Most businesses struggle to provide enough value to their customers. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a different problem: It offers too much. As analyst Sam Charrington once described the AWS investment philosophy: "We'll continue to invest in...basically everything." So much of "everything", in fact, that even AWS employees struggle to make sense of the bewildering array of services the cloud giant offers.
And yet, as one AWS employee explained, "too much" choice is a good thing, not bad. In a helpful blog post, AWS strategist Joe Chung walked through how developers should view and make sense of the plethora of services at AWS.
Is 'everything' a problem?
AWS CEO Andy Jassy trumpeted from the AWS re:Invent stage in late 2017 that "Customers don't want to settle for less than half the functionality of the market leader." While digging at Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure, Jassy also laid bare the AWS mentality: Give the customer what she wants...or someday may want. Maybe.
Writing in the wake of Jassy's keynote, I noted, "While Google is deep in machine learning and artificial intelligence, and Microsoft is a strong choice for enterprises looking to maximize their existing investments in Windows, AWS offers everything from serverless database services to tooling that makes getting started with machine learning much more approachable. Amazon is building out AWS much the way it builds its retail operations: With almost too much choice."
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What looks like "too much choice" at first glance, however, may end up being not nearly enough, as Chung wrote:
Perhaps, like me, the first time you stepped into a big box home improvement store you found yourself overwhelmed by all the choices of materials available to fix a simple towel holder in your bathroom. Over time, after visiting the store again and again, you began to know exactly what to buy and where in the store to find it. In fact, you even found that this store of choices didn'thave the one variant or size that perfectly fit the needs of a recent project. Even with all this choice, there are still gaps.
AWS cloud provides the new digital services and materials that help today's businesses keep pace with innovation. One could even say AWS is like an industrial supply store for the digital age, full of the variety of services you need now and may need in the future.
In other words, the fact that you don't know how to use a particular service today doesn't mean you won't need it tomorrow. As a developer, or her organization, matures, her need for different tooling will mature, as well.
For the cloud that has everything...
Looking at this idea through the lens of databases, this philosophy has led AWS to offering multitudinous options so that a developer can select the best tool for the job, and often multiple tools to handle one job or application.
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Indeed, in a series of industry conversations it has become clear to me that there's value in providing choice. A developer approaches a cloud, be it AWS or another, with a set of individual skills. For example, one might know JSON, making a document store like MongoDB a natural fit. Another developer comes with deep SQL expertise and thus Aurora or Redshift would be better. AWS' approach is to make it as simple as possible for developers to build apps quickly, whatever their backgrounds and whatever the future trajectories their careers will take.
Other cloud providers have sometimes tried a different approach, rolling a variety of database options into one. Microsoft's Cosmos DB is an example of this. The risk, however, is that in trying to take too many database options and merge them into one data model or query technique, at some point you give up programmability, scale, and more. Giving developers more familiar, separate options turns out to be a better route to developer productivity, even if at first glance the complexity can be daunting.
Back to Chung.
Given that we're arguably on "Day 1" of public cloud adoption, "[I]s 120+ services too many or far too few?" he asks. Arguably, he continued, "[W]e're just scratching the surface of the digital tools and materials that we will need to build for the future."
The "too much choice" of today, in short, is not nearly enough for future needs, calling out to AWS and its rivals to build more and build it faster.
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Matt is currently head of the developer ecosystem at Adobe. The views expressed are his own, not those of his employer.
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.