Amazon’s retail e-commerce business has become essential to people around the world looking to purchase everyday supplies during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Same is true in AWS” for businesses, Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy said Wednesday during the first AWS Summit to take a virtual format.
The industry’s largest public cloud provider is “trying to help people and organizations function” through the pandemic by enabling them to maintain operations and shift employees to working away from the office, Jassy said in a fireside chat with Matt Garman, AWS vice president of worldwide sales and marketing.
Much of that work involves supporting customers providing web services that have had to rapidly scale to meet unprecedented demand.
“A lot of the things that allow us to deal with the crisis run on top of AWS,” Jassy said from his living room.
Those include entertainment services like Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, Amazon Prime; gaming options like Fortnite and Sony PlayStation; and e-learning products including Blackboard and Canvas.
But most important might be video communications.
The “vast majority of Zoom infrastructure runs on AWS and will for the foreseeable future,” Jassy said, without specifically mentioning rival Oracle recently striking a major cloud deal with Zoom.
The surge in adoption of that platform, and others like Amazon’s own Chime, suggests that well after the pandemic subsides, how we work and live will be permanently altered.
“Single biggest change I think will permeate both my work and personal life is what I’ve learned with video conferencing through the crisis,” Jassy said. The reliance so many have developed on that technology over the last two months will likely impact how work gets done, and where people get hired from, long past the crisis.
Jassy said he’s come to appreciate that employees don’t need to congregate in larger population centers, but instead talented people can be hired from almost anywhere in the world. And business leaders don’t need to travel as much.
Customer service is another business function that may never be the same, he said.
“Amazon Connect is blowing us away how fast it’s grown,” he said of his company’s call-center platform, which has rapidly scaled with large customers like Capital One, Intuit and Citigroup.
It’s “incredible how many companies have spun up Connect” to help them deal with customer calls during the crisis, he said.
That platform, combined with virtual desktop solutions, like Amazon Workspace, and video conferencing like Chime or Zoom, “it changes what customer service agents can do and where they can do it from.”
Customer service agents might prove more useful than ever before imagined, Jassy said, even if they can’t come into corporate facilities.
For now, Jassy said, AWS’ main priority is keeping its employees safe.
Data center workers, like those in fulfillment centers, can’t do their jobs from home. That’s why Amazon is “tripling down” on cleansing and physical distancing in those locations and supplying all who enter them with face coverings.
The company is also “spending an inordinate amount of money” in building testing and lab capabilities so it can regularly test all its employees.
Beyond its own facilities, AWS is helping health care companies and government organizations develop solutions to screen for the virus and start creating cures.
That includes founding a COVID-19 data lake that shares data sets among researchers and public health officials, and funding $20 million in coronavirus research through cloud credits.
On the economic front, AWS is helping the U.S. Small Business Administration build a website to enable people to apply for loans.
Shifting away from the pandemic, Jassy shared his thoughts on the evolution of the cloud market, and cutting-edge AWS services.
There are “a lot of things people are still sorting through,” he said. Cloud is still “a big, vast expanse, so it’s not surprising.”
The main mistake so many companies are making is they’re “trying to fight gravity,” Jassy said.
Some think they can manage infrastructure for less money, or they can’t move essential services, or they’re just proud of the infrastructure they’ve built, or take the attitude that if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
Still others are “toe dippers,” Jassy said, doing just enough to appease a mandate without ever committing to cloud adoption, and failing to make progress for long stretches.
But Jassy has yet to see a company independently achieve the benefits in cost-structure and pace they can in the cloud. And in the end, if something is good for customers and businesses, “it’s going to move that way, whether you want it or not,” he said.
“I still think that people don’t really understand that well how incredibly large a logistics and operational challenge the cloud is,” he added.
If you don’t properly allot instance types and sizes and availability zones, you waste resources.
But if “you land too little,” outages happen, “as we’ve seen from other providers in the last few weeks” he said, alluding to rival Microsoft.
Having grown up in retail, where margins are extremely low and volume is high, Amazon has mastered achieving efficiency at scale.
“Other providers don’t have that DNA and haven’t figured that out yet,” Jassy said.
Since the start of the year, and especially through the last eight weeks of the COVID crisis, Amazon’s “operational availability and performance is many times higher than the next biggest provider,” he said, again referencing, but not naming, Microsoft’s Azure service.
On a personal note, Jassy said that the coronavirus shutdown has got him taking a lot more walks. And he’s discovered that with fewer activities scheduled on weekends, it makes him feel like he has more free time and gets to try things he wouldn’t have otherwise.