Don’t cry for Box and Dropbox: Amazon’s real targets are Google and Microsoft

It’s fair to ask how Amazon Web Services’ new Zocalo service will affect Box and Dropbox, but I’m not certain AWS had them in mind while building its new file-sharing service. Those two companies have been around for quite a while, they have their use cases, and they’ve survived numerous challenges big and small over the years. They’ll very likely survive Zocalo, too.
I think Amazon (s amzn) has its eyes firmly set on Google (s goog) and Microsoft (s msft), its two biggest rivals in the fight to own cloud computing. They won’t say it publicly, but I think all three of these companies view each individual customer as a zero-sum game, and AWS has realized that its huge lead in the cloud infrastructure business doesn’t apply across the board. The cloud is about platforms, and AWS’s platform is incomplete.
Servers? Check. Storage? Check. Databases? Check. File-sharing? Uh, …
But it’s not just collaboration where AWS is playing catchup. That’s why it announced new mobile-development services on Wednesday, as well, and why it recently released the virtual desktop service it announced last November. Microsoft and Google have been working for years toward integrated cloud platforms that touch everything from mobile apps to machine learning, from business users to CTOs. Amazon, until recently, was pretty much targeting application developers, engineers and IT types.
And it still has a long way to go and some big challenges to overcome. The competition to win mobile developers seems like a tricky one for AWS to navigate. Amazon has its own Kindle Fire mobile OS and device businesses to prop up, but their market share is so small it can’t ignore iOS or Android. Google, on the other hand, pretty much builds Android tools. Even Microsoft, which has its own mobile-development service that supports iOs, Windows and Android, ignores Kindle Fire OS.
And although Zocalo might be a great product, how many people within any given organization has, or want, an AWS account? If a company is running Office 365 or Google Apps, the same login gets them email, collaboration and productivity software. Video meetings, too. CIOs might like AWS’s control and security features (for now), but for users — who increasingly win these battles today — there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of benefit in throwing another service into the mix.

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels (left) at Structure 2014. (c) Jakub Mosur

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels (left) has been the face of cloud computing for nearly a decade. (c) Jakub Mosur

Don’t get me wrong, though: AWS still has a huge lead in the infrastructure-as-a-service space, and that counts for something. A lot, in fact. Infrastructure is the foundation of the platforms these companies are pushing — the stuff running the applications and storing the data that makes them money — and I doubt many users are going to rip out their foundations because Google Drive has some new features, or even because someone’s prices are now a sliver lower.
But the Microsoft and Google armies are on the march there, too. While Microsoft can probably skirt a direct confrontation by relying its connection to legacy workloads and installed software, Google seems particularly determined to confront AWS head on. It seems to believe very strongly that it can win.
If I were Aaron Levie or Drew Houston, or the CEO of any cloud-service startup for that matter, I wouldn’t be too concerned that Amazon Zocalo or Office 365 or Google Drive will be the great undoing of my company. I’d be more concerned about the enormous organizations behind them fighting for control of a market they see as being about much, much more than who can collaborate on documents with whom. File-sharing and collaboration are just checks in a box, like McDonald’s adding Angus beef to its menu.
Amazon, Google and Microsoft are betting that IT departments will want to buy it all. The fewer stops, the better.