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Could AWS' torrid pace of innovation come back to haunt the cloud giant?

Another AWS re:Invent has come and gone, with another slew of new products to delight its fans. But in the cloud, can there be too much of a good thing?

The user conference was bursting at the seams this year, with 43,000 people shuffling in controlled chaos between six hotels that spanned two miles of the Las Vegas strip. The show is part networking, part training exercise, but more than anything it’s a victory lap for AWS and its prodigious pace of innovation. But could that overstuffed sprawl portend future problems for the platform itself? With roughly two dozen new products or updates lumped on top of AWS’ already extensive IT portfolio, does the cloud giant run the risk of spreading itself too thin, or at a minimum overwhelming its customers with choices?

Some conference attendees acknowledged this is a concern, though the consensus was that Amazon hasn’t shown any signs yet of failing where other tech companies have before.

“It would be reckless to say we don’t think about it,” said Biba Helou, managing vice president of cloud at Capital One. “But they really do seem to have a really good model for how they incubate and build products and then gain momentum based on customer feedback and then put the resources into what they need to.”

AWS’ track record with products isn’t perfect. Elastic File System remains a subject of consternation for some, and other services such as AppStream have been criticized for falling short of their initial promise. Nevertheless, users remain assured by a development model that organizes small teams to focus on specific products and features. And AWS has a history of releasing a base product and adding to it over time. Customers have become so conditioned to that model that despite frustration with a new product’s lack of a certain feature or language support, they’re content to assume that piece will arrive eventually.

Customers also find comfort in AWS’ continued investments in its core services. Alongside sexier new products rolled out at AWS re:Invent 2017 were a handful of updates to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and Amazon Simple Storage Service.

Still, the company that started out selling basic compute and storage has added a staggering number of products over the last 10-plus years, and shows no signs of slowing down. There’s a greater focus today on managed services and even a push into business services with products such as Amazon Chime and Alexa for Business. And AWS CEO Andy Jassy told conference attendees to expect more innovation over the next decade than the previous one.

The backdrop to all this product expansion is intensified competition. AWS still dominates the market with impressive, yet slowing, year-over-year revenue growth of 42%, and its market is still growing, according to a Gartner study. But for a company that claims its product decisions are tethered to customers’ wishes, part of that response now has to address services that customers can find in Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

For example, machine learning and containers are two areas AWS has been criticized for falling behind Azure and GCP. Lo and behold, at AWS re:Invent, AWS added a bevy of services to fill those gaps. AWS added bare metal servers — which didn’t excite anyone I spoke with at the show, but checks a box for any enterprise that compares the AWS platform to alternatives from IBM or Oracle.

Amazon is looking at the laundry list of cloud services people want to implement and trying to cover as many of those requests as possible,

“There’s definitely that risk [of overextending] but the big play was about making it clear they’re trying to remove as many of those incentives as possible to move to any other cloud,” said Henry Shapiro, vice president and general manager at New Relic, a San Francisco-based monitoring and management company and AWS partner.

And while users and partners feel confident that AWS will address this theoretical problem, the dizzying pace of releases creates a practical problem for users today. AWS has excelled at democratizing technology and packaging it for the masses, but it can be a challenge for people to understand the breadth of services, said Owen Rogers, an analyst with 451 Research. That’s why the partner ecosystem will be crucial to AWS’ future growth, as those companies step up to help resolve the complexity so enterprises can navigate the landscape.

And enterprises contend with more than just the AWS learning curve. Amid a larger shift in how companies build and deploy applications, nearly every enterprise is scurrying to address clichés about digital transformation and avoid being undercut or outflanked by some tech upstart.

Trevor Jones is a senior news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].