In 2017, Amazon Web Services (AWS) generated $17.4 billion in revenue from over 1 million customers. Brands such as Netflix, Airbnb, and Slack all leverage Amazon’s cloud computing services for their own benefits. But since AWS powers such a large chunk of the internet, it seems as though we’re becoming increasingly dependent on Amazon to keep the internet alive and well.
And no, that’s not hyperbole. Think back to March 2018 when Amazon’s Virginia-based servers experienced downtime. It impacted internet users across the USA’s Eastern Seaboard, pulling giant brands off the face of the web for hours on end.
Since then, there have been murmurs; Should CIOs look to AWS alternatives? Or are the services found within AWS just too darn good to refuse? As ever, we’ve sampled opinions from leading industry practitioners and experts.
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What is Amazon Web Services?
Launched in 2006, AWS is a comprehensive cloud computing solution which offers database storage, serverless computing, content delivery, and other functionalities that help businesses deploy and scale digital presences. The platform provides a mix of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and packaged Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
AWS was developed from the internal infrastructure that helped house the retail powerhouse that is Amazon.com and today, Amazon Web Services ranks as the third largest cloud hosting provider in the world behind GoDaddy and 1and1. It's also worth mentioning that, AWS also claims 44.2 percent of the IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) market.
Phillip Merrick, CEO at Washington DC.-based Fugue, explained that “[Cloud computing platforms] like AWS and Azure are growing at a breathtaking pace [inline with] organizations [becoming aware] that they need to get out of the business of building and operating IT infrastructure and instead focus on their core businesses.”
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Why Do CIOs Love AWS?
Jonathan Lewis, VP of Product at New York-based NS1, has praised Amazon and AWS for the positive impact they have had on cloud computing by lowering the barrier to entry for businesses who wish to develop and deploy their own digital products without having to own and maintain the required infrastructure. “The utility-based model of computing [that AWS] commercialized made it possible not just for enterprises to lower costs and focus capital on core business activity, [it] lowered the barrier of entry for new business creation, [and also] vastly [reducing] the amount of capital needed to start a business,” Lewis said.
Besides the lower barrier to entry, Nichas Hedhman, CTO at New Castle, DE.-based OptDyn, mentioned that CIOs love AWS for the sheer “number of solutions” when it comes to storage, computing, and networking. He added that developers with the necessary skills can use AWS to build a small application within “literally minutes” and scale it on a “nearly infinite” level.
But Hedhman pointed out that while AWS provides developers and startups “hundreds of dollars” worth of resources to entice them onto the platform.
Should CIOs Consider AWS Alternatives?
Hedham also mentioned some of the flaws in the AWS ecosystem. “The main disadvantage of AWS is the cost, combined with the vendor lock-in that makes it really difficult to move to another provider, once you are running on [AWS]. [The costs can] spiral out of control quite quickly,” he said.
Furthermore, Hedhman highlighted both data security and the lack of transparency as two significant concerns, remarking that many brands are, ”concerned about data protection, as Amazon is a black-box unit and [no one knows who has] access to the data. [Also], the measures to protect against misuse internally are also unknown.”
Hedham went on to explain that, “all data in AWS is one subpoena away (or maybe even just an executive order from a 3-letter agency away) from government expropriation.” As far as Hedham is concerned, as privacy concerns are slowly growing, the centralized systems will lose their appeal for this reason alone.
Finally, Hedham explained how AWS “packs its hardware rather tight, squeezing as much revenue out of each resource as possible.” This tightly packed ecosystem sometimes impacts each tenant “to some small degree”. Hedham admits the impact is small but noticeable. “[This] high density results in more damage when there is an outage. Some of AWS is rather resilient to outages, but we have seen entire AWS regions to go down, affecting thousands of businesses at once. As the business owner, there is nothing you can do to get that back up faster unless you have planned ahead with redundant systems — at possibly double the cost,” he said.
Smaller or Niche Providers Not Necessarily the Answer
Merrick generally advises against going with, “smaller, niche cloud service providers because you're going to have to invest a lot in building out the kinds of infrastructure services that leading cloud platforms offer out-of-the-box.”
Hedham, despite listing out the flaws of AWS, agrees that niche AWS alternatives aren’t necessarily the solution. “Using smaller providers mitigates some of the risks [of using AWS], especially if one is able to use multiple small ones, yet manage to treat them all as a single system to interact with,” he began. “[However], the cost will not change much, and many smaller providers [will struggle] to create a seamless environment,” he continued.
In other words, you can avoid the pitfalls of AWS, but it probably won’t be cheaper, and you’ll have a new set of problems to deal with — as Merrick pointed out.
Steep Learning Curve
“[AWS’s] UI for managing everything is extremely unfriendly and clunky [and] their [user] documentation is not even close to being up to par. These factors make it very difficult to bring on Junior DevOps, Junior System Admins, and interns to grow the company. There’s too much of a learning curve,” said Samantha Urban, CEO at Istanbul-based Urban Translation. That steep learning curve steals valuable time away from mid to senior level engineers who have to help new recruits.
“We have [also] found that AWS is not transparent and sometimes [they do not] get back to [your requests, emails or queries],” said Urban.