The Depth of Amazon’s Ambition

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Not surprisingly for an organization that has updated its product line 200 times this year as of the first of the month, Amazon had a few tricks up its sleeve for its annual re:Invent conference. For the company that effectively created the cloud market, the show was an important one for showcasing the sheer scope of Amazon’s targets.

Amazon is correctly regarded as one of the fastest innovating vendors in the world, with the release pace up over 500% from 2008 through last year. And if Amazon keeps up its pace for releases through the end of the year, it will have released 36% more features this year than last.

But as impressive as the pace is, the more impressive – and potentially more important – aspect to their release schedule is its breadth. Consider what Amazon announced at re:Invent:

  • AppStream (Mobile/Gaming)
  • CloudTrail (Compliance and Governance)
  • Kinesis (Streaming)
  • New Instance Types in C3/I2 (Performance compute)
  • RDS Postgres (Database as a Service)
  • Workspaces (VDI)

The majority of cloud vendors today are focused on executing with core cloud workloads, or basic compute and storage. There are certainly players focused on adding value through differentiated, specialized technologies such as Joyent with its distributed-Unix data-oriented Manta offering or ProfitBricks with its scale up approach, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Whether it’s public cloud providers or enterprises attempting to build out private cloud abilities, most of the focus is on simply keeping the lights on.

At re:Invent, Amazon did upgrade its traditional compute offerings via C3/I2, but also signaled its intent to embrace and extend entirely new markets. Most obviously, Amazon has with Workspace turned its eye towards VDI, for years a market long on promise but short on traction. The theoretical benefits of VDI, from manageability to security, have to date rarely outweighed the limitations and costs of delivery, making it the Linux desktop of IT – with success always just over the horizon. Amazon’s bet here is that by removing the complexity of execution it can engage with customers in a manner that its core cloud businesses cannot, and thereby grow its addressable market in the process.

Similarly, Kinesis is an entry into a specialized market that has typically been the province either of vendor packages – e.g. IBM InfoSphere Streams – or more recent open source project combinations such as Storm/Kafka. Of specific interest with Kinesis is the degree to which Amazon is leading the market here rather than responding to it. When questioned on the topic, Amazon said that Kinesis was unlike other Amazon offerings such as Workspaces that were a response to widespread customer demand. Instead, Amazon is anticipating future market needs with Kinesis, and attempting to deliver ahead of same.

AppStream, for its part, is effectively a Mobile/Gaming-backend-as-a-service, putting providers in that space on notice. The addition of Postgres as an RDS option, meanwhile, came to wide developer acclaim, but means that Amazon will increasingly be competing with AWS customers like Heroku. And CloudTrail, particularly with its partner list, means that AWS is taking the enterprise market seriously, which is both opportunity and threat for its enterprise ecosystem partners.

Big picture, re:Invent was an expansion of ambition from Amazon. Its sights are even broader than was realized heading into the show, which should give the industry pause. It has been difficult enough to compete with AWS on a rate of innovation basis in core cloud markets; with its widening portfolio of services, the task ahead of would-be competitors large and small just got more difficult.

That being said, however, it is worth questioning the sustainability of Amazon’s approach over the longer term. Microsoft similarly had ambitions not just to participate in but fundamentally dominate and own peripheral or adjacent markets, and arguably that near infinite scope impacted their focus in their core competencies. The broader and more diverse the business, the more difficult it becomes to manage effectively – not least because you end up making more enemies along the way. It remains to be seen whether or not Amazon’s increasing appetite to cloudify all the things has a similar effect on its ability to execute moving forward, but in the interim customers have a brand new stable of toys to play with.

Disclosure: Amazon, Heroku, and IBM are RedMonk customers, Joyent, Microsoft and ProfitBricks are not.


  1. It’s the “fundamentally dominate and own” part that I don’t believe is the same and that makes the difference. If that’s your goal, you aim to defeat others and become competitor-oriented in product. That is distinctly *not* how Amazon behaves. It’s an expression of Bezos’s personality as much Oracle is an expression of Ellison’s.

    1. @Aneel: I take your point, and certainly there are material differences in approach. For one, Amazon has to date limited its ambitions to service-based plays, and typically focused on core infrastructure. Which gives partners some breathing room.

      That said, I’m not sure Heroku, as but one example, would necessarily see things quite the same way.

      1. How you behave towards the ecosystem is not quite the same as how your behave towards the competition. 🙂

        AWS steadily cannibalizes it’s ecosystem. Just fast enough to keep the moat between it and competitors big but slow enough not to starve the ecosystem of oxygen.

        Kinesis is the first ostensible departure from that tactic. But I have my doubts as to whether it really is.

        1. @Aneel: ah, but what happens when your ecosystem becomes your competition? 😉

          1. If you’re Amazon– that’s their problem, not yours. So the same strategy applies.

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