Amazon’s Next Cloud is in your Bathroom

February 21st 2018
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@jakestanleyJake Stanley

Is Amazon using Alexa and her Echo Army to Build a Second Cloud?

This is my take (a mix of thoughtful observation and conspiracy theory) on Alexa’s role in Amazon’s strategic future and why I believe the #EchoArmy will allow Amazon to usher in the next wave of Cloud.

Voice and conversational UI are sure to be a foundational piece of the technology landscape going forward. Amazon sold tens of millions of Alexa enabled devices during the holidays, and likely averaged thousands of Echo device sales per minute on Prime Day! But if you think this is only a race to win the smart speaker market, you aren’t thinking big enough. Amazon has much larger plans, and voice is just the beginning.

The Bigger Picture

Amazon has successfully installed tens of millions of tiny, internet connected computers in your homes and businesses.

Not a Coincidence

One thing is clear:

Jeff Bezos has a plan. Nothing Jeff Bezos does is a coincidence.

Also, this isn’t the first time the retail-giant-turned-technology-company has brought millions of servers online. You have probably heard of Amazon’s cloud computing business, Amazon Web Services. Let me remind you that the online book retailer also has a Cloud division that brought in $17+ Billion in 2017. Amazon has proven that they have the strategic vision and engineering credibility to accomplish anything they want. Don’t believe me? Look back at where they started, then watch this impressive talk by AWS’s VP James Hamilton back in 2016 describing the inner workings of AWS. From here on out, let’s assume that everything we see from Amazon is part of a much bigger strategy.

AWS re:Invent 2016: Tuesday Night Live with James Hamilton
“The truth about what makes us different, [is] this: …we are genuinely long-term oriented, and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things.” — Jeff Bezos

The Strategy

Amazon Web Services describes itself as providing a highly reliable, scalable, low-cost infrastructure platform. Amazon’s Cloud business is simple. Add as much computing hardware to the world for the cheapest amount of money. With Alexa and her Echo Army, it seems that Amazon is within grasp of a breakthrough: a new Cloud, highly subsidized by consumers and existing as close to the user as possible — yes, even in your bathroom.

The Last Mile

Alexa represents Amazon’s last-mile strategy for their cloud business, a role nearly identical to the one that Whole Foods provides for Amazon’s retail business. Take some time to think about the parallels. Again, let’s assume that nothing Jeff Bezos does is a coincidence.

“We are planting more seeds right now, and it is too early to talk about them, but we are going to continue to plant seeds. And I can guarantee you that everything we do will not work. And, I am never concerned about that…. We are stubborn on vision. We are flexible on details…. We don’t give up on things easily.” — Jeff Bezos

A New Cloud — With a Voice

If Amazon’s first cloud strategy was to build server farms, Amazon’s second cloud strategy might be called “release the chickens” (to stick with the farm analogy 😒…🦗🦗🦗…no?…tough crowd).

Photo by John Allspaw
If Amazon’s First Cloud consisted of millions of servers, collected and stacked to the ceilings in warehouses around the world, Amazon’s Second Cloud consists of millions of micro-servers — which we call Echos — dispersed and embedded into every nook and cranny of our physical world.

Extending the Reach of Other AWS Products

The Future of AWS Lambda is Echo.

As developers begin to shift to microservice architectures, serverless techniques and services such as AWS’s Lambda, it’s not impossible to imagine a day where developer code is actually executed on Echo devices. After all, Internet-of-Things DIY-ers can already connect a similarly sized Raspberry Pi to the AWS-cloud in just a few simple steps. Is a Raspberry Pi all that different from an AWS T2-Micro?

The Future of AWS Edge is Echo.

Similarly, AWS is progressively improving the AWS infrastructure to lower latency by getting closer and closer to the user. Amazon continually adds these Edge Locations in major cities that don’t have full-blown AWS Regions. Isn’t it feasible that the ultimate Edge location would be Echo servers in your neighborhoods and offices?

The Implications

But before you get all Red Wheelbarrow on me, let’s remember that the benefits of “Cloud” computing are significant. Businesses and individuals benefit greatly from the efficiency and economies-of-scale of sharing computing resources. It is often argued that Cloud computing allows small businesses to compete with large corporations. Similarly, a world with this immersive, micro-cloud would benefit the world’s little guys as well.

So what exactly would this micro-cloud do?

For developers, AWS’s infrastructure gets a lot larger, more redundant and much closer to users with this new AWS Mesh-Cloud. Developers of apps serving smaller geographical areas could deploy code to individual neighborhoods instead of the same old regions (us-east-1 anyone?).

And for consumers, your Prime membership gets a lot more valuable! Imagine if members had access to excess compute capacity from nearby Echos. If you have ever used a remote desktop, then you can imagine how this might work. The ability to open up a cheap $100 Chromebook and control a powerful PC is a great feeling. It almost feels like you’re cheating.

Now imagine a city with a network of these Echo servers (yours + mine + everyone else’s) offering up excess compute and internet. You ditch your sim card and pack light, traveling around with your favorite peripherals. All the processing and internet-connectedness happens on the nearest Echo, which streams content wirelessly to your devices seamlessly as you move through the city. Personally, I’ll bring along my wireless earbuds (dare I say AirPods??) and probably a phone-like futuristic streaming touch display (Let’s call it iPhone 9…) for video, reading, web browsing, messaging, etc.

So how far are we from a future like this? Admit it. Probably not as far off as you originally thought.

Don’t underestimate the Echo. Voice is at the forefront of a very exciting technology shift.

We are all-in on voice technologies and AWS. Our team at Vocool is looking for developers to help build this voice-driven future. If you use technology to solve big problems or aspire to do so, please contact us using the contact form on our website or follow us on Twitter at @getvocool.



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