Amazon just announced the availability of a new service called Simple Workflow Service (SWF), which allows developers to define a series of complex steps in carrying out a business process, then implements and monitors those steps all together, as a service. “This new service gives you the ability to build and run distributed, fault-tolerant applications that span multiple systems (cloud-based, on-premise, or both),” writes Amazon’s Jeff Barr. SWF can also work across mobile devices.

The technology is similar to Beanstalkd, which describes itself as “a big to-do list for your distributed application.” Leena Rao at TechCrunch first reported on the existence of SWF two weeks ago when one of her readers saw it and sent her screenshots. Tonight the service was formally announced, complete with high-profile case studies, infographics and multiple blog posts.

Amazon Web Services customers get a limited number of free workflows they can allocate and Barr’s post discusses pricing at the very end. For example, “You pay $0.0001 for every Workflow execution, and an additional $0.000005 per day if they remain active for more than 24 hours.”

The company launched the new service tonight with three early testimonials, including from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs. They are, as Netflix’s Adrian Cockcroft said on Twitter tonight, “very cool examples.”

First impression from Patrick Debois, a leader in the international devops community: “Imagine hooking in your machine provisioning/monitoring into this logic, you can very well create nice orchestration. And have the approval process fit in the workflow.”

Reto Kramer, General Manager, Application Connection Services, AWS, said in the news release: “By relying on Amazon SWF to handle the coordination of distributed task execution, developers can now focus on building the differentiating aspects of their applications and leave the undifferentiated heavy lifting of building and managing workflow engines to AWS.”

In an article last week called NoOps, AppOps, DevOps, & More – Removing the OS Barrier with PaaS, Part 3.1, Adron Hall references companies like Opscode and Puppet Labs that exemplify a broad shift towards systematic abstraction of business processes. “Improvement of these complex systems is almost always done through abstraction of the complexity and simplification of the creation or deployment of these systems,” he writes. AWS SWF may require an expansion of our understanding of the opportunities available for abstraction.

Automated workflow management, across multiple environments, as a platform for innovation and value creation is a very exciting prospect. It abstracts a layer of detail in order to facilitate the expansion of a developer’s ability to create value on a higher level of abstraction. There may be no higher calling, as platforms go.

marshall kirkpatrick