Now that the razzmatazz of AWS re:Invent is over, I’ve taken to some time to step back from the specific new announcements and consider my higher-level conclusions, and what they tell us about the state of the cloud computing market in general.
As for the event itself, the whole “feel” was very start-up rather than enterprise focused, unlike the AWS Enterprise event Smart421 sponsored back in September. The main thing that struck me at the UK event was that wow – this is getting serious. I’ve been “banging on” for a while about the time now being right for enterprise adoption and the enterprise market reaching a tipping point – but the ability for AWS to draw a 500+ crowd from the UK enterprise market says it all, and also the fact that they felt confident enough to do so – even though there has already been a London-based AWS event earlier in the year. AWS subtly adjusted the tone and message for this audience and got it spot on I think – one of their challenges at other events like re:invent is generally that the audience is a mix of hardcore developers/Dev-op types, architects and enterprise attendees. This enterprise space is where Smart421 is used to operating and so it felt…well…just a bit more like home for us.
Hence I don’t interpret the start-up focus at re:Invent as a lack of credibility in the enterprise space really – it’s more that the new cloud-based startups are where the action and excitement is, and the innovation and crucially the adoption of innovation. I only attended one specifically “old school” vendor presentation at re:invent and compared with the other AWS-led sessions I attended – it was so D…U…L…L… that I just turned off. They demonstrated capability by telling – not by showing or doing.
As you’d expect, there was an army of AWS staff on site, but without exception I found them to be very well informed (there was no “give me your card as I’ll get back to you”…), very good, and uniformly excited about what they were doing.
In an least two presentations I attended there was reference to the “flywheel effect“ whereby more and more momentum is created via a virtuous circle of innovation and customer adoption. Whilst I knew this before I went, I found it very striking that AWS’s success is founded on not out-doing the competition (at least not initially), but on out-innovating them. The crucial thing they have solved is how to innovate – sometimes in leaps, but usually in relatively small increments – but very fast, predictably and mercilessly. This creates some difficult tensions with their partners as mentioned in my previous post – ISV partners are especially at risk of being made redundant, but consulting partners like Smart421 have challenges too, e.g. every time RDS becomes more capable (multi-AZ etc) then it’s more likely to be used in one of our deployments, and needs less professional services to design, implement and support than just a database deployed on a virtual machine.
I can see how competitor X could maybe beat AWS today, e.g. maybe VMware can use their scale to defend their virtual desktop market against Amazon WorkSpaces – but who would take a bet against AWS not incrementally improving their offering faster than VMware? I wouldn’t. Innovation pace will always beat an existing market advantage eventually – it’s inevitable.
So does that mean AWS are unstoppable? Of course not – history suggests that they too will get blown away by another market disrupter in the future. Whilst we know this should be the case over a 100 year timeframe, at the here and now it seems impossible. But there are challenges – one challenge for AWS going forward was hinted at by Senior Vice President Andy Jassy – the person who has taken AWS from inception to where it is today – at the UK Enterprise summit. He came up with the quote of the day…
there’s no compression algorithm for experience
…which for me nicely sums up exactly how I feel about the services we offer to customers today. There’s an underlying tension in AWS’s market positioning in that on one hand they say that anyone can get started on AWS, just sign up and start your first instance etc – and it’s completely true – you can be up and running in minutes. On the other hand, enterprise customers know (or are starting to appreciate at least) that the real long term challenges are about managing change – change of architecture practices in their organisations, change of service management processes to consider capacity management differently, change in finance and procurement teams to get their heads around variable pricing etc. Also, once they get past the skunkworks stage, they quickly realise that this stuff is complicated. To get this point across, here’s all the separate Vision stencil icons representing various AWS services and features that we exploit to create AWS designs for our customers…and this was before all the new announcements at re:invent…
…and this set will clearly continue to grow further as AWS’s pace of innovation is simply exceptional. It’s a toolbox for our architects to pick from, so obviously we don’t use all the AWS services for every customer deployment…but you get the point I’m sure. Being intimately familiar with this ever-increasing set of capabilities and how best to exploit them is a full time occupation for our internal AWS Practice – and so I don’t realistically expect most enterprises to have the desire or ability to do so.
AWS will need to take care to balance their rate of innovation with the ability of the bulk of their customers to understand and adopt what they are offering. But that’s a challenge I’m sure their competitors would gladly take!
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