The Fascinating Evolution of Amazon

Do you have an image in your mind of “servers” and “data centers”?  Some kind of image from a news article showing massive rooms with vertical stacks of thin computers that you guess probably are somehow involved in showing you the web pages and cloud applications that you’ve come to use?

If you’re not involved in the software industry, it might surprise you to learn that my current company, my former company, and basically everyone in our class of small software companies, has never bought one of those thin servers, has never rented space in a data center, that nobody from my work has ever gone to a data center and installed our software or hardware there.  Instead, we do what any sensible people do and rent virtual machines from Amazon — which we’ve never seen, don’t even know really where they are, and which may or may not actually correspond to specific physical devices.  And that this is so important and done so well that I honestly don’t even think first of Amazon as a bookstore or online retailer compared to their web services.

And this is fascinating.  I’m pretty sure that if you had told me in 2001 that in 2013, Amazon would be principally important to me as a provider of virtual computing infrastructure, I would have asked for a kilo of whatever it is you’re smoking.

This is hardly the only industry into which Amazon has spread, kudzu-like.  They make (really interesting, often really good) hardware!  They are trying (not terribly successfully, so far) to take over the Android operating system from within!  They are perhaps the best way for me to pay for my share of the pizza when my buddy pays in cash and making change is a pain!  Not to mention that they sell everything under the sun.  They used to be a BOOKSTORE, guys.  Is it possible to imagine a type of business that was traditionally less ambitious?

So, big companies sometimes launch crazy blue-sky projects.  Witness Google and, say, driverless cars.  But Amazon hasn’t been like that.  Everything they do works together; you can trace a clear line from, “Okay, we’re going to sell books online” to “Okay, we’ll also sell some other stuff online,” to “Okay, we need to have some really impressive computing infrastructure to support our retail,” to “Hey, let’s also sell access to our incredible computing infrastructure.”  But lots of companies just wouldn’t think of it.

I don’t have any grand point here.  Is it better to shift into a ton of weirdly related spaces rather than be laser-like in focusing on your best business?  I don’t know.  Should everyone be like Amazon?  Probably not, though I’m not sure.

I just think that I’m more excited to see what Amazon is in 2020 than Google or Apple or (heh) Microsoft or Oracle.

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