AWS, COVID-19, And The Need For Speed In Time Of Crisis

As a tech analyst, I’ve been closely following the tech industry’s efforts across the board to rise to the occasion and support the radical changes to the way we live, work, and socialize brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the companies on the frontline of all this is Amazon—of course, part of this is the huge influx of people turning to the e-commerce giant for all of their shopping needs.

But another big part of the company’s response lies in its AWS public cloud, which has been working in overdrive to help its customers scale up to meet the demands of the crisis. I wrote recently on AWS and how three of its commercial apps are helping people—specifically Amazon Connect, which helps customers quickly spin up a contact center for their business, Chime, the company’s collaborative communication service, and its Amazon WorkSpaces DaaS (desktop-as-a-service) offering, which serves as a cost-friendly alternative to on-prem VDI. I also recently covered the company’s earnings—despite an increase of 26% in net sales, the company’s operating income decreased from $4.4B to $4B. And for that matter, Amazon says it’s putting that $4B into the fight against the pandemic. In my mind, this refutes the notion that Amazon is “cleaning up” and profiteering off the crisis. Instead, it seems to me the company is putting customers ahead of its financials.

Today, I’d like to follow that up with a closer look at some customer testimonials that detail just how AWS has aided them in quickly acclimating to what may indeed be “the new normal” for some time to come. There’s been a lot of talk about “breadth” but not a lot about “speed” which I want to explore. Let’s take a look.

Supporting remote learning, telehealth, telework

Amazon customer Edmodo is a company that provides tools and education technology for K-12 schools, students, and teachers. Its charter is to give its 125 million worldwide members a secure, online space for collaboration and communication. When schools across the globe began closing due to COVID-19, Edmodo’s traffic began to balloon up exponentially. What might have been a useful tool before to schools suddenly became a necessity, as all classroom learning suddenly migrated online. According to the company, AWS and its EC2 instances allowed Edmodo to quickly ramp up and meet the new demands without interrupting services. To give you an idea of how much it had to scale up, the company says it had to increase its capacity by 15 times. That is no small feat.

Another customer that benefited from AWS’s speedy scaling is global videoconferencing provider BlueJeans, who provides high-quality video and audio tools to everyone from healthcare providers, to educators, to remote workers. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see why BlueJeans got walloped. The company says that the March COVID surge blasted its usage up 300% above average—a veritable explosion. Luckily, the company, who utilizes a hybrid infrastructure, had already migrated its critical workloads over to Amazon’s EC2 services. Thanks to this, BlueJeans was able to double its number of regions to include US East (Ohio), APAC (Mumbai) and APAC (Singapore). BlueJeans also says it utilized AWS instance types (C,M and R) with time-of-day scaling in order to better manage costs during the surge. As it did with Edmodo, AWS’s quick scaling enabled BlueJeans to smoothly stay on top of traffic increases and ensure business continuity for its customers.

Helping government help the unemployed

With the unemployment rate topping 14.7% last week, the worst since the Great Depression, there has been enormous stress on the governmental agencies responsible for approving unemployment insurance claims. Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training (DLT), which manages the state’s claims, says it received 140,000 initial claims in the initial 45 days after a state of emergency was declared in the state. Utilizing AWS’s Amazon Connect service, the department was able to spin up a massive cloud call center capable of handling 2,000 simultaneous calls in only 10 days. Imagine the time a claimant would have to wait on hold if there were 2,000 claimants waiting to get on the line before you. That’s obviously an extreme scenario, but it illustrates how critical it is for organizations such as the DLT to have the capacity to help people during these chaotic times.

Similarly, the State of Kentucky’s unemployment call center, traditionally staffed by a handful of people, was in need of a major upgrade. It also turned to Amazon Connect to deploy a cloud based call center, which it says was up and running in one afternoon. For that matter, it took all of 30 minutes for the organization to train its agents on the new technology so that they could work remotely (they previously had to work from the state offices).

Another governmental agency, the California Energy Commission, deployed Amazon Chime Pro’s videoconferencing solution to its 700 employees in under 24 hours—another very fast turnaround.

Helping the financial sector

Another AWS customer, FINRA, is a financial services company that regulates brokerage firms that do business with the U.S. public. Needless to say, the U.S. securities markets have been going haywire with the uncertainties introduced by the pandemic. Because of this, FINRA says it has seen a 2-3 times increase in market volumes since March. This represents a record-setting peak, but AWS’s automatic provisioning capabilities enabled it to process the surge, and then shut it back to nothing, no human effort required.

Also in the realm of finance, Enova, one of the largest licensed U.S. lenders says it utilized Amazon WorkSpaces DaaS (mentioned in the opening paragraph) to deploy the company’s first-ever work-from-home solution for over 1,200 employees, in a mere 24 hours. That is incredibly fast for an organization of Enova’s size, starting from scratch.

In the realm of leisure

Another side effect of the quarantine is that more and more people are holed up watching TV instead of going out on the town. Home entertainment streaming services have, really not surprisingly, also experienced a significant uptick in usage and new members. Netflix, who needs no introduction, says AWS allowed it to quickly scale up its control plane services to meet the rising demand with the help of its Auto Scaling offering.

Then there’s Pinterest, the popular visual discovery engine, who also experienced an uptick in users during this time as more and more people turned to the platform to discover new projects to work on, new foods to cook, public health information and more. As with the others, AWS was able to provide Pinterest additional capacity to keep the site up throughout the crisis.

Also in the realm of leisure, Snap, the maker of the popular Snapchat app, had its own COVID-19 surge—purportedly 30% more usage on average in the final week of March, versus the final week of January, with as much as a 50% increase in a few of Snap’s larger markets. Snap says AWS’s EC2 and DynamoDB services gave it the performance and reliability necessary to keep its customers happy during the influx.

Wrapping up

In a rapidly evolving global crisis, every week, every day, every hour can make a huge difference. In addition to being a huge source of customer pain, downtimes can cost businesses a lot of money—and this is not a good time to be losing money.  Beyond these companies mentioned, I would imagine many AWS customers are pretty happy with their public cloud selection right about now. Not many companies have the global scale and footprint to quickly scale up capacity to manage an unprecedented emergency such as this one. Or speed. I believe Amazon does.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.