When you mention the name Amazon, one of dozens of different ventures may come to mind. Of course, there’s the website that started it all, with convenient two-day shipping and a seemingly infinite selection of goods. Maybe you think of the high-quality content arising from their Prime Video streaming service, or the Amazon Movie studio that’s released films from acclaimed auteurs like Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. There might even be an Amazon Echo in your home, connecting you to Amazon during your every waking hour.
Through retail, entertainment, even food, Amazon is quite clearly becoming a driving force in our everyday lives. It’s no secret that the company wields a great deal of influence over the things we buy and watch. But lesser known is just how much one particular division of the company provides the underlying support for all these products plus many others, in ways that carry serious implications not just for the company’s own business and those it hosts, but international relations and more.
Launched in 2002, Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers subscribers a complete online business platform via access to virtual computers and servers upon which they can conduct their day-to-day dealings. Thanks to an incredibly vast array of servers, a massive number of businesses from startups to industry hegemons currently conduct their operations under the Amazon umbrella.
With revenue of $17.4 billion in 2017, AWS has become a major piece of the supercorporation’s plans. Thanks to a roster of over one million clients, Amazon’s Internet dominance now reaches far beyond their retail origins. Customers of the web services range from Netflix to Unilever to the CIA, an impressively diverse set of users. We’re operating in unmapped territory when web-only businesses operate in the same sphere as colossal retail conglomerates and the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. Of course, if such a map does exist, it’s in the sole possession of Bezos and company.
To be clear, Amazon is not the only web giant offering such services. But similar initiatives from Google, Microsoft, and others don’t have nearly the reach that Amazon does, both online and off. Over a third of the entire world’s cloud computing services are handled by AWS, with no indication of slowing down. This means that, as business is increasingly done over the Internet, all roads must pass through Bezos’ domain.
Additionally, competing cloud computing services don’t have the integration with the mass shipping infrastructure that Amazon has built, nor Bezos’ continual expansion that’s been virtually without precedent. Google may be today’s biggest name in web services, but they don’t have a fleet of airplanes. Amazon does. Microsoft doesn’t have nearly 500 nationwide grocery locations with large footprints in virtually every major American city. Amazon does.
Skeptics have pointed out the potentially grave implications of one company holding this amount of power. A lengthy diatribe in The Nation magazine paints a gloomy picture of a world where all businesses must play by Amazon’s rules in order to function at all. If AWS continues to grow the way it has already through 15 years of existence, there’s no telling what the end result may be and whether new regulations will come into being to reign in the company’s ambitions.
Whether these predictions will come true or not, it’s undeniable that as the Internet is the staging area for more and more of everyday commerce, Amazon is poised to be the dominant force in that sphere and all touched by it for years to come.