Amazon.com is the bearer of the of e-commerce vision: buy anything online. Or as Amazon’s mission statement goes: a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
But then the earth shook: a few days ago Amazon acquired organic-food chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, Amazon’s largest deal ever. Against its very vision and DNA, the e-commerce giant put a sound foot in brick-and-mortar, with hundreds of physical stores.
WHY? Simply put, Amazon realized that we don’t want to shop for ANYTHING online. Some products, such as groceries, people still like to smell, hand-pick, try out and buy at the store near by. That’s where it loses ground to Walmart et al. So Amazon adapted its vision, and made a serious investment to get in the game to augment its leading e-commerce play (going for M&A after some failed home-grown trials such as AmazonFresh).
Coincidentally(?), a similar earthquake happened at Amazon’s cloud around the same time: Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been the pioneer of public cloud and a strong advocate of the vision that all shall run over the web in the public cloud (hence named “web services”). Even hybrid cloud (private+public), which Microsoft, IBM and other public cloud vendors adopted well, Amazon had hard time accepting, to the point that Amazon partnered with its rival VMware to complement that piece externally.
But then a couple of weeks ago Amazon released Greengrass. Don’t let the innocent-sounding name mislead you – it is nothing short of a revolution for Amazon. Greengrass enables users for the first time to run their favorite AWS services LOCALLY, executing serverless logic and inter-device communication without necessarily connecting to AWS cloud.
WHY? Simply put, the Internet of Things (IoT). At the recent AWS Summit I heard Amazonians for the first time admitting out loud that some use cases, especially those derived from IoT, disallow connecting to a central remote cloud data center. On his blog post, AWS CTO Werner Vogels himself outlines the categories (he calls them “laws”) of these use cases:
- Law of Physics. Customers want to build applications that make the most interactive and critical decisions locally, such as safety-critical control. This is determined by basic laws of physics: it takes time to send data to the cloud, and networks don’t have 100% availability. Customers in physically remote environments, such as mining and agriculture, are more affected by these issues.
- Law of Economics. In many industries, data production has grown more quickly than bandwidth, and much of this data is low value. Local aggregation and filtering of data allows customers to send only high-value data to the cloud for storage and analysis.
- Law of the Land. In some industries, customers have regulatory or compliance requirements to isolate or duplicate data in particular locations. Some governments impose data sovereignty restrictions on where data may be stored and processed.
In fact it’s bigger than merely IoT. Amazon tried launching its IoT API service with direct connectivity to the cloud and it didn’t catch for many types of IoT use cases. The missing ingredient was Edge Computing. As I wrote before, IoT, Big Data and Machine Learning Push Cloud Computing To The Edge, and that’s what Amazon realized. On AWS Summit I saw this learning simply put: AWS IoT Going to the edge.
The two Amazon groundbreaking stories this month come down to the same essential truth: Amazon started out from the digital internet-driven services, which matched many common use cases. But now it realizes the power of the edge, whether a physical store available down the street from my home or edge computing executing at my smart home or connected factory (or perhaps at the Whole Foods store down the street?). That’s me – living on the edge – and apparently I’m not alone.