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What is AWS? Amazon Web Services Guide

Scott Pletcher
Scott Pletcher

What is AWS? AWS or Amazon Web Services is a cloud service provider that offers various computing services that are accessible over the public internet.

AWS and other public cloud vendors — like Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure — manage and maintain hardware and infrastructure, saving organizations and individuals the cost and complexity of purchasing and running resources on site. These resources may be accessed for free or on a pay-per-use basis.

To get a better understanding of AWS, it can help to wrap your head around how massive AWS is. There’s no denying it, AWS is kind of a big deal. How big?

  • One in three sites you visit on the internet uses AWS services. 
  • In 2019, Amazon Web Services raked in more than $35 billion in revenue. If AWS were its own company, that would be enough to rank 359th on fortune magazine’s Global 500 list.

With that being said here is a 10,000-foot overview of AWS. Let’s dive in!

The history of AWS

The origins of AWS are kind of unintentional. Way back around the year 2000, Amazon was still just a scrappy e-commerce company that found itself struggling to grow under all the technical debt that it accumulated since its startup days.

Very much out of necessity, Amazon made the strategic technology decision to start building reusable modules for its internal development groups. This allowed those groups to create new features faster because they weren’t always reinventing the same things over and over. 

As time went on, the collection of internal services grew, and people inside the company started to realize that maybe there was a potential business opportunity there.

First launched in 2004 and then relaunched in 2006 with three public pay-as-you-go services, Amazon Web Services set sail into the uncharted waters of what we now call cloud computing.

After it launched in 2006, for the next few years, AWS enjoyed a relatively quiet competitive landscape, allowing it to build a dramatic headstart over contemporary competitors like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

AWS has been the dominant cloud provider for a while and is the clear market-share leader at present.

However, in the past few years, that market share has been eroding slightly, largely going to Microsoft Azure. But competition is a good thing, and AWS has momentum, market-share profitability, and some really smart people on its side. The innovation and customer focus are greater than ever. 

What’s the future hold for AWS? They say no one can predict the future . . . but we asked a panel of experts to do it anyways. Check out our 7 predictions for AWS.

AWS infrastructure and technology  

AWS operates globally in what are called regions — 25 in all spread across six continents. Each region consists of multiple availability zones. And these are the physical data centers where computers live and are geographically separated to reduce the likelihood of a local disaster taking out a whole region

Additionally, there are over 200 edge locations scattered around the world as part of AWS’s content delivery network (CDN).

In addition to the publicly available regions, there are a few special regions. Two regions are designated for use by those working in and for the U.S. government so-called GovCloud. There are also two regions in China, which are operated by local qualified companies in accordance with Chinese law and regulations. All of these regions’ availability zones and edge locations are tied together through AWS’s private high-speed fiber-optic network. 

AWS has even invented its own proprietary hardware to make its network faster and more robust. And chances are you’re already using the AWS network. If you use Netflix, Twitch, Hulu, Reddit, or Slack, all are AWS customers.

So, what are the pros and cons of using AWS? And how does AWS stack up to Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud (GCP)? Let’s dig in.

AWS pros and benefits

As far as strengths, because AWS had such a large head start on current competitors, AWS has the most robust and comprehensive offering.

There are currently 175 services and counting. New features, enhancements, and services come out weekly. (That’s why we have a video series called AWS This Week. Who knew?) Many of these new features are the direct results of customer requests. 

Additionally, AWS has a long history of price reductions and provides many tools and programs to help companies really optimize their spend. 

Abundant Services and Technology

AWS provides such a wide variety of services that almost any use-case fits right in. Services range from the basic storage and compute all the way to the more specialized niche services like streaming media, robotics, and even quantum computing. They even have a service that lets you control your fleet of space satellites, should you have a need for that.

In addition to the usual disaster recovery and remote data center use cases, organizations are increasingly leveraging AWS as an investment in machine learning and data analytics to help them make sense out of all their data.

Many organizations have gone all-in, moving their entire IT operations into AWS and have realized great gains in agility, efficiency, and reliability. Now, obviously, we’ve just scratched the surface here and if you’d like to dig in a little deeper into that next layer, we have some great resources.

AWS cons and weaknesses

As far as downsides, when you’re as big as Amazon, you’re bound to step on some toes. Many retail companies view Amazon as a direct competitor and simply can’t bring themselves to give their rival any money whatsoever.

(Imagine if you’re doing business with Walmart. They’re likely not going to be eager to give you money if it means giving money to Amazon. This is one of the reasons many companies who have customers that may view Amazon as a competitor take a multi-cloud approach.)

This will probably get even more complicated as Amazon expands its reach into other industries. 

Additionally, while AWS does not charge you to put your data into their cloud, you do have to pay a little bit to get that data back out. These are called “egress charges.” It’s not very much given the potential value, but it is something to note. 

Curious about how various aspects of different cloud providers compare to AWS’s offerings? We have overviews comparing serverless, NoSQL databases, IAM services, and virtual machines (VMs).

Want to get started with AWS?

If you’re just getting started with AWS, I recommend our Introduction to AWS course to get a good baseline. (Bonus: it’s currently one of our free courses.) If you want some further guidance on ramping up your AWS knowledge — or wondering which AWS certification is right for you — we have you covered there too.

Our curated learning paths guide you from novice to guru across six different specialized career tracks:

As I mentioned before, AWS releases new services and features all the time, and we have content to keep you updated there as well: AWS This Week and AWS Service Spotlight are free and a great way to stay on top of all things AWS.


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What is Amazon Web Services (AWS)?

AWS is a cloud service provider that offers various computing services that are accessible over the public internet. AWS manages and maintains hardware and infrastructure, saving organizations and individuals the cost and complexity of purchasing and running resources on site. These resources may be accessed for free or on a pay-per-use basis.

How did AWS Start?

First launched in 2004 and then relaunched in 2006 with three public pay-as-you-go services, Amazon Web Services set sail into the uncharted waters of what we now call cloud computing. After it launched in 2006, for the next few years, AWS enjoyed a relatively quiet competitive landscape, allowing it to build a dramatic head start over contemporary competitors like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

What are the benefits of AWS?

As far as strengths, because AWS had such a large head start on current competitors, AWS has the most robust and comprehensive offering. There are currently 175 services and counting. New features, enhancements, and services come out weekly. AWS provides such a wide variety of services that almost any use-case fits right in. Services range from the basic storage and compute all the way to the more specialized niche services like streaming media, robotics, and even quantum computing.

What are the cons of AWS?

As far as downsides, when you’re as big as Amazon, you’re bound to step on some toes. Many retail companies view Amazon as a direct competitor and simply can’t bring themselves to give their rival any money whatsoever. Additionally, while AWS does not charge you to put your data into their cloud, you do have to pay a little bit to get that data back out.

How to get started with AWS?

If you’re just getting started with AWS, I recommend our Introduction to AWS course to get a good baseline. If you want some further guidance on ramping up your AWS knowledge — or wondering which AWS certification is right for you — we have you covered there too.

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