What Apple, Dropbox and Spotify's shifting cloud strategies really mean for AWS

Amazon Web Services (AWS) celebrated its 10th anniversary on 14 March, having devoted the past decade to popularising the cloud computing concept and – in turn – shaking up the IT industry.

To mark the occasion, the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) giant released a series of blog posts that saw execs -such as CTO Werner Vogels – taking a fond look back at some of the high points of AWS’ first decade in business.

These include signing up a million active users to its cloud platform, such as Netflix, AirBnB, Lebara, Guardian Media Group, Trinity Mirror Group, Aviva and others, while cultivating a product release cadence that sees it rollout hundreds of new features and services for subscribers each year.

However, while the firm and its execs set about looking back over its successes, industry watchers were busy pondering what the company’s next 10 years in business are likely to look like. Particularly in light of the news that several of the firm’s high-profile customers have started scaling back their use of its services. Or have they?

Music streaming site Spotify announced in February that it was in the throes of moving its IT infrastructure over to the Google Cloud Platform, having previously been hailed as a reference customer of AWS.

Earlier this week, Dropbox, a major user of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), outlined details of the work it is doing to curtail its use of cloud, resulting in 90% of its users’ data now being stored on-premise.

 A few days later, this was followed by a (source-led) report that consumer electronics giant Apple was following Spotify over to Google’s cloud. The company is already known to run unspecified amounts off its operations in both AWS and the Microsoft Azure cloud, incidentally.

Shifting sands of enterprise IT

This apparent “mass exodus” of big AWS customers has prompted a degree of debate online about whether or not this is indicative of a wider industry trend, and that – after a decade of steady growth and big customer wins – Amazon might be losing its hold on the cloud market. I personally don’t subscribe to that notion.

You see, while the Spotify, Apple and Dropbox news is certainly interesting (I wouldn’t have written about it, if it wasn’t), I personally don’t think what we’re bearing witness to here is necessarily a sign that Amazon’s grip on the cloud market is weakening.

According to Ahead In the Cloud sources, Spotify and Dropbox are still using Amazon’s cloud. And – certainly in the latter case – looks set to use more of its capacity over time to prop up its international operations for data sovereignty purposes.

So, no, I don’t think we’re witness the beginning of the end of AWS, despite what some rather over-excited folks on Twitter might claim.

Instead, what we’re actually seeing is the cloud market coming of age. And, by that, I mean really starting to deliver on the promises the industry’s great and good have made in the past about off-premise services giving enterprises greater freedom when it comes to IT.

I’ve spent more time than I ever care to think about sat in IT conference keynotes, listening to vendor execs wax lyrical about how cloud will allow enterprises to move their workloads – based on their cost, performance and security requirements – to wherever makes most sense to run them.

With that in mind, what we’re really seeing – in the case of Spotify, Dropbox and (allegedly) Apple – is simply them exercising their right to do this.

It’s also worth mentioning that cloud is still a relatively nascent technology concept, and many companies are still getting to grips with how best to use it, undoubtedly resulting in several tweaks to their product and supplier strategy as time goes on. Again, what we’re seeing with Spotify, Dropbox and Apple (reportedly) is probably them going through the same process.

Social gaming firm Zynga went through something similar several years ago, that saw it set out plans to ditch AWS, in favour of building out its own datacentres because – given the sheer number of people playing its games – they could achieve the economies of scale needed to make it worthwhile for them.

Unfortunately, this change in strategy occurred just before demand for its flavour of desktop- and browser-based games dropped through the floor, and mobile gaming took off, prompting it to abandon its build-your-own datacentre strategy and ramp up its use of AWS again.

All-in or all-out? 

What the Zynga example neatly serves to highlight is the futility of discussing company’s cloud strategies in absolute terms: you’re either all-in or you’re not, and once you’ve moved your final workload or whatever to a certain provider’s cloud, the job’s done.

The reality is, for many firms, their cloud strategies will probably end up being a lot more fluid than that, with end users moving to shift workloads from one provider to another or back on-premise as and when they want and need to.

As the price of using cloud continues to drop and providers add more features and functionality to their platforms, end users will get more comfortable with using off-premise services. This, in turn, means they will become more adept at switching providers – if someone is offering a sweeter deal elsewhere – or move to adopt a multi-provider cloud strategy.

While we watch and wait for all this to play out, here’s to the next ten years of cloud. Or whatever we’re calling it by then.

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