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AS I head out for tech conference, following VMware’s VMworld 2014 in August and Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce 14 last month, one thing's for sure: I’ve witnessed some of the most competitive cloud vendors go head-to-head against one another.
And this week, I’m in Las Vegas covering one of the leaders in this field: Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) at its re:Invent 2014 event.
re:Invent is the vendor’s premier get-together for partners, customers (both existing and potential ones), analysts, and the media.
But perhaps the more important point to note at this conference – the third since its inception in 2012 – is that while AWS is poised to keep its ‘king of public cloud’ service provider title, the company is expected to face fierce challenges.
Gartner has consistently ranked AWS as the leading public cloud service provider in its much-cited annual Magic Quadrant report, which seeks to evaluate the best in the business within the Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) space.
Gartner defines public cloud providers as companies with a style of computing that is scalable and elastic in nature, and whose IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using Internet technologies.
And based on Digital News Asia’s (DNA) exclusive interview with its chief technical officer Dr Werner Vogels earlier this year, AWS is well aware of and geared up for the challenge.
Birth of a giant
AWS began life in 2006 as a division of parent company Amazon.com Inc, arguably the largest e-commerce site in the world. The web services division of the Seattle, Washington-based giant was born out of ideas suggested principally by two of its engineers – Chris Pinkham and Benjamin Black – who presented the concept to Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos in 2003.
In a nutshell, Pinkham and Black envisioned infrastructure that was completely standardised, automated, and relied extensively on web services for things like storage, computation and networking.
The two engineers convinced Bezos that Amazon.com could use the experience and expertise it had gained running its own e-commerce site, and turn that into selling virtual computing, networking and storage as a service to customers.
By the summer of 2006, the idea of selling web services over the Internet became a reality, and Bezos officially launched what is known today as AWS.
To be clear, AWS does not sell excess capacity it derives from running Amazon.com. In fact, the web services arm of Amazon is completely a business in itself, with its own dedicated management and infrastructure for its customers.
At the heart of AWS’ offering are two of its most popular products – Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) – which have now become the bedrock computing platform for some of the largest companies in the world.
When the service was launched, analysts and media wondered how Amazon would make money from such a service and how profitable the business would become, according to a ZDNet article.
“The reason we’re doing the web services that we are doing is because they are things that we’ve gotten good at over the last 11 years in terms of building out this web-scale application called Amazon.com,” said Amazon.com chief financial officer Tom Szkutak in 2006, according to a transcript on SeekingAlpha (registration required).
“So as we go about exposing the guts of Amazon.com, there are other developers out there who require those same sorts of web-scale services ... what we’re doing here is exposing those and, over time, building that into a meaningful business.”
Since then, AWS has grown from strength to strength and has capitalised on its first-mover advantage exceptionally well. The company has launched over 40 services as part of its broader portfolio of cloud services, and today has global presence through its 11 regions and 28 availability zones around the world.
It counts amongst its clients some of the biggest players in all kinds of businesses, including global names like Dow Jones, Pfizer, Novartis, HTC Corp, Netflix, SunCorp Bank, ComCast and Expedia, to name a few.
Next: The competition, and is there a storm cloud looming?