Long a cloud kingpin, Amazon now fighting back against AWS competition

Amazon (s amzn) Web Services Senior Vice President Andy Jassy didn’t refer to any competitor by name when he pointed out AWS’ advantages before a crowd of around 4,000 at the AWS Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday. But it’s not hard to take a guess on who he was talking about. With Microsoft (s msft) hyping its Windows Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Amazon is trying to persuade people — Amazon faithful or not — that Azure just doesn’t compare.

The Amazon experience

Amazon has a fair amount of experience in the public-cloud realm, having launched AWS in 2006 and, Jassy said, having envisioned it a decade ago. Since then, Amazon’s S3 offering has grown to encompass 2 trillion objects stored on behalf of third-party developers who can’t necessarily afford to run their own infrastructure or don’t want the management hassles.

As for Microsoft, it made Windows Azure generally available as an IaaS cloud earlier this month. As my colleague Barb Darrow reported, Microsoft initially went for Platform as a Service (PaaS) instead of IaaS, and developers kept moving toward AWS for all of its standard services. But that’s a different story.

Amazon doesn’t want to rest on its history: Jassy talked up the smorgasbord of AWS technologies and services, from the Elastic MapReduce Hadoop implementation to the Redshift data warehouse. “What (customers) don’t want to settle for is an AWS 2009 type of platform,” Jassy said. “As a lot of other companies are just launching their solutions, we have much better technology than anybody else. We are iterating and innovating at a very fast clip.” Since the beginning of 2013, Jassy said, AWS has introduced 71 services and features. Compare that with, say, 82 new services and features Amazon rolled out in the entirety of 2011.
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The virtuous price cycle

Jassy also talked up the “virtuous cycle” of adding AWS customers, increasing usage, creating economics of scale and, in turn, getting new customers. Through its Trusted Advisor feature, the company can suggest to customers that they scale down compute instances if they’re sitting idle, and at the same time AWS keeps lowering prices again and again — 31 times since 2006, Jassy said. In other words, Amazon’s pitch is that AWS can be good at a low price. (To be fair, other cloud providers can outperform Amazon’s EC2 computing service in certain instances when it comes to running an application and serving up the result.)

Conference attendees walk the exhibition floor at the AWS Summit 2013 in San Francisco on April 30.

Conference attendees walk the exhibition floor at the AWS Summit 2013 in San Francisco, April 30, 2013

On top of those traits, AWS already has built up an ecosystem of customers, from startups such as Mailbox to enterprises such as Shell. A marketplace has sprung up for products that customers can run on top of AWS. And with operations in nine regions, AWS is global, permitting its customers to become global, too.

Is public better?

Jassy took a minute to talk about how “old-guard tech companies” are pitching private clouds as secure, even though private clouds might not be able to match the benefits of sharing Amazon infrastructure. But he did say he understands that some companies need to keep certain operations on premise, and in that case companies should consider services such as Direct Connect to bridge the divide between an AWS deployment and a local data center.

How did all of this play with conference attendees? Many people I spoke with said Amazon was ready when people needed elastic compute and storage services and now, even if Google, (s goog) Microsoft, Rackspace (s rax) and others can match up, they’ve already committed to Amazon, at least for core features such as S3 and EC2, and are looking at paying for other services. One entrepreneur working at a startup said he relies on AWS to run his applications, and his fallback is to deploy in a second AWS region. Only if that doesn’t work would he look at other public-cloud providers.

Of course, this is an Amazon event, so it’s not surprising to hear such things. But perhaps as Google, Microsoft and Rackspace get their own virtuous cycles going, the story will be different in a year or so.