If cloud computing services offer the tremendous benefits and flexibility that executives promise, why doesn't Amazon Web Services (AWS) charge more for them? It's not just that they may be kind-hearted people: AWS is looking to build economies of scale and set low prices that act as a barrier to entry for new competitors.
Service providers and IT vendors are quick to tout the benefits of cloud computing, citing the ease with which companies can test and deploy applications or scale up the number of servers they are running during periods of peak demand. They also cite the financial benefits that come from using cloud computing services, such as the ability to exchange up-front capital investments in favor of variable expenses that can be spread out over many months or years.
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The value that companies get from these services should mean customers are willing to pay a premium for them, but AWS wants to keep its prices low, giving up the opportunity to earn higher margins in exchange for greater economies of scale that give it an edge over rivals -- a strategy that Andy Jassy, senior vice president of AWS, said is rooted in the company's heritage as an online bookseller.
"We always have tried to look at what our cost structure is and then, as much as we possibly can, give those savings back to customers. I think some of it really comes from the way that we think about our businesses, every business," said Jassy, who's worked in all of Amazon's business units during 13 years at the company.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it will be a high volume, low margin business," he said.
The AWS business model is simple. The company offers a range of cloud-computing services and charges customers based on how much they use them. There is no minimum monthly fee.
For example, AWS bills customers of its CloudFront content distribution service every month based on how much data is transferred, the number of download requests received, and where the data is distributed from. For content distributed from Amazon's servers in the U.S., the company charges $0.15 per gigabyte for the first 10TB transferred each month, with the price per gigabyte declining as the total monthly volume of data increases. Prices are slightly higher for content distributed outside the U.S, particularly in Asia.
This low-cost approach to cloud computing resonates with customers used to paying higher prices for their in-house systems, Jassy said.
"Cost was a big driver for them, and it wasn't the only driver for them, but they felt like for a long time that technology providers had been making very rich margins on them, even when their cost structure would have afforded to giving some of that back to customers," he said.