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Can Amazon deliver on AWS enterprise development promises?

Experts say that Amazon Web Services falls short when it comes to enterprise application development -- a reality that Amazon is working to change.

It's no secret: Amazon Web Services (AWS) reigns supreme in the cloud services market. Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research reports that AWS is overwhelmingly the cloud platform of choice. A recent survey by the firm showed that over 70% of cloud developers use Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud to build or deploy custom apps. At this year's AWS Summit in New York City, Amazon CEO Werner Vogels said that AWS has seen a 102% increase in customers since the start of 2013, and a 53% increase in usage of services per customer. And Amazon is a formidable contender when it comes to the cloud services price war.

But experts say that AWS still falls short when it comes to enterprise application development -- a reality that Amazon promises it's working actively to change.

Part of the problem is that AWS is not primarily known for its development capabilities, according to Jeff Kaplan, managing director at THINKStrategies, a technology consulting firm.

"There are folks who would like to develop applications on Amazon, but […] Amazon has not necessarily positioned itself as a development tool or as a Platform as a Service in the same way that has," Kaplan said. "It's viewed as an environment where apps are hosted, as opposed to an environment where you can deal with native apps."

What's Amazon doing to fix that? A lot, says Zev Laderman, CEO and co-founder of Newvem, a cloud operations analytics company specializing in AWS resources.

"Amazon realizes that to go to the next step they need to have additional capabilities that we call enterprise-grade infrastructure," Laderman said. That means offering services that enable enterprises to meet the requirements, fulfill the service-level agreements and apply the policies their infrastructure providers require.

Laderman noted that Amazon has been recruiting traditional IT resellers and systems integrators to help address traditional enterprise needs.

Amazon has not necessarily positioned itself as a development tool or as a Platform as a Service in the same way that has.

Jeff Kaplan, managing director, THINKStrategies

The price is right?

"What [Amazon] has been trying to do is build a combination of Amazon Web Services/native functionality that supports app development, while augmenting and enhancing it with a widening array of third-party offerings," explained Kaplan. "In many ways, this is how they have been able to succeed at selling their own services so inexpensively. They remain focused on Infrastructure as a Service, and continue to emphasize their price advantage."

The cloud services price war is well publicized, and AWS has consistently beaten out Azure Cloud Services and Google Compute Engine as the least expensive competitor. Earlier this month, Google dropped the price of its on-demand virtual machines by 4% -- only to have Amazon strike back with a whopping 26% price reduction for its on-demand Windows virtual machines. Days later, Microsoft responded by slashing prices for Azure Cloud Services and Azure virtual machines. The company then made a public pledge to match AWS pricing for compute, bandwidth and storage offerings.

Amazon's fixation on pricing was apparent at the AWS Summit, where Vogels emphasized the affordability of AWS. "If we are able to drive the cost of this compute and storage down to a point where you no longer have to think about it, tremendous products will be built," he told a crowd of nearly 20,000. Vogels noted that Amazon has made 31 price reductions since 2006.

One might assume that its competitive pricing would be enough to sway enterprises toward AWS. Not so. There are several factors that seem to weigh more heavily than cost. A big issue for some enterprises is that "the more that companies build in an environment like AWS, the more locked in they get," according to Kaplan.

As a result, he said, it's not surprising that many enterprise developers are waiting to use Amazon's development services until they better understand them in the following three ways:

  1. Functional capabilities. What exact services does Amazon have to offer when it comes to enterprise application development?
  2. Development and production costs. What are the expenses associated with doing enterprise cloud app development and production with Amazon?
  3. Quality of service. What support is available to an enterprise that builds and deploys cloud apps with Amazon?

Still, it's important to note that not all enterprises are taking a "wait and see" approach when it comes to AWS.

"Every day, there are enterprise companies lined up to talk to Amazon -- and Amazon is reaching out on a daily basis to enterprises," said Kaplan. "A number of enterprises are already doing substantial things with Amazon. But it's still in the early stages. It's still predominantly in the experimental stage."

Notable enterprises using AWS today include NASA, Samsung -- and even NASDAQ, which recently launched a computing platform powered by AWS to help financial services organizations meet compliance and regulatory requirements.

"Overall, Amazon […] is driving the cloud market and, increasingly, the cloud development environment market -- not because it's a development tool in the strictest sense of the word, but because more and more companies are doing test development using Amazon Web Services," Kaplan said. "Because of that, [developers] are hungry for more development tools [from Amazon] and Amazon is intrigued by the prospect of getting these companies' greater investment in AWS."

An Amazon spokesperson said by email that AWS has "leveled the playing field" by enabling smaller companies to compete in ways that were expensive and often cost-prohibitive in the past. As AWS continues to make inroads into the enterprise, it remains to be seen how widespread the effects will be on the enterprise app development space.

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