The time Animoto almost brought AWS to its knees

Today, Amazon Web Services is a mainstay in the cloud infrastructure services market, a $60 billion juggernaut of a business. But in 2008, it was still new, working to keep its head above water and handle growing demand for its cloud servers. In fact, 15 years ago last week, the company launched Amazon EC2 in beta. From that point forward, AWS offered startups unlimited compute power, a primary selling point at the time.

EC2 was one of the first real attempts to sell elastic computing at scale — that is, server resources that would scale up as you needed them and go away when you didn’t. As Jeff Bezos said in an early sales presentation to startups back in 2008, “you want to be prepared for lightning to strike, […] because if you’re not that will really generate a big regret. If lightning strikes, and you weren’t ready for it, that’s kind of hard to live with. At the same time you don’t want to prepare your physical infrastructure, to kind of hubris levels either in case that lightning doesn’t strike. So, [AWS] kind of helps with that tough situation.”

An early test of that value proposition occurred when one of their startup customers, Animoto, scaled from 25,000 to 250,000 users in a 4-day period in 2008 shortly after launching the company’s Facebook app at South by Southwest.

At the time, Animoto was an app aimed at consumers that allowed users to upload photos and turn them into a video with a backing music track. While that product may sound tame today, it was state of the art back in those days, and it used up a fair amount of computing resources to build each video. It was an early representation of not only Web 2.0 user-generated content, but also the marriage of mobile computing with the cloud, something we take for granted today.

For Animoto, launched in 2006, choosing AWS was a risky proposition, but the company found trying to run its own infrastructure was even more of a gamble because of the dynamic nature of the demand for its service. To spin up its own servers would have involved huge capital expenditures. Animoto initially went that route before turning its attention to AWS because it was building prior to attracting initial funding, Brad Jefferson, co-founder and CEO at the company explained.

“We started building our own servers, thinking that we had to prove out the concept with something. And as we started to do that and got more traction from a proof-of-concept perspective and started to let certain people use the product, we took a step back, and were like, well it’s easy to prepare for failure, but what we need to prepare for success,” Jefferson told me.

Going with AWS may seem like an easy decision knowing what we know today, but in 2007 the company was really putting its fate in the hands of a mostly unproven concept.

“It’s pretty interesting just to see how far AWS has gone and EC2 has come, but back then it really was a gamble. I mean we were talking to an e-commerce company [about running our infrastructure]. And they’re trying to convince us that they’re going to have these servers and it’s going to be fully dynamic and so it was pretty [risky]. Now in hindsight, it seems obvious but it was a risk for a company like us to bet on them back then,” Jefferson told me.

Animoto had to not only trust that AWS could do what it claimed, but also had to spend six months rearchitecting its software to run on Amazon’s cloud. But as Jefferson crunched the numbers, the choice made sense. At the time, Animoto’s business model was for free for a 30 second video, $5 for a longer clip, or $30 for a year. As he tried to model the level of resources his company would need to make its model work, it got really difficult, so he and his co-founders decided to bet on AWS and hope it worked when and if a surge of usage arrived.

That test came the following year at South by Southwest when the company launched a Facebook app, which led to a surge in demand, in turn pushing the limits of AWS’s capabilities at the time. A couple of weeks after the startup launched its new app, interest exploded and Amazon was left scrambling to find the appropriate resources to keep Animoto up and running.

Dave Brown, who today is Amazon’s VP of EC2 and was an engineer on the team back in 2008, said that “every [Animoto] video would initiate, utilize and terminate a separate EC2 instance. For the prior month they had been using between 50 and 100 instances [per day]. On Tuesday their usage peaked at around 400, Wednesday it was 900, and then 3,400 instances as of Friday morning.” Animoto was able to keep up with the surge of demand, and AWS was able to provide the necessary resources to do so. Its usage eventually peaked at 5000 instances before it settled back down, proving in the process that elastic computing could actually work.

At that point though, Jefferson said his company wasn’t merely trusting EC2’s marketing. It was on the phone regularly with AWS executives making sure their service wouldn’t collapse under this increasing demand. “And the biggest thing was, can you get us more servers, we need more servers. To their credit, I don’t know how they did it — if they took away processing power from their own website or others — but they were able to get us where we needed to be. And then we were able to get through that spike and then sort of things naturally calmed down,” he said.

The story of keeping Animoto online became a main selling point for the company, and Amazon was actually the first company to invest in the startup besides friends and family. It raised a total of $30 million along the way, with its last funding coming in 2011. Today, the company is more of a B2B operation, helping marketing departments easily create videos.

While Jefferson didn’t discuss specifics concerning costs, he pointed out that the price of trying to maintain servers that would sit dormant much of the time was not a tenable approach for his company. Cloud computing turned out to be the perfect model and Jefferson says that his company is still an AWS customer to this day.

While the goal of cloud computing has always been to provide as much computing as you need on demand whenever you need it, this particular set of circumstances put that notion to the test in a big way.

Today the idea of having trouble generating 3,400 instances seems quaint, especially when you consider that Amazon processes 60 million instances every day now, but back then it was a huge challenge and helped show startups that the idea of elastic computing was more than theory.


By Ron Miller

E-commerce-as-a-service platform Cart.com picks up $98M to give brands scaling tools

Cart.com, a Houston-based company providing end-to-end e-commerce services, brought in its third funding round this year, this time a $98 million Series B round to bring its total funding to $143 million.

Oak HC/FT led the new round of funding and was joined by PayPal Ventures, Clearco, G9 Ventures, Mercury Fund, Valedor Partners and Arsenal Growth. Strategic investors in the Series B include HeyDay CEO Sebastian Rymarz and Casper CEO Philip Krim. This new round follows a $25 million Series A round, led by Mercury and Arsenal in July, and a $20 million seed round from Bearing Ventures.

Cart.com CEO Omair Tariq, who was previously an executive at Home Depot and COO of Blinds.com, co-founded the company in September 2020 with Jim Jacobson, former CEO of RTIC Outdoors.

Tariq told TechCrunch that the company provides software, services and infrastructure to small businesses so they can scale online. Cart.com is taking the best parts of selling direct-to-consumer on marketplaces like Amazon and Shopify to create value for brands. Tariq said he is pioneering the term “e-commerce-as-a-service” to bring together under one platform a suite of business tools like store software, marketing, fulfillment, payments and customer service.

“We see the power of having an interconnected platform,” Tariq said. “There also needs to be a hybrid between selling direct-to-consumer on Amazon and Shopify for companies that don’t have the money to pay for a percentage of their sales and receive no access to customers or data, and needing 20 different plug-ins that are not connected.”

Cart.com went after the new funding after seeing validation of its idea: brands coming to them wanting more products and services, which led to acquisitions. The company has acquired seven companies so far, including — AmeriCommerce, SpaceCraft Brands and, more recently, Dumont Project and Sauceda Industries. Tariq is planning for another three or four by the end of the year.

In addition, it received inbound interest from strategic investors, like Oak and PayPal, which Tariq said was going to enable the company “to be more successful faster.”

Allen Miller, principal at Oak HC/FT, said after spending time with Tariq to understand his vision about Cart.com’s software, payments and services, he felt that the company was doing something that didn’t exist in today’s commerce infrastructure.

He said that Cart.com is well positioned to help companies, like those with $1 million in sales, stay focused on growing the business while Cart.com stitches together all of the tools for them to operate in the background.

“It’s a unique offering to merchants that has a high value proposition,” Miller said. “The vision and drive that Omair and Jim have, along with an inspiring mission they want to achieve — to be brand-centric and help the next generation of merchants. These guys also have a good playbook on finding companies and teams to acquire, as well as handling the post M&A to have everyone on one platform.”

The new financing will enable Cart.com to further invest in technology development and to increase headcount by at least 15 times, with plans to go from fewer than two dozen employees to more than 300 team members by the end of the year. The company has nearly 70 jobs posted on its website for positions in engineering, technology, digital marketing and e-commerce. Tariq also expects half of the funds to go toward more acquisitions.

Cart.com currently serves over 2,000 e-commerce brands, including GNC, Haymaker Coffee, KeHE and Gravatiq, and processes more than $700 million in gross merchandise value per year. The company saw revenue increase 400% since the platform’s launch in November.

In addition, the company has nine fulfillment centers across the country, and is increasing its access to reach 80% of the U.S. population with two-day shipping, Tariq added.

“We are giving the power back to brands by giving them what they need to operate e-commerce,” he said. “There are still a few pieces to fill in so brands have a unified experience, but with us, they can add fulfilment, marketing or customer conversion tools with the click of a couple of buttons.”

 


By Christine Hall

CockroachDB, the database that just won’t die

There is an art to engineering, and sometimes engineering can transform art. For Spencer Kimball and Peter Mattis, those two worlds collided when they created the widely successful open-source graphics program, GIMP, as college students at Berkeley.

That project was so successful that when the two joined Google in 2002, Sergey Brin and Larry Page personally stopped by to tell the new hires how much they liked it and explained how they used the program to create the first Google logo.

Cockroach Labs was started by developers and stays true to its roots to this day.

In terms of good fortune in the corporate hierarchy, when you get this type of recognition in a company such as Google, there’s only one way you can go — up. They went from rising stars to stars at Google, becoming the go-to guys on the Infrastructure Team. They could easily have looked forward to a lifetime of lucrative employment.

But Kimball, Mattis and another Google employee, Ben Darnell, wanted more — a company of their own. To realize their ambitions, they created Cockroach Labs, the business entity behind their ambitious open-source database CockroachDB. Can some of the smartest former engineers in Google’s arsenal upend the world of databases in a market spotted with the gravesites of storage dreams past? That’s what we are here to find out.

Berkeley software distribution

Mattis and Kimball were roommates at Berkeley majoring in computer science in the early-to-mid-1990s. In addition to their usual studies, they also became involved with the eXperimental Computing Facility (XCF), an organization of undergraduates who have a keen, almost obsessive interest in CS.


By Danny Crichton

The single vendor requirement ultimately doomed the DoD’s $10B JEDI cloud contract

When the Pentagon killed the JEDI cloud program yesterday, it was the end of a long and bitter road for a project that never seemed to have a chance. The question is why it didn’t work out in the end, and ultimately I think you can blame the DoD’s stubborn adherence to a single vendor requirement, a condition that never made sense to anyone, even the vendor that ostensibly won the deal.

In March 2018, the Pentagon announced a mega $10 billion, decade-long cloud contract to build the next generation of cloud infrastructure for the Department of Defense. It was dubbed JEDI, which aside from the Star Wars reference, was short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.

The idea was a 10 year contract with a single vendor that started with an initial two year option. If all was going well, a five year option would kick in and finally a three year option would close things out with earnings of $1 billion a year.

While the total value of the contract had it been completed was quite large, a billion a year for companies the size of Amazon, Oracle or Microsoft is not a ton of money in the scheme of things. It was more about the prestige of winning such a high-profile contract and what it would mean for sales bragging rights. After all, if you passed muster with the DoD, you could probably handle just about anyone’s sensitive data, right?

Regardless, the idea of a single-vendor contract went against conventional wisdom that the cloud gives you the option of working with the best-in-class vendors. Microsoft, the eventual winner of the ill-fated deal acknowledged that the single vendor approach was flawed in an interview in April 2018:

Leigh Madden, who heads up Microsoft’s defense effort, says he believes Microsoft can win such a contract, but it isn’t necessarily the best approach for the DoD. “If the DoD goes with a single award path, we are in it to win, but having said that, it’s counter to what we are seeing across the globe where 80 percent of customers are adopting a multi-cloud solution,” Madden told TechCrunch.

Perhaps it was doomed from the start because of that. Yet even before the requirements were fully known there were complaints that it would favor Amazon, the market share leader in the cloud infrastructure market. Oracle was particularly vocal, taking its complaints directly to the former president before the RFP was even published. It would later file a complaint with the Government Accountability Office and file a couple of lawsuits alleging that the entire process was unfair and designed to favor Amazon. It lost every time — and of course, Amazon wasn’t ultimately the winner.

While there was a lot of drama along the way, in April 2019 the Pentagon named two finalists, and it was probably not too surprising that they were the two cloud infrastructure market leaders: Microsoft and Amazon. Game on.

The former president interjected himself directly in the process in August that year, when he ordered the Defense Secretary to review the matter over concerns that the process favored Amazon, a complaint which to that point had been refuted several times over by the DoD, the Government Accountability Office and the courts. To further complicate matters, a book by former defense secretary Jim Mattis claimed the president told him to “screw Amazon out of the $10 billion contract.” His goal appeared to be to get back at Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post newspaper.

In spite of all these claims that the process favored Amazon, when the winner was finally announced in October 2019, late on a Friday afternoon no less, the winner was not in fact Amazon. Instead, Microsoft won the deal, or at least it seemed that way. It wouldn’t be long before Amazon would dispute the decision in court.

By the time AWS re:Invent hit a couple of months after the announcement, former AWS CEO Andy Jassy was already pushing the idea that the president had unduly influenced the process.

“I think that we ended up with a situation where there was political interference. When you have a sitting president, who has shared openly his disdain for a company, and the leader of that company, it makes it really difficult for government agencies, including the DoD, to make objective decisions without fear of reprisal,” Jassy said at that time.

Then came the litigation. In November the company indicated it would be challenging the decision to choose Microsoft charging that it was was driven by politics and not technical merit. In January 2020, Amazon filed a request with the court that the project should stop until the legal challenges were settled. In February, a federal judge agreed with Amazon and stopped the project. It would never restart.

In April the DoD completed its own internal investigation of the contract procurement process and found no wrong-doing. As I wrote at the time:

While controversy has dogged the $10 billion, decade-long JEDI contract since its earliest days, a report by the DoD’s Inspector General’s Office concluded today that, while there were some funky bits and potential conflicts, overall the contract procurement process was fair and legal and the president did not unduly influence the process in spite of public comments.

Last September the DoD completed a review of the selection process and it once again concluded that Microsoft was the winner, but it didn’t really matter as the litigation was still in motion and the project remained stalled.

The legal wrangling continued into this year, and yesterday The Pentagon finally pulled the plug on the project once and for all, saying it was time to move on as times have changed since 2018 when it announced its vision for JEDI.

The DoD finally came to the conclusion that a single vendor approach wasn’t the best way to go, and not because it could never get the project off the ground, but because it makes more sense from a technology and business perspective to work with multiple vendors and not get locked into any particular one.

“JEDI was developed at a time when the Department’s needs were different and both the CSPs’ (cloud service providers) technology and our cloud conversancy was less mature. In light of new initiatives like JADC2 (the Pentagon’s initiative to build a network of connected sensors) and AI and Data Acceleration (ADA), the evolution of the cloud ecosystem within DoD, and changes in user requirements to leverage multiple cloud environments to execute mission, our landscape has advanced and a new way-ahead is warranted to achieve dominance in both traditional and non-traditional warfighting domains,” said John Sherman, acting DoD Chief Information Officer in a statement.

In other words, the DoD would benefit more from adopting a multi-cloud, multi-vendor approach like pretty much the rest of the world. That said, the department also indicated it would limit the vendor selection to Microsoft and Amazon.

“The Department intends to seek proposals from a limited number of sources, namely the Microsoft Corporation (Microsoft) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), as available market research indicates that these two vendors are the only Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) capable of meeting the Department’s requirements,” the department said in a statement.

That’s not going to sit well with Google, Oracle or IBM, but the department further indicated it would continue to monitor the market to see if other CSPs had the chops to handle their requirements in the future.

In the end, the single vendor requirement contributed greatly to an overly competitive and politically charged atmosphere that resulted in the project never coming to fruition. Now the DoD has to play technology catch-up, having lost three years to the histrionics of the entire JEDI procurement process and that could be the most lamentable part of this long, sordid technology tale.


By Ron Miller

Nobody wins as DoD finally pulls the plug on controversial $10B JEDI contract

After several years of fighting and jockeying for position by the biggest cloud infrastructure companies in the world, the Pentagon finally pulled the plug on the controversial winner-take-all $10 billion JEDI contract today. In the end, nobody won.

“With the shifting technology environment, it has become clear that the JEDI cloud contract, which has long been delayed, no longer meets the requirements to fill the DoD’s capability gaps,” a Pentagon spokesperson stated.

The contract procurement process began in 2018 with a call for RFPs for a $10 billion, decade long contract to handle the cloud infrastructure strategy for The Pentagon. Pentagon spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch why they were going with the. single-winner approach: “Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department’s ability to adopt and use cloud services,” she said at the time.

From the start though, companies objected to the single winner approach, believing that the Pentagon would be better served with a multi-vendor approach. Some companies, particularly Oracle believed the procurement process was designed to favor Amazon.

In the end it came down to a pair of finalists — Amazon and Microsoft — and in the end Microsoft won. But Amazon believed that it had superior technology and only lost the deal because of direct interference by the previous president, who had open disdain for then CEO Jeff Bezos (who is also the owner of the Washington Post newspaper).

Amazon decided to fight the decision in court, and after months of delay, the Pentagon made the decision that it was time to move on. In a blog post, Microsoft took a swipe at Amazon for precipitating the delay.

“The 20 months since DoD selected Microsoft as its JEDI partner highlights issues that warrant the attention of policymakers: when one company can delay, for years, critical technology upgrades for those who defend our nation, the protest process needs reform. Amazon filed its protest in November 2019 and its case was expected to take at least another year to litigate and yield a decision, with potential appeals afterward,” Microsoft wrote in its blog post about the end of the deal.

It seems like a fitting end to a project that felt like it was doomed from the beginning. From the moment the Pentagon announced this contract with the cutesy twist on Star Wars name, the procurement process has taken more twist and turns than a TV soap.

In the end, there was a lot of sound and fury and now a lot of nothing. We move onto whatever cloud procurement process happens next.

Note: We have a request into Amazon for a comment and will update the story when they respond.


By Ron Miller

Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky is returning to AWS to replace Andy Jassy as CEO

When Amazon announced last month that Jeff Bezos was moving into the executive chairman role, and AWS CEO Andy Jassy would be taking over the entire Amazon operation, speculation began about who would replace Jassy.

People considered a number of internal candidates such as Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure at AWS and Matt Garman, who is vice president of sales and marketing. Not many would have chosen Tableau CEO Adam Selipsky, but sure enough he is returning home to run the division he left in 2016.

In an email to employees, Jassy wasted no time getting to the point that Selipsky was his choice, saying that the former employee who helped launch the division when they hired him 2005, spent 11 years helping Jassy build the unit before taking the job at Tableau. Through that lens, the the choice makes perfect sense.

“Adam brings strong judgment, customer obsession, team building, demand generation, and CEO experience to an already very strong AWS leadership team. And, having been in such a senior role at AWS for 11 years, he knows our culture and business well,” Jassy wrote in the email.

Jassy has run the AWS since its earliest days taking it from humble beginnings as a kind of internal experiment on running a storage web service to building a mega division currently on a $51 billion run rate. It is that juggernaut that will be Selipsky to run, but he seems well suited for the job.

He is a seasoned executive, and while he’s been away from AWS when it really began to grow, he still understands the culture well enough to step smoothly into the role.  At the same, he’s leaving Tableau, a company he helped transform from a desktop software company into one firmly in the cloud.

Salesforce bought Tableau in June 2019 for a cool $15.7 billion and Selipsky has remained at the helm since then, but perhaps the lure of running AWS was too great and he decided to take the leap to the new job.

When we wrote a story at the end of last year about Salesforce’s deep bench of executive talent one of the CEOs we pointed at as a possible replacement was Selipsky. But with it looking more like president and COO Bret Taylor would be the heir apparent, perhaps Selipsky was ready for a new challenge.

Selipsky will make his return to AWS on May 17th and spend a few weeks with Jassy in a transitional time before taking over to run the division on his own. As Jassy slides into the Amazon CEO role, it’s clear the two will continue to work closely together, just like they did all those years ago.


By Ron Miller

Amazon will expand its Amazon Care on-demand healthcare offering U.S.-wide this summer

Amazon is apparently pleased with how its Amazon Care pilot in Seattle has gone, since it announced this morning that it will be expanding the offering across the U.S. this summer, and opening it up to companies of all sizes, in addition to its own employees. The Amazon Care model combines on-demand and in-person care, and is meant as a solution from the search giant to address shortfalls in current offering for employer-sponsored healthcare offerings.

In a blog post announcing the expansion, Amazon touted the speed of access to care made possible for its employees and their families via the remote, chat and video-based features of Amazon Care. These are facilitated via a dedicated Amazon Care app, which provides direct, live chats via a nurse or doctor. Issues that then require in-person care is then handled via a house call, so a medical professional is actually sent to your home to take care of things like administering blood tests or doing a chest exam, and prescriptions are delivered to your door as well.

The expansion is being handled differently across both in-person and remote variants of care; remote services will be available starting this summer to both Amazon’s own employees, as well as other companies who sign on as customers, starting this summer. The in-person side will be rolling out more slowly, starting with availability in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and “other cities in the coming months” according to the company.

As of today, Amazon Care is expanding in its home state of Washington to begin serving other companies. The idea is that others will sing on to make Amazon Care part of its overall benefits package for employees. Amazon is touting the speed advantages of testing services, including results delivery, for things including COVID-19 as a major strength of the service.

The Amazon Care model has a surprisingly Amazon twist, too – when using the in-person care option, the app will provide an updating ETA for when to expect your physician or medical technician, which is eerily similar to how its primary app treats package delivery.

While the Amazon Care pilot in Washington only launched a year-and-a-half ago, the company has had its collective mind set on upending the corporate healthcare industry for some time now. It announced a partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan back at the very beginning of 2018 to form a joint venture specifically to address the gaps they saw in the private corporate healthcare provider market.

That deep pocketed all-star team ended up officially disbanding at the outset of this year, after having done a whole lot of not very much in the three years in between. One of the stated reasons that Amazon and its partners gave for unpartnering was that each had made a lot of progress on its own in addressing the problems it had faced anyway. While Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan’s work in that regard might be less obvious, Amazon was clearly referring to Amazon Care.

It’s not unusual for large tech companies with lots of cash on the balance sheet and a need to attract and retain top-flight talent to spin up their own healthcare benefits for their workforces. Apple and Google both have their own on-campus wellness centers staffed by medical professionals, for instance. But Amazon’s ambitious have clearly exceeded those of its peers, and it looks intent on making a business line out of the work it did to improve its own employee care services — a strategy that isn’t too dissimilar from what happened with AWS, by the way.


By Darrell Etherington

Microsoft Azure expands its NoSQL portfolio with Managed Instances for Apache Cassandra

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced the launch of Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra, its latest NoSQL database offering and a competitor to Cassandra-centric companies like Datastax. Microsoft describes the new service as a ‘semi-managed offering that will help companies bring more of their Cassandra-based workloads into its cloud.

“Customers can easily take on-prem Cassandra workloads and add limitless cloud scale while maintaining full compatibility with the latest version of Apache Cassandra,” Microsoft explains in its press materials. “Their deployments gain improved performance and availability, while benefiting from Azure’s security and compliance capabilities.”

Like its counterpart, Azure SQL Manages Instance, the idea here is to give users access to a scalable, cloud-based database service. To use Cassandra in Azure before, businesses had to either move to Cosmos DB, its highly scalable database service which supports the Cassandra, MongoDB, SQL and Gremlin APIs, or manage their own fleet of virtual machines or on-premises infrastructure.

Cassandra was originally developed at Facebook and then open-sourced in 2008. A year later, it joined the Apache Foundation and today it’s used widely across the industry, with companies like Apple and Netflix betting on it for some of their core services, for example. AWS launched a managed Cassandra-compatible service at its re:Invent conference in 2019 (it’s called Amazon Keyspaces today), Microsoft only launched the Cassandra API for Cosmos DB last November. With today’s announcement, though, the company can now offer a full range of Cassandra-based servicer for enterprises that want to move these workloads to its cloud.


By Frederic Lardinois

Is overseeing cloud operations the new career path to CEO?

When Amazon announced last week that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos planned to step back from overseeing operations and shift into an executive chairman role, it also revealed that AWS CEO Andy Jassy, head of the company’s profitable cloud division, would replace him.

As Bessemer partner Byron Deeter pointed out on Twitter, Jassy’s promotion was similar to Satya Nadella’s ascent at Microsoft: in 2014, he moved from executive VP in charge of Azure to the chief exec’s office. Similarly, Arvind Krishna, who was promoted to replace Ginni Rometti as IBM CEO last year, also was formerly head of the company’s cloud business.

Could Nadella’s successful rise serve as a blueprint for Amazon as it makes a similar transition? While there are major differences in the missions of these companies, it’s inevitable that we will compare these two executives based on their former jobs. It’s true that they have an awful lot in common, but there are some stark differences, too.

Replacing a legend

For starters, Jassy is taking over for someone who founded one of the world’s biggest corporations. Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer, who had taken over for the company’s face, Bill Gates. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says this notable difference could have a huge impact for Jassy with his founder boss still looking over his shoulder.

“There’s a lot of similarity in the two situations, but Satya was a little removed from the founder Gates. Bezos will always hover and be there, whereas Gates (and Ballmer) had retired for good. [ … ] It was clear [they] would not be coming back. [ … ] For Jassy, the owner could [conceivably] come back anytime,” Mueller said.

But Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Forrester Research, says it’s not a coincidence that both leaders were plucked from the cloud divisions of their respective companies, even if it was seven years apart.

“In both cases, these hyperscale business units of Microsoft and Amazon were the fastest-growing and best-performing units of the companies. [ … ] In both cases, cloud infrastructure was seen as a platform on top of which and around which other cloud offerings could be developed,” Bartels said. The companies both believe that the leaders of these two growth engines were best suited to lead the company into the future.


By Ron Miller

What Andy Jassy’s promotion to Amazon CEO could mean for AWS

Blockbuster news struck late this afternoon when Amazon announced that Jeff Bezos would be stepping back as CEO of Amazon, the company he built from a business in his garage to worldwide behemoth. As he takes on the role of executive chairman, his replacement will be none other than AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

With Jassy moving into his new role at the company, the immediate question is who replaces him to run AWS. Let the games begin. Among the names being tossed about in the rumor mill are Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure at AWS and Matt Garman, who is Vice President of sales and marketing. Both are members of Bezos’ elite executive team known as the S-team and either would make sense as Jassy’s successor. Nobody knows for sure though, and it could be any number of people inside the organization, or even someone from outside. (We have asked Amazon PR to provide clarity on the successor, but as of publication we had not heard from them.)

Holger Mueller, a senior analyst at Constellation Research, says that Jassy is being rewarded for doing a stellar job raising AWS from a tiny side business to one on a $50 billion run rate. “On the finance side it makes sense to appoint an executive who intimately knows Amazon’s most profitable business, that operates in more competitive markets. [Appointing Jassy] ensures that the new Amazon CEO does not break the ‘golden goose’,” Mueller told me.

Alex Smith, VP of channels, who covers the cloud infrastructure market at analyst firm Canalys, says the writing has been on the wall that a transition was in the works. “This move has been coming for some time. Jassy is the second most public-facing figure at Amazon and has lead one of its most successful business units. Bezos can go out on a high and focus on his many other ventures,” Smith said.

Smith adds that this move should enhance AWS’s place in the organization. “I think this is more of an AWS gain, in terms of its increasing strategic importance to Amazon going forwards, rather than loss in terms of losing Andy as direct lead. I expect he’ll remain close to that organization.”

Ed Anderson, a Gartner analyst also sees Jassy as the obvious choice to take over for Bezos. “Amazon is a company driven by technology innovation, something Andy has been doing at AWS for many years now. Also, it’s worth noting that Andy Jassy has an impressive track record of building and running a very large business. Under Andy’s leadership, AWS has grown to be one of the biggest technology companies in the world and one of the most impactful in defining what the future of computing will be,” Anderson said.

In the company earnings report released today, AWS came in at $12.74 billion for the quarter up 28% YoY from $9.60 billion a year ago. That puts the company on an elite $50 billion run rate. No other cloud infrastructure vendor, even the mighty Microsoft, is even close in this category. Microsoft stands at around 20% marketshare compared to AWS’s approximately 33% market share.

It’s unclear what impact the executive shuffle will have on the company at large or AWS in particular. In some ways it feels like when Larry Ellison stepped down as CEO of Oracle in 2014 to take on the exact same executive chairman role. While Safra Catz and Mark Hurd took over at co-CEOs in that situation, Ellison has remained intimately involved with the company he helped found. It’s reasonable to assume that Bezos will do the same.

With Jassy, the company is getting a man who has risen through the ranks since joining the company in 1997 after getting an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Harvard. In 2002 he became VP/ technical assistant, working directly under Bezos. It was in this role that he began to see the need for a set of common web services for Amazon developers to use. This idea grew into AWS and Jassy became a VP at the fledgling division working his way up until he was appointed CEO in 2016.


By Ron Miller

Amazon asks judge to set aside Microsoft’s $10B DoD JEDI cloud contract win

It’s been more than two years since the Pentagon announced its $10 billion, decade long JEDI cloud contract, which was supposed to provide a pathway to technological modernization for U.S. armed forces. While Microsoft was awarded the contract in October 2019, Amazon went to court to protest that decision, and it has been in legal limbo ever since.

Yesterday marked another twist in this government procurement saga when Amazon released its latest legal volley, asking a judge to set aside the decision to select Microsoft. Its arguments are similar to ones it has made before, but this time takes aim at the Pentagon’s reevaluation process, which after reviewing the contract and selection process, still found in a decision released this past September that Microsoft had won.

Amazon believes that reevaluation was highly flawed, and subject to undue influence, bias and pressure from the president. Based on this, Amazon has asked the court to set aside the award to Microsoft .

The JEDI reevaluations and re-award decision have fallen victim to an Administration that suppresses the good-faith analysis and reasoning of career officials for political reasons — ultimately to the detriment of national security and the efficient and lawful use of taxpayer dollars. DoD has demonstrated again that it has not executed this procurement objectively and in good faith. This re-award should be set aside.

As you might imagine, Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president for communications at Microsoft does not agree, believing his company won on merit and by providing the best price.

“As the losing bidder, Amazon was informed of our pricing and they realized they’d originally bid too high. They then amended aspects of their bid to achieve a lower price. However, when looking at all the criteria together, the career procurement officials at the DoD decided that given the superior technical advantages and overall value, we continued to offer the best solution,” Shaw said in a statement shared with TechCrunch.

As for Amazon, a spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We are simply seeking a fair and objective review by the court, regarding the technical errors, bias and political interference that blatantly impacted this contract award.”

And so it goes.

The Pentagon announced it was putting out a bid for a $10 billion, decade long contract in 2018, dubbing it JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. The procurement process has been mired in controversy from the start, and the size and scope of the deal has attracted widespread attention, much more than your typical government contract. It brought with it claims of bias, particularly by Oracle, that the bidding process was designed to favor Amazon.

We are more than two years beyond the original announcement. We are more than year beyond the original award to Microsoft, and it still remains stuck in a court battle with two major tech companies continuing to snipe at one another. With neither likely to give in, it will be up to the court to decide the final outcome, and perhaps end this saga once and for all.

Note: The DoD did not respond to our request for comment. Should that change, we will update the story.


By Ron Miller

Twitter taps AWS for its latest foray into the public cloud

Twitter has a lot going on, and it’s not always easy to manage that kind of scale on your own. Today, Amazon announced that Twitter has chosen AWS to run its real-time timelines. It’s a major win for Amazon’s cloud arm.

While the companies have worked together in some capacity for over a decade, this marks the first time that Twitter is tapping AWS to help run its core timelines.

“This expansion onto AWS marks the first time that Twitter is leveraging the public cloud to scale their real-time service. Twitter will rely on the breadth and depth of AWS, including capabilities in compute, containers, storage, and security, to reliably deliver the real-time service with the lowest latency, while continuing to develop and deploy new features to improve how people use Twitter,” the company explained in the announcement.

Parag Agrawal, Chief Technology Officer at Twitter sees this as a way to expand and improve the company’s real-time offerings by taking advantage of AWS’s network of data centers to deliver content closer to the user. “The collaboration with AWS will improve performance for people who use Twitter by enabling us to serve Tweets from data centers closer to our customers at the same time as we leverage the Arm-based architecture of AWS Graviton2 instances. In addition to helping us scale our infrastructure, this work with AWS enables us to ship features faster as we apply AWS’s diverse and growing portfolio of services,” Agrawal said in a statement.

It’s worth noting that Twitter also has a relationship with Google Cloud. In 2018, it announced it was moving its Hadoop clusters to GCP.

This announcement could be considered a case of the rich getting richer as AWS is the leader in the cloud infrastructure market by far with around 33% market share. Microsoft is in second with around 18% and Google is in third with 9%, according to Synergy Research. In its most recent earnings report, Amazon reported that $11.6 billion in AWS revenue putting it on a run rate of over $46 billion.


By Ron Miller

AWS announces SageMaker Clarify to help reduce bias in machine learning models

As companies rely increasingly on machine learning models to run their businesses, it’s imperative to include anti-bias measures to ensure these models are not making false or misleading assumptions. Today at AWS re:Invent, AWS introduced Amazon SageMaker Clarify to help reduce bias in machine learning models.

“We are launching Amazon SageMaker Clarify. And what that does is it allows you to have insight into your data and models throughout your machine learning lifecycle,” Bratin Saha, Amazon VP and general manager of machine learning told TechCrunch.

He says that it is designed to analyze the data for bias before you start data prep, so you can find these kinds of problems before you even start building your model.

“Once I have my training data set, I can [look at things like if I have] an equal number of various classes, like do I have equal numbers of males and females or do I have equal numbers of other kinds of classes, and we have a set of several metrics that you can use for the statistical analysis so you get real insight into easier data set balance,” Saha explained.

After you build your model, you can run SageMaker Clarify again to look for similar factors that might have crept into your model as you built it. “So you start off by doing statistical bias analysis on your data, and then post training you can again do analysis on the model,” he said.

There are multiple types of bias that can enter a model due to the background of the data scientists building the model, the nature of the data and how they data scientists interpret that data through the model they built. While this can be problematic in general it can also lead to racial stereotypes being extended to algorithms. As an example, facial recognition systems have proven quite accurate at identifying white faces, but much less so when it comes to recognizing people of color.

It may be difficult to identify these kinds of biases with software as it often has to do with team makeup and other factors outside the purview of a software analysis tool, but Saha says they are trying to make that software approach as comprehensive as possible.

“If you look at SageMaker Clarify it gives you data bias analysis, it gives you model bias analysis, it gives you model explainability it gives you poor inference explainability it gives you a global explainability,” Saha said.

Saha says that Amazon is aware of the bias problem and that is why it created this tool to help, but he recognizes that this tool alone won’t eliminate all of the bias issues that can crop up in machine learning models, and they offer other ways to help too.

“We are also working with our customers in various ways. So we have documentation, best practices, and we point our customers to how to be able to architect their systems and work with the system so they get the desired results,” he said.

SageMaker Clarify is available starting to day in multiple regions.


By Ron Miller

AWS announces high resource Lambda functions, container image support & millisecond billing

AWS announced some big updates to its Lambda serverless function service today. For starters, starting today it will be able to deliver functions with up to 10MB of memory and 6 vCPUs (virtual CPUs). This will allow developers building more compute-intensive functions to get the resources they need.

“Starting today, you can allocate up to 10 GB of memory to a Lambda function. This is more than a 3x increase compared to previous limits. Lambda allocates CPU and other resources linearly in proportion to the amount of memory configured. That means you can now have access to up to 6 vCPUs in each execution environment,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new capabilities.

Serverless computing doesn’t mean there are no servers. It means that developers no longer have to worry about the compute, storage and memory requirements because the cloud provider — in this case, AWS — takes care of it for them, freeing them up to just code the application instead of deploying resources.

Today’s announcement combined with support for support for the AVX2 instruction set, means that developers can use this approach with more sophisticated technologies like machine learning, gaming and even high performance computing.

One of the beauties of this approach is that in theory you can save money because you aren’t paying for resources you aren’t using. You are only paying each time the application requires a set of resources and no more. To make this an even bigger advantage, the company also announced, “Starting today, we are rounding up duration to the nearest millisecond with no minimum execution time,” the company announced in a blog post on the new pricing approach.

Finally the company also announced container image support for Lambda functions. “To help you with that, you can now package and deploy Lambda functions as container images of up to 10 GB in size. In this way, you can also easily build and deploy larger workloads that rely on sizable dependencies, such as machine learning or data intensive workloads,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new capability.

All of these announcements in combination mean that you can now use Lambda functions for more intensive operations than you could previously, and the new billing approach should lower your overall spending as you make that transition to the new capabilities.


By Ron Miller

Cloud infrastructure revenue grows 33% this quarter to almost $33B

The cloud infrastructure market kept growing at a brisk pace last quarter, as the pandemic continued to push more companies to the cloud with offices shut down in much of the world. This week the big three — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reported their numbers and as expected the news was good with Synergy Research reporting revenue growth of 33% year over year, up to almost $33 billion for the quarter.

Still, John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy was a bit taken aback that the market continued to grow as much as it did. “While we were fully expecting continued strong growth in the market, the scale of the growth in Q3 was a little surprising,” he said in a statement.

He added, “Total revenues were up by $2.5 billion from the previous quarter causing the year-on-year growth rate to nudge upwards, which is unusual for such a large market. It is quite clear that COVID-19 has provided an added boost to a market that was already developing rapidly.”

Per usual Amazon led the way with $11.6 billion in revenue, up from $10.8 billion last quarter. That’s up 29% year over year. Amazon continues to exhibit slowing growth in the cloud market, but because of its market share lead of 33%, a rate that has held fairly steady for some time, the growth is less important than the eye-popping revenue it continues to generate, almost double its closest rival Microsoft .

Speaking of Microsoft, Azure revenue was up 48% year over year, also slowing some, but good enough for a strong second place with 18% market share. Using Synergy’s total quarterly number of $33 billion, Microsoft came in at $5.9 billion in revenue for the quarter, up from $5.2 billion last quarter.

Finally Google announced cloud revenue of $3.4 billion, but that number includes all of its cloud revenue including G Suite and other software. Synergy reported that this was good for 9% or $2.98 billion, up from $2.7 billion last quarter, good for third place.

Alibaba and IBM were tied for fourth with 5% or around $1.65 billion each.

It’s worth noting that Canalys had similar numbers to Synergy with growth of 33% to $36.5 billion. They had the same market order with slightly different numbers with Amazon at 32%, Microsoft at 19% and Google at 7% and Alibaba in 4th place at 6%.

Canalys sees continued growth ahead, especially as hybrid cloud begins to merge with newer technologies like 5G and edge computing. “All three [providers] are collaborating with mobile operators to deploy their cloud stacks at the edge in the operators’ data centers. These are part of holistic initiatives to profit from 5G services among business customers, as well as transform the mobile operators’ IT infrastructure,” Canalysis analyst Blake Murray said in a statement.

While the pure growth continues to move steadily downward over time, this is expected in a market that’s maturing like cloud infrastructure, but as companies continue to shift workloads more rapidly to the cloud during the pandemic, and find new use cases like 5G and edge computing, the market could continue to generate substantial revenue well into the future.


By Ron Miller