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Amazon Web Services had announced its fourth annual startup challenge contest, a means of recognizing startups built on Amazon's so-called infrastructure cloud.

Amazon wants all the cool startups to use its cloudy infrastructure rather than shelling out a lot of cash to build a baby data center. And luckily for Amazon, a lot of startups want the same exact thing, even if they are not cool. But when you run a contest to try to drum up interest in cloudy computing, as Amazon is doing for the fourth year in a row, you have to pretend all the winners are cool and doing something worthy of the attention of the company that bills itself as having "Earth's Biggest Selection" and seeking to be "Earth's most customer-centric company."

Say what you will about Amazon, it doesn't think small. And it doesn't go on and on about not being evil.

In announcing the fourth annual startup challenge contest, Adam Selipsky, vice president at the AWS subsidiary, said that over the past four years since EC2 and its related storage clouds went commercial that "hundreds of thousands of companies in more than 190 countries" have made use of the Amazon cloudy infrastructure to "free up precious engineering resources to focus on work that truly differentiates their business."

While Amazon does not provide financial figures for the AWS products, it is widely estimated to have somewhere between $200m and $300m in annual revenues and most people also reckon that application developers and startups constitute a large portion of the EC2 and related cloudy storage customer bases. Server virtualization took off first among cranky programmers who did not want to wait days or months for servers to be configured and then reconfigured so they could test their code, and it stands to reason that external virtual servers are even better suited in some ways as a testing platform.

Amazon wants people to run their applications on its cloudy infrastructure too, and the startup challenge is about finding companies with under $10m in annual revenues and under $10m in venture funding who ate doing interesting things and giving them some freebie compute and storage capacity in exchange for Amazon getting to tell their story as part of its marketing efforts.

The AWS startup challenge, which you can apply for here, is getting regional this year. There will be six global finalists that get $10,000 each in AWS credits and who get included in media coverage, helping make them famous and, in some cases, helping them raise venture capital because they have the Amazon seal of approval. This happened to Yieldex, startup challenge winner from 2008 that created an application to help online publishers forecast and optimize their ad sales. After winning the challenge, it was able to raise $8.5m in venture capital and closed its first big customer account.

It will be interesting to see if using EC2 compute and S3 and EBS storage become the default platform for the Web 3.0 generation of startups, much as Sun Microsystems Sparc servers and Oracle databases were the safe platforms of choice for the Web 1.0 generation and made both of those companies a fortune more than a decade ago.

In addition to the six global winners, Amazon will award 15 semi-finalists, three each in the Americas, Asia, and Europe regions where AWS provide computing. While the six finalists get airfare to Silicon Valley for the final judging round and get hosted by Amazon in an event featuring venture capital firms, the semi-finalists just get a nod in the press release and $2,500 in AWS credits. That's still not bad. But it is not as good as being the grand prize winner among the six global finalists, which gets $50,000 in cash, $50,000 in AWS credits, AWS premium support for one year, and hand-holding for AWS techies.

Anyone who enters the contest gets $25 in AWS credits. You have to turn your entry in by October 31. ®

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