In his keynote at Amazon’s Web Services Enterprise Summit last month, AWS senior vice president Andy Jassy declared that Amazon is “better at this stuff than 10 years ago”, adding that the company now installs more server capacity every day than Amazon’s entire “global, $5.2bn, 8,000-employee business” required a decade ago.
Jassy used his speech to highlight the gargantuan volumes of data AWS now handles in the cloud, and to talk up the ease with which its console-based interface and “elastic” scaling capabilities allow users to cheaply run any number of storage, VMs or a wealth of other services from anywhere, anytime.
Jassy also accused the “old guard” technology companies of overcharging enterprises for “obsolete” private cloud solutions. He argued that private cloud “doesn’t have a lot of the benefits” of public for enterprise users.
“You have to lay out all the expense yourself, it’s not elastic or pay-as-you-use, the company still has to decide how much infrastructure it buys, you can’t move as fast and you’re still managing it yourself. And of course it’s not global.”
Computing put Jassy’s words to Microsoft’s CTO of cloud and enterprise, David Campbell, who was visiting the UK to attend GigaOM’s recent Structure conference.
“Amazon deserves credit for really demonstrating the cheaper and faster scale, and I’d clearly give them that,” responded Campbell.
Of the “handful of players” like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon that are running “infrastructure of up to millions of servers”, Campbell said Amazon specialises in the “cheaper, faster part” of the cloud and “will continue pushing scale economics and scope economics because it’s in line with their DNA”.
Microsoft, in contrast, “has been doing traditional enterprise databases for a quarter of a century”, and is focused on what Campbell described as the “richer” part of cloud, where he said the hybrid cloud model makes most sense.
“It’s actually playing out already,” said Campbell. “You can see for yourself with what comes out in Windows Server 2012 R2 in October – people now understand what it means to be private and public, and it’s not just about hosting the VMs here or there, because if you buy into Amazon’s argument just at the VM level, sure that makes sense. But why would customers want to have on-premises servers running…?
“If you think about ERP systems that are connected to point-of-sales terminals that are connected to other things… there are lots of reasons why elements would want to run on-premise. And what part of that workload should work there, what part should go to the cloud? And that’s the different angle. And the simple way for us to say it is: ‘You want to meet customers where they’re at’. So they start and end on different points in the journey.
“But if [like Amazon] you have 90 per cent of your energy and values in public cloud, I think you would probably say [on-premise computing] isn’t necessary, and that you have economics to support you, and you’d say it. You’d scream it, in fact.”
But AWS is certainly something to scream about when compared to Microsoft’s Azure, a cloud service that many would still more closely associate with simple file storage than a fully-featured platform. Campbell admitted that, until the Build 2013 conference in June, when Microsoft announced a number of new developer-friendly features for Azure, Microsoft “didn’t have a complete product in terms of infrastructure”.
But Campbell said since Build, “the adoption has been astronomical”. “We get a weekly report and the amount of compute cores is off the scale.”
And with the acquisition of Nokia, Campbell sees another crucial addition to Microsoft’s cloud ecosystem.
“There was a strategic discussion: do we need first-party devices to succeed? And the answer to that was yes. I really believe the experiences that will blow us away over the next five years are the back-end services, delivering incredible experiences on devices. And if you’re a back-end services player, you need to deliver credibly to all devices. But if you can have a first-party device and do it uniquely, so much the better,” said Campbell.
“Amazon do unique things on Kindle devices,” he continued, “but also as a service. But then look at Apple going to try and acquire mapping and other services – they’re in an interesting position because they don’t have the services DNA. [The future of cloud] is going to be services plus devices – just like Google now.”