seem to be jumping to the conclusion that those 17,000 make up all of Amazon's Cloud. First, it only refers to EC2. I'm sure they also have a lot of servers behind S3 and their other services. Second, I am fairly certain that they only used a subset of EC2 for their top 500 entry. For one thing, they were servicing other customers at the time. For another thing, Amazon clients have used EC2 to provision even larger clusters. For example, this article about a 30,000 cluster from last fall: http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2011/09/30000-core-cluster-built-on-amazon-ec2-cloud.ars Also, I recall some talk from people who have spun up even larger clusters on EC2, for unnamed clients who would prefer to remain that way.