Three Boston Startups Finalists in Amazon’s $100K Web Services Challenge

11/10/08Follow @wroush

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quite as easy,” says Gropper. “Amazon provides us with a crucible. We haven’t proved that we can scale to a million patients, but we are using technologies that are compatible with that.”

There’s another big reason to use Amazon’s system as the infrastructure for a personal-medical-record system, says Gropper: it’s not Google or Microsoft. Both of those companies are developing online health record systems, under the Google Health and Microsoft HealthVault brands, respectively. But hospitals and physicians’ offices, which must verify the privacy of medical records under regulations such as HIPAA, may be unwilling to work with Google or Microsoft, who don’t let outside organizations review or modify the code underlying their systems. “Under these new ways of practicing, physicians and hospitals are going to need to be in control of their privacy policies, and the terms of use with either Google or Microsoft are not necessarily compatible with that,” says Gropper.

Pixily, which we profiled in October, calls on Amazon’s web services in yet another way, renting both processing and storage as it scans consumers’ paper documents and places them in a searchable online archive. Co-founder Anand Rajaram says that for Pixily, the great thing about Amazon’s computational utility, the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), is that more servers can be requisitioned as needed—say, around tax time, when Pixily is scanning and doing optical character recognition on peak volumes of documents—and just as quickly relinquished. “We don’t have to commit a lot of up-front capital for those five or six times a year when things spike,” Rajaram says.

Rajaram says that considering how small Pixily still is, Amazon has been remarkably responsive to its needs. “When they were here meeting with startups in October, one of the pieces of feedback we gave them was that they should introduce tiered pricing for S3,” he says. “About two weeks later they announced exactly that. It could have been happenstance, but we like the fact that they are actively listening to feedback.”

The AWS Start-Up Challenge itself, of course, is a big part of Amazon’s effort to reach out to the community of potential cloud computing users. Rajaram says it was attending the Amazon road show previewing the first AWS Start-Up Challenge, in 2007, that convinced Pixily to go with the company’s cloud services. And now, just one year later, Pixily is in the finals—competing with MedCommons, Sonian, and four other startups for $50,000 in cash and $50,000 in AWS credits.

Even if the company doesn’t win, Rajaram says, “it will be a platform for us to be endorsed by somebody like Amazon, given that they are the pioneers in cloud computing. More than anything else, it’s a big PR win.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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