Reinventing Amazon Web Services

Attendees had more than two hundred different sessions to choose from, on topics ranging from how to create apps for Fire to the AWS Cloud’s big data and HPC services, and everything in between. There were sessions that focused on digital advertising technology, educational institutions, enterprise adoption, financial services, gaming, healthcare, media production and much more.

For those interested in getting their AWS certifications, a testing center was on-site with exams offered each day of the event, and a certification lounge provided a place for AWS certified professionals to gather and meet.

With more than 13,000 in attendance, along with 400 speakers, this year’s conference highlighted the growth of AWS, both in customer base and in the scope of services offered. The indisputable takeaway was that the cloud is a very big deal and it’s here to stay.

Leader of the Pack

There’s also no disputing that AWS is a very big part of that. Gartner classified AWS as a member of the “leaders” quadrant in their 2014 Cloud Infrastructure as a Service Magic Quadrant. Their report showed AWS and Microsoft as the leaders in that space, with Amazon the front-runner rated as having the most complete vision and highest ability to execute on that vision. Other popular contenders, such as Google, IBM, Rackspace, HP and VMware, were classified as either visionaries (the first two) or niche players (the last three).

In coming to this decision, Gartner noted AWS’s diverse customer base and market share. Also cited was its wide range of use cases. Certainly anyone who has taken the time to navigate through Amazon’s list of cloud services can agree with the latter; the list goes on and one (as I discussed in AWS: An Overview article on our sister site, and seems to cover almost anything that you could ever think about doing in the cloud (and probably some that you had never thought about).

Something that might not immediately come to mind when evaluating cloud services, but which Gartner highlights, is AWS’s very large technology partner ecosystem offering software packaged to run on EC2 and its extensive network of partners that can provide help in adopting the platform.

I found it interesting to note that the Magic Quadrant report listed as its first cautionary comment about AWS the very thing that frustrated me when I was initially exposed to the services: the overwhelming complexity of the pricing structure, which is based on tiered levels within which prices vary based on many different variables, with additional separate charges for a variety of optional items.

Gartner wrapped up the discussion with a few very relevant points: Cloud IaaS (the service it focused on in the Magic Quadrant study) is not a commodity. Since there are significant differences in the implementations and features between different vendors, you may become tied to a particular vendor if you’re dependent on the more unique offerings. That means it’s important to choose well the first time when considering a cloud provider, and certainly if you anticipate growing into the need for a very broad range of services, AWS is a viable choice.

The other point that stands out in the report is an obvious one, but it merits emphasis: the whole cloud services market is in a transitionary phase, with providers making huge investments in their services offerings – but the market is consolidating and growth disproportionately favors the market leaders. That bodes well for AWS, and for its customers in terms of reliability. One of the most frustrating things about the early years of cloud services is the many promising services that have come and gone, leaving customers in the lurch when they withdrew from the business.

At this point, one might wonder if AWS could be considered “too big to fail?” According to Andy Jassy, senior vice president at AWS and keynote speaker at 2014 re:Invent, there are more than 900 government agencies and 3400 educational institutions – a total of more than a million customers – using the Amazon cloud, and AWS was labeled the fastest growing enterprise IT vendor (more than 40 percent year over year growth rate).

Maybe that growth is what gave the company the confidence to go forward without announcing any price cuts this year. That was a bit of a disappointment to customers, who have seen price drops announced at most big AWS events. The competition in the cloud space has been pretty fierce, and Microsoft, Amazon and Google have been trying to outdo each other this past year when it comes to lower and lower prices. It makes sense that they can’t keep reducing the prices beyond a certain point and still make any money (of course, Amazon is one company that has experience with operating without profits).

At re:Invent, Amazon announced several new cloud services for AWS. These include AWS Key Management Service (KMS), AWS Configure (an inventory, configuration history and change management service), AWS Service Catalog (for creating managed catalogs of resources that user access via a personalized portal), three new lifecycle management tools (AWS CodeDeploy, AWS CodeCommit and AWS CodePipeline), Relational Database Service (RDS) for the Aurora database engine, and EC2 Container Service, AWS Lambda (automated running of code in response to triggers).

The introduction of so many services covering so many aspects of computing will surely make many customers happy, but one wonders if Amazon’s partners may be less so. Just as when Microsoft ventured into adding firewalls, anti-malware and so many other features to Windows that had previously been provided by third party software vendors, Amazon might be stepping on some toes as it comes out with features and new services that were previously supplied by their partners.

It’s something Amazon has to do, though, to keep growing and to accomplish what appears to be its ultimate goal: all your cloud are belong to us.


At this point in its life, Amazon isn’t so much reinventing AWS as expanding its reach to stretch far beyond the EC2 compute services and S3 storage services for which it’s so well known. The indication that the company may have decided to get out of the race to the bottom when it comes to pricing could signal that AWS is entering a more mature phase of existence. We’ll just have to stay tuned to see what happens next.

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