A quick reminder of why cloud computing really matters — the applications

Amazon Web Services’ (s amzn) second-annual re:Invent user conference kicks off on Tuesday, and the scale of the thing speaks volumes of just how pervasive cloud computing has become. I’ve been to dozens of user conferences in this city by companies such as IBM, HP, VMware, CA and Tableau, and re:Invent in its first year was seemed about as big as any of them. It wouldn’t surprise me if, in a few years, it’s one the biggest tech-company conferences anywhere.

AWS deserves a lot of credit for building a generally great computing platform, but its real success came via its ability to appeal to developers. It’s the platform that launched a thousand — nay, a million — applications and, perhaps more importantly, inspired an entirely new way of thinking about serviced-oriented architecture and composable applications. The next generation of applications will look very little like their predecessors, and it’s as much because of how they’ll be built as it is because of where they’ll be hosted.

AWS: Reinvent

From business software to Snapchat, applications are and increasingly will be built using services and data from all over the place; a collection of cloud services to power our cloud services, if you will. And it’s not all about virtual servers, storage and databases.

In fact, my short jaunt to the Venetian for the AWS conference next week has me thinking about recent trips to cities such as San Francisco and Denver, and discussions with entrpreneurs who live to make it easier for developers to create useful applications.

In San Francisco earlier this week, I swung by the Heavybit Industries offices and met with a handful of companies — Apiary, CircleCi, Iron.io and Keen IO — that are all scoring thousands of users by giving developers tools to build better applications. Their products vary significantly (they’re providing API management, continuous integration, a job-queuing service and an API for analytics, respectively), but everything is just one part of the app-development process or the app itself, and everything is delivered as a service. Actually, supporting the ecosystem of tools for developers is the whole idea behind Heavybit in the first place.

A sample of how to track events with the Keen API.

A sample of how to track events with the Keen API.

In Denver last month, I stopped by the offices of AlchemyAPI, a startup doing deep learning to deliver text-analysis services (and soon image-recognition and more) via API. Almost more impressive than the technology was a conversation with Founder and CEO Eliot Turner about all the people and companies using the service. Some of them are actually using it to power consumer-facing applications without ever having to invest resources in deep learning research themselves.

And while AWS is often the tie that binds all these companies together — it provided the vision, if not the computing resources and hosting platform for many of them — it’s far from the only player in town. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of Google as a cloud computing provider, primarily because of its penchant for building powerful technology and then exposing it as services (e.g., its Prediction API [which actually underpins a whole company doing fraud detection] and Cloud Datastore). The more it targets those services at developers, the more ingrained it becomes as part of the fabric of next-generation application development.

So when you’re at AWS re:Invent this week, or just just thinking about it from afar, remember to pay some small homage to the application explosion that AWS built. Whether or not you use the platform or even like it, there’s a good chance the applications you’ll be running on your smartphones or web browsers will be running on it or using services running on it. At the very least, whatever or wherever they’re running likely will have been inspired by AWS and the idea that developers with access to a broad swath of cloud services have the freedom to build better applications.