Kin Lane

Remember When We Were Told That The Amazon Cloud Would Reduce Our IT Bill?

Do you remember when we were told to switch to Amazon Web Services because it would reduce our IT bill? I do. It seemed so true in the moment, but for anyone who runs at scale on AWS these days, you know that this isn’t the reality anymore. AWS has become the master at defining cloud pricing, and engineering it all in what I’d call a “Hotel California” way of doing business-—you can check in, but you can never leave. I don’t think Amazon has a monopoly on these types of practices, but they definitely have the first mover advantage when it comes to applying them in the new cloud paradigm.

In 2009, we were telling our bosses how much cheaper and flexible the Amazon cloud was. In 2019, we are all worried about the size of our Amazon bills, and realizing how savvy they are in pricing things their resources, and incentivizing us to spend more. Something any other entrepreneur would do if their were in the same place, they are all just upset because they are the ones having to pay the bill. What is really fascinating for me is that even though we know the realities of this narrative now, we still keep falling for the promises made with each wave of new web technology. Even though we know better, we never quite seem to develop the critical faculties for questioning each fresh narrative off the turnip truck.

Amazon represents the whole conundrum I found myself in with API Evangelist. I have been evangelizing that everyone should slice up their digital resources and make them available in a pay for what you use model, and Amazon who has been doing it the longest and the most aggressively is now leveraging their market position to squeeze us all. Everyone else I’ve been advocating to is now complaining about Amazon, would do the same if they were in the exact same position. Showing that none of this is about the API, or about the technology-—it is about generating as much revenue as you possibly can. Making ANY narrative leaving the lips of entrepreneurs something you should not believe, because once they’ve achieved market dominance, none of it matters. It is all capitalism at its finest.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t play this game at all. I’m just saying that we should start being more critical with startups at their early stages, as well as those in the middle, and not just of those who have won. Also, don’t get all but hurt when I call bullshit on the each wave of technology coming off the assembly line, along with their magical narrative. The number of people who like to complain that I’m anti-startup and anti-capitalism (I am), but who are anti-dominant player in the end is mind boggling. I’ll still play the game. Sing along with the tune. I’m stuck in the machine. There is no getting out. I still have to make a living. However, I don’t have to play by the rules or make friends along the way.

I just wanted to share this story as a reminder of how we are all held captive by the narrative, and how living in the moment allows us to conveniently forget the past–this is by design. It was never true that AWS was cheaper than running in our own data center. It was just new. It was just priced to get us in the door. The narrative was attractive and compelling. Many of us were held hostage, or just plain sick of our co-location facilities at the time. While I think the cloud did bring many improvements that were well worth it, I still think there are a lot of lessons here that we should be pausing and thinking deeply about. Helping us develop some critical thinking skills for evaluating the new narratives that come along with each wave of startups—helping us save us some pain, while also holding entrepreneurs a little more accountable.