SAN FRANCISCO — It's really not true that Amazon controls the Internet, though it can sometimes feel like it — especially after Tuesday's four-hour Internet backend outage that slowed or stopped bits and pieces of tens of thousands of websites from loading.
To paraphrase the German statesman Klemens von Metternich, "when Amazon sneezes, the Internet catches a cold."
The outage stemmed from a problem with Amazon's popular cloud service
That compares to about 15% for Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and 7% for Google’s, with the rest being taken up by IBM, Oracle and other smaller players.
The S3 system alone is used by 148,213 sites, according to market research firm SimilarTech.
Some groups called out Tuesday’s troubles as an example of the dangers of Amazon's “monopolistic behavior in our economy,” in the words of the
But the situation is far more fluid than the word monopoly implies, said Dave Bartoletti, a cloud analyst with market research firm Forrester.
While Amazon has done a “fantastic” job of providing these services, other companies are equally good. The cloud marketplace is very much in a rough-and-tumble fight for share.
Microsoft’s Azure service is growing by leaps and bounds and the only reason that Google doesn’t have a larger share of the market is because it was late to the party. But its platform is “rock solid” and customers know it, Bartoletti said.
Perhaps more importantly, the outage made clear to users just how much of the online infrastructure they rely on comes from those people up in Seattle.
Americans know Amazon by the constant flow of brown cardboard boxes it sends to their door, or the movies it streams to their TVs or the dulcet tones of Alexa as she answers their questions.
Amazon Web Services is equally important for hundreds of thousands of businesses but invisible to most consumers.
It is, in effect, the back-end to much of the Internet. For sites like
Business store their videos, images or databases on AWS servers and have them served up from those servers to their website. To the visitor, this is a seamless process. To engineers, it's a complex ballet of files and data constantly shifting across the Internet.
When one of the dancers misses a beat, as AWS' S3 system did Tuesday, the entire carefully choreographed system begins to falter.
Despite that, the damage itself was actually relatively minimal. Companies didn't lose data — their ability to quickly access it simply degraded for several hours. Just don't tell that to the thousands of system engineers who spent Tuesday tearing their hair out.
Elizabeth Weise covers technology from San Francisco. Follow her at @eweise.
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