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Hiding in Plain Sight: The Rise of Amazon Web Services

Maybe it’s the lingering perception that they’re just a retailer, but the lack of a healthy fear of Amazon is still curious. Even as players large and small acknowledge the dominance of AWS within the public cloud computing market, the lack of an immune response to its continued expansion defies simple explanation.

If Amazon restricted itself to basic public cloud computing services, that would be one thing. Most of the large systems players have turned their attention to the burgeoning market for quote unquote private cloud services. Whether these same cloud players appreciate the fact that a large portion of their interest in the private cloud is a function of the public cloud economic realities established by Amazon is unclear, but unimportant. Amazon is singularly responsible for the framing that is the public cloud today, a framing which generally relegates those with traditional enterprise margins in mind to private cloud settings.

But Amazon has not, of course, restricted itself to basic public cloud computing services. Amazon’s steady but underacknowledged expansion into adjacent markets is no secret. Since those early days when it took a Master’s degree to apply DNS to a running EC2 instance, Amazon has steadily grown its footprint beyond basic compute and storage functions into core enterprise software markets like messaging (SQS, SNS), analytics (Elastic MapReduce), monitoring (CloudWatch), and databases (SimpleDB, RDS [coverage]). And, as of last Tuesday, enterprise Linux.

Initially believed to be an Ubuntu derivative, which would have been an even more interesting choice, Amazon’s new custom Linux distribution is actually binary compatible with CentOS, which is itself a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. All of which means, effectively, that Amazon is following in the footsteps of Oracle [coverage] and getting into the Linux distribution game via Red Hat. By leveraging the availability of open source assets, they are systematically bootstrapping themselves into markets that have, historically, been vigorously defended by their respective dominant players.

The reaction from the marketplace? Understated, to say the least. Even the Hacker News thread garnered a mere 19 comments, over a third of which discuss nothing more than the availability of the source code.

While this apathy with respect to AWS announcements is typical, however, it seems increasingly inappropriate. Besides being to the public cloud market what Microsoft is to operating systems or VMware to virtualization, Amazon now maintains, supports and sells its own distributions of both Linux and MySQL. If this was HP or IBM, for example, it would be news. But when Amazon does, it barely registers on the public consciousness.

Whether that’s because of the aforementioned legacy impression of Amazon as a mere retailer, or because Amazon’s software assets are not distributed beyond the boundaries of their own public cloud (for now) is academic. The fact is that Amazon, by hiding in plain sight, is building an impressive array of weapons with which they can attack a variety of customer and market types. In spite of this, they have attracted minimal attention. How long that continues will be interesting to see, because while Savio’s right that Red Hat should be concerned about Amazon, so should everyone else.

Disclosure: IBM, Microsoft, and Red Hat, are RedMonk customers, while Amazon and VMware are not.

Categories: Cloud, Open Source.

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