Shout This From the Rooftops

AnnaLisa is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

This is the most personal and difficult post I will ever write. I just happened to be listening to NPR while on an errand and heard them mention craniosynostosis, a rare disorder in which one or more of the four sutures of the skull closes prematurely in an infant. The resultant shift causes disfigurement at best and the pressure on the developing brain can cause permanent brain damage at worst.

Think of these shifting masses of bone as tectonic plates drifting as the baby grows. When the process goes as expected they fuse into a normal shape and size skull. It’s been 20 years since my daughter was diagnosed with it at the age of six months. The next six months instead of being what should have been a blissful time of caring for a beloved baby was instead a full time nightmare of doctor visits, haranguing my HMO, disappointment from arrogant neurosurgeons, researching in medical libraries, and sad predictions of permanent developmental delay (although at that time they used a less politically correct term.) The worst was one that said my baby would never live independently and at best would have a mental age of eight years.

Finally, I found a pediatric neurosurgeon, truly a saint on earth, who would operate, a five hour operation that would basically refit the bony plates to relieve pressure on the brain as well as giving her a normal appearance. The operation took place the day before her first birthday. Within weeks she laughed for the first time. Now, there is absolutely no indication of disfigurement and she is on the dean’s list majoring in finance and even started college a year early. After years of nurturing her as though there was nothing wrong but not knowing if that would be the case, it wasn’t until junior high that I was sure we were out of the woods.

What struck me about the NPR story was that the “cloud” was partly responsible for the finding that these infantile bone cells are somehow miscommunicating. After comparing cell data from patients with craniosynostosis doctors like Dr. Michael Cunningham of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Craniofacial Center who was quoted in the story said, “It’s the first thing that’s ever been found that really gives us a clue to where to look in terms of underlying causes.”    

In particular the article mentioned that Amazon, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), as well as Google, Inc (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ: MSFT) to a lesser extent, are making it possible for scientists to crunch data at a fraction of the cost and time that even the most richly endowed teaching universities can do without cloud. Oncologists can compare tissue samples from all over the world for more accurate diagnoses and receive results within hours or days.

Big pharma, small biotechs, diagnostic labs, medical device makers, and all kinds of medical research are benefiting from a new dawn of cooperation and collaboration on data. One example given by Matt Wood, who directs scientific and technical computing at Amazon Web Services, was for a screening of millions of chemical compounds which took several hours and around $15,000.  Without the cloud, likely it would take millions of dollars and several years.

Amazon Web Services debuted in 2006 as almost an accident when Amazon was upgrading its data centers it found it could store and manage data more efficiently so much so that it was able to offer the service for sale to external clients. Now, universities, colleges, and research labs are using the cloud as fast as their funding or endowments can afford it.

This kind of scientific collaboration could means billions for Amazon’s bottom line. Personally, if one other mother and child could be spared our ordeal I wouldn’t care if Amazon had a 3000 P/E, it would be worth it.

Amazon has the e-books, the Kindle, the Kindle Fire, the e-commerce sites, streaming video and the cloud. It is the biggest e-tailer in the world and every year the National Retail Federation comes out and says etailing was up double digits last holiday season and the year before that and so on. Yes, Amazon is one of those names that is constantly under fire for its business model. I have previously noted that it’s practically a public utility with its emphasis on literacy and almost giving away its devices resulting in razor-thin margins.

When I heard the NPR story I thought to myself this is the biggest thing I’d ever heard about Amazon. Not just from the possible profits (and they could be huge) but for any socially responsible investor there’s finally a name promoting collaboration among the cutthroat pharma industry. But this single story about the cloud and its medical and research applications has me more excited about what the cloud can really do than anything else.

A few months ago, a friend asked me about the cloud and I explained it how it saved time and money for businesses and told her about EMC and VMWare and cloud REITs, yada, yada, yada. The cloud as a concept has been around since the fifties and in the sixties John McCarthy said "computation may someday be organized as a public utility." Business embraced the cloud with IBM,, Rackspace, and the aforementioned VMWare and its parent EMC. Then, Microsoft, Apple, and Google all were involved. Advances in the cloud come so fast and furious I would not invest in a stock solely for cloud; there should be other lines of business separate and different enough to support any lags in competition in the cloud sector.

Basically the cloud is available as Service as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The latter two are more complex and pricey for customers (and more profitable for the cloud host) and Google, Microsoft and Amazon are all represented in these latter services.

What about Google? In 2009 UC Santa Barbara introduced App Scale, an open source PaaS that can run Google engine apps on multiple infrastructures. Google has a more reasonable P/E of 22.86. I like it too but if Amazon is considered the cloud leader for science I’d rather go there. Google is reporting on October 10 and the numbers will probably be good, maybe even great. They have search, advertising, Android, tablets and the cloud. (Not to mention the YouTube archive of really cute cross-eyed cats.)

Microsoft is a name that some of my web designers friends are not too crazy about and feel that unless dramatic changes are made Microsoft may have problems once people buy computers, laptops, and tablets that are not automatically bundled with Microsoft software. More news on their involvement in the cloud would be promising, however.

 Honestly, Amazon and Google are innovative, names that are of the future and for the future but my favorite is Amazon. I liked Amazon before. I like it even more now. When they report on October 22 I hope they address this most powerful part of their entire ecosystem. CEO Jeff Bezos needs to talk this up, shout it from the rooftops even. It is surely the most important reason I can think of to invest in Amazon.

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