What, Exactly, Is Amazon Web Services?

In the popular imagination, Amazon is a big huge store run by Jeff Bezos, a smiling man with a clean-shaven head who is, sometimes, the richest person in the world. You order and Amazon delivers.

Because it’s a big huge store that wants to be bigger and huger, you can also stream TV shows and buy Amazon-branded personal gadgets and Amazon-branded home-security devices. You can order groceries there too. This is a version of the story Amazon has been telling about itself, to customers, since the very beginning, and one that has made it enormously successful.

But behind Amazon’s success is also a guy named Andy Jassy, whom most of the company’s customers had never heard of before Wednesday, when Mr. Bezos announced that he would succeed him as C.E.O.

In a letter to employees, Mr. Bezos expressed his “full confidence” in his successor, leaving unsaid what Mr. Jassy has been up to for the last decade, because employees surely knew. He’s credited with creating and growing Amazon Web Services (A.W.S.), Amazon’s cloud computing division, into the largest such provider in the world. You, the Amazon customer, have little reason to know about this, because A.W.S. is not for you.

Mr. Jassy’s ascent suggests that the Amazon synonymous with Mr. Bezos — an online store that once sold books and now sells everything, where the customer is always right — could one day be reduced to a quaint origin story. After all, the future of Amazon isn’t just about more shopping, though the shoppers will still be there, and they will be shopping more. It’s about infrastructure.

As Amazon grew, it built internal technology infrastructure to support its diverse and often unconventional needs. Out of necessity, that technology became very good at handling huge numbers of people doing complex, demanding, title=”” rel=”noopener noreferrer” target=”_blank”>total operating profit for 2020.

Now, it’s not an overstatement to say that A.W.S. is ubiquitous online. If you watch Netflix, that’s A.W.S. If you have a meeting on Zoom, there’s a good chance that’s A.W.S., too. If you check Pinterest, that’s A.W.S. If you spend any time scrolling through Twitter, well, A.W.S. provides “global cloud infrastructure to deliver Twitter timelines.” These examples are just a few of the thousands of A.W.S. customers big and small (including The New York Times).

And it’s not just tech firms. Your bank, your health insurance company, your government, your online video games: There’s a good chance they use A.W.S. Or, to pick a recent example: the exchange on which you trade a stock, the no-fee trading app you use to buy it, the forum in which you gather with others to talk about taking its price “to the moon.” That, from top to bottom, depends in large and small ways on A.W.S.

Using A.W.S. is a choice made by Amazon’s client businesses, not its hundreds of millions of end users, or customers, or whatever, whom I suppose we may as well now just call “the public.”

This is a defining trait of some of Amazon’s most important new lines of business, including A.W.S., direct delivery and its third-party seller marketplace: They’re not talking to you, at least not primarily. Amazon has more than 100 million Prime subscribers in the United States and no close competitors in American e-commerce. The customer has been conquered. Next up: the rest of the commercial world.

Here is a brief list of the other important conversations Amazon has been having lately.

Amazon is suing the Pentagon because it claims it was denied a $10 billion cloud contract with the U.S. government due in part to “unmistakable bias” against the company. Amazon is pushing back against to attempts by employees at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., to unionize — a first-of-its-kind action with high stakes for Amazon, its workers and American labor organizing as a whole. A majority of products sold through Amazon now come from its millions of third-party sellers — independent small business operators, mostly — many of whom rely on Amazon to store and ship products, some of whom have expressed concerns about Amazon itself

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