Why 'death by AWS' is fake news

It's popular to accuse AWS of strip mining, but smart companies are thriving even in the presence of AWS competition.

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Image: Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Lost in the false advertising of "AWS is going to destroy us all (and open source, too)" during AWS re:Invent was the very obvious opportunity to build businesses on the "Everything Cloud Store." At least, it should have been obvious. As RedMonk's Rachel Stephens said of the event, "It was mind-blowing functional coverage, but also...how are you ever supposed to navigate a catalog with that breadth?"

Answer? You're not. Not without help, anyway. Not only does this leave plenty of room for partners to assist befuddled enterprises, but it also doesn't close off opportunities for ISVs to compete with AWS.

SEE: Vendor comparison: Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud (Tech Pro Research)

Making sense of abundance

Every enterprise is embracing the cloud and, given that it's the market leader by a wide margin, this means that most enterprises have at least some AWS powering their applications. Given the dizzying array of services that AWS offers, the breadth of choice can be daunting.

This is where partners come in.

As Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy told solution providers at the AWS re:Invent Partner Summit, "There are so many customers that need your help. The consulting partners that make the time and investment to educate and train are the ones that are making progress." Such training isn't simply a matter of understanding when to choose Amazon Aurora over Amazon RDS, or Amazon Managed Blockchain instead of Amazon QLDB. It's really about helping enterprises to embrace the culture behind the cloud tech or, rather, the culture that leads to effective use of public cloud services.

SEE: AWS re:Invent 2018: A guide for tech and business pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Still think it's really a matter of tech? In a conversation I had with Guardian Life CIO Dean del Vecchio, he stressed that everything had to change to fully embrace what cloud computing afforded the company. As the company retrained its people, redesigned its offices, and moved 80% of its infrastructure to AWS, it enabled a fundamentally different way of operating as a company.

This is the kind of change solution providers can help enterprises navigate, whether they plan to use AWS or another cloud.

Though we've been talking about public cloud for years, the reality is that most enterprises are still just toe-dipping. As Jassy told AWS partners, "There are a lot of mainstream enterprises just now starting to plan their approach to the cloud in a meaningful way, and they want help doing an analysis." The providers who figure this out now will reap the rewards for a generation.

In sum, they world looks bright for solution partners dedicated to helping enterprises make sense of AWS.

What about software partners?

For those that build software, well, it's complicated. There is, of course, the dark view, uttered by Bryan Cantrill: "[I]'m waiting for the year that reInvent goes full Red Wedding, locking the doors and announcing that every attendee's product or service is now a forthcoming AWS offering. Or maybe that was this year?" It's funny (and sort of true). With its announcements around blockchain, Outpost, Kafka, Lambda, and more, AWS laid waste to startups and enterprises alike, hoping to make a buck.

Or did they?

It has become fashionable to accuse AWS of "strip mining" open source projects and otherwise stepping all over its ISV partners, much like Microsoft used to do. And yet it's hard to find a single example of this happening.

Consider MongoDB, for example. The company came out with a new license (the Server-side Public License) with the explicit aim to block cloud providers from "captur[ing] all the value and giv[ing] nothing back to the community." Sounds reasonable, right? Yet despite cloud providers like Alibaba "capturing all the value," MongoDB did $65 million in revenue last quarter, up 57% year over year. More tellingly, the company's MongoDB database service, Atlas, is up 300% year over year and now represents 22% of the company's revenue, up from 11% not very long ago.

SEE: MongoDB wants to get the database out of your way (ZDNet)

I suspect MongoDB's growth rate won't rocket up to 100% by cutting off the oxygen to would-be "cloud value thieves." I doubt, in fact, that it will have any (positive) impact at all. In fact,the single-most positive thing the company can do to block public cloud providers is already being done: MongoDB runs a fantastic database service called Atlas, and it's a lot better than a new license. (Oh, and by the way, it runs on—you guessed it!—AWS.)

Nor is MongoDB alone. Amazon launched its Elastic MapReduce service in 2010, taking on established Hadoop vendors like Hortonworks and Cloudera. That move should have killed both, and yet Hortonworks IPO'd in 2014, and Cloudera IPO'd in 2017, with the latter now doing close to $500 million in annual revenue.

Death never looked so lively.

In both the ISV and system integrator/solution provider worlds, there's plenty of room to work with AWS. The key is to offer something customers really want, and to do it better than AWS has (or possibly can). Yes, AWS will always have the benefit of being able to tightly knit together its services, but that's not always what customers want. As MongoDB, Cloudera, and Hortonworks have all shown, there's plenty of room to work with and compete against AWS without being bowled over by them.

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