AWS: 10 defining moments for the cloud giant

Amazon Web Services turned 10 this week, ComputerworldUK looks at some of the biggest events in its history

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Earlier this week, Amazon Web Services turned 10 years old.  Launched by online bookseller Amazon in 2006, it has gone on to help transform the IT industry in an era of widespread cloud computing.

This has involved taking on some of the biggest names in tech. Where the likes of Dell, HP and IBM have struggled to transition their businesses to meet demand for the public, AWS has soared out in front.

According to the latest Gartner estimates, AWS’s cloud business is 10 times larger than its nearest 14 competitors combined. Not bad for a company that was once considered a ‘risky bet’ for the retail giant.

Despite these successes, Jeff Bezo’s firm faces some significant challenges as the company moves into its second decade.

Microsoft and Google have increased their focus on public cloud in recent years, and present a significant threat to AWS as large businesses consider how to move more workloads out of the data centre.  Oracle, IBM Softlayer and other OpenStack-based vendors remain a threat too, with many predicting that cloud uptake is still really in its infancy.

Here are some of the defining moments of AWS in the past ten years.

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1. Amazon Web Services launches (2002)

It was actually back in 2002 that AWS was formally launched, as a free service that allowed companies to incorporate Amazon.com features on their own sites.

The early version of the business was aimed at helping developers “build applications and tools that will allow them to incorporate many of the unique features of Amazon.com into their websites”.

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2. S3 and EC2 released (2006)

It wasn’t until a few years later that AWS launched with its first cloud products, enabling businesses to build their own applications using Amazon’s infrastructure.

First was Simple Storage Service (S3), followed by Elastic Compute Cloud – or EC2 – its server rental and hosting service.  EC2 has been added to over the years, with various instance types offering different configurations of CPU, memory, storage and networking capacity, for example.

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3. Competition heats up as Google and Microsoft launch cloud services (2008)

Two years after launching its cloud services, Google joined the market. 

While it has typically been viewed as trailing in third place among the big public cloud providers, this is beginning to change, and with the hiring of former VMware CEO, Diane Green, to lead its enterprise cloud business, Google has its eyes on gaining more traction with large businesses. 

It has also made headway in recent weeks. Both Spotify and, reportedly Apple, are moving some of their services away from AWS to the Google cloud.

And more competition arrived in 2009, when Microsoft launched what currently is the biggest threat to AWS, lifting the lid on its Azure cloud beta.

The presence of Microsoft products in many enterprise data centres, and established relationships with many businesses, has meant that Azure is a clear consideration for .NET developers and those that consider themselves a Microsoft ‘shop’.

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4. Virtual Private Cloud launches (2009)

AWS proved popular with developers wanting to quickly spin up services, but few traditional enterprises were confident with moving more substantial workloads into the public cloud.

The Virtual Private Cloud was launched as part of AWS' ambitions to gain business from more conservative companies.

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Image: FLickr/Eli White

5. AWS holds first customer event (2012)

The first major customer event was held in Las Vegas, highlighting its growing user community. Its Re:Invent conference has been a regular fixture since, and AWS also holds a yearly customer event in the UK.

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6. CIA picks AWS over IBM for private cloud (2013)

AWS does not usually build dedicated infrastructure for customers. But it was keen to do so for a lucrative private cloud contract with the CIA worth $600 million.

Most interesting, perhaps, was who it was up against: one of the traditional enterprise big-hitters, IBM.

The decision to choose AWS was symbolic of a shift in power and boosted AWS’ credentials as an enterprise-grade cloud supplier. IBM argued at the time that “unlike Amazon, IBM has a long history of delivering successful transformational projects like this for the US government”.

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7. RedShift launches, becomes fastest growing AWS service (2012)

In 2013, the data warehousing as a service platform was launched as part of the ongoing process of building out the data processing capabilities of AWS.  Released in the same year as NoSQL service DynamoDB. RedShift is described as “fully managed, petabyte-scale data warehouse service in the cloud”.  

Both were followed by big data processing service, Kinesis, the following year.

By 2015, AWS was touting RedShift as the fastest-growing product in its history.

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8. Reveals financial results for the first time (2015)

The amount of money actually being made by the big vendors had largely been shrouded in mystery for years. While Microsoft and IBM had included Iaas revenues with a range of others, Amazon was even less clear about how much AWS was making.

In May 2015 it finally gave a clearer idea of how much the business was bringing in.

AWS said it had achieved revenues of $4.6 billion in 2014, and expected it would grow at a rate of 49 percent to $6.2 billion in 2015.

Its most recent financial results showed revenues of $2.4 billion for just the fourth quarter of 2015, meaning that it actually drew in a total of $7.9 billion for 2015.

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9. AWS focuses on regional data centre strategy in post-Snowden era (2015)

AWS has always had a relatively large number of datacentre availability zones.

But, with customers increasingly concerned about data sovereignty issues, it stepped up efforts to provide regional data centres with a facility in the UK.

The decision was quickly followed by Microsoft, which announced similar plans.

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10. Lambda, IoT and machine learning (2014-2016)

The sophistication and variety of services available from cloud vendors is continuing to grow. AWS has invested in staying at the forefront of this with the launch of some interesting new capabilities in the past two years.

Lambda was launched in 2014 to automate processes for backend developers, allowing them to run code in AWS without provisioning or managing servers.

AWS has also targeted the latest trends in enterprise IT, with produicts aimed at IoT and machine learning.

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