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The head of Amazon’s cloud denies crushing the competition (but says Amazon is still number one)

February 13, 2020, 2:12 PM UTC

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The part-time DJ David Solomon, brilliantly profiled last year by Jen Wieczner in Fortune, is a pretty good interviewer too. The CEO of Goldman Sachs spent nearly 40 minutes at a San Francisco banking conference Wednesday gently probing Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, with questions that yielded some interesting answers.  

Solomon’s query on competition yielded a surprising response given that Amazon executives typically say with a straight face they pay no attention whatsoever to competitors. On the downside, Solomon managed to avoid asking Jassy about AWS’s failed quest to win the Pentagon’s JEDI cloud-computing contract or its quixotic effort to depose Donald Trump about it.

Some highlights: 

  • Jassy stressed that AWS sells to “every imaginable business vertical,” a key marketing point for the Amazon unit, given its roots of selling first to itself and then, for years, primarily to startups. Jassy also referenced the 6,500 government agencies worldwide that are AWS customers—though he didn’t call out any, such as the CIA—and he mentioned several times the importance of “public sector” clients. 
  • Leaders and followers in cloud computing like to stress how early-days it is for the technology. Jassy quantified matters with a baseball metaphor: “Two outs, bottom of the first, runners on board,” he said. “Runs have been scored, though.” Translation: Many big companies have yet to convert from owning their own data center to renting computing services. But Jassy’s “runs scored” means it’s a real business already. He thinks the trend is so big, by the way, that “we won’t get to the ninth inning in my lifetime (of) working.” 
  • Jassy said Amazon was surprised how long it took competitors to catch on to what AWS was doing, saying his company has a six-to-seven-year head start. No matter how hard the likes of Microsoft, Google, and IBM (none of whom he named) work, he thinks AWS retains an advantage due to better functionality, a larger ecosystem of partners, and more experience.  
  • He pooh-poohed the notion that Amazon’s competitive zeal in the rest of its business will hurt its ability to win customers. For one, technology buyers will buy the best, which, naturally, is AWS. And he sought to dispel the “myth” that Amazon crushes all comers. The three areas he called out are worth noting: Amazon is pursuing a healthcare initiative but great healthcare companies still exist; Amazon tried and failed to make a phone; Amazon has aspirations in payments but “PayPal seems to be doing okay.” 

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam.lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

Contagion update. Coronavirus disrupted Mobile World Congress, which was officially canceled on Wednesday. “Global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” the conference organizer explained.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Former Google guy Andy Rubin (yes, that Andy Rubin) is shuttering his smartphone startup Essential. The company's 2017 debut phone was one of the first to feature an edge-to-edge display with just a small, round cutout for the camera. But it was plagued by performance issues and didn't sell well.

In my younger and more vulnerable years. In real-estate tech world (or is it tech real-estate world), Amazon chief Jeff Bezos broke the highest price record for Los Angeles-area property, agreeing to pay $165 million for a Beverly Hills mansion. Previous owner David Geffen paid $47.5 million in 1990.

Working for the clampdown. In our latest Fortune poll, the public expressed some unease about the T-Mobile Sprint merger. Some 45% of Americans are concerned about consolidation among mobile carriers, while 34% are not concerned. T-Mobile customers are most satisfied in the industry, at 92%, with Sprint's the least satisfied, at 82%.

Ups and downs. On Wall Street, Cisco Systems issued a cautious forecast even as its last quarter's sales and profit met analysts' forecasts. Revenue of $12 billion was down 4% from a year earlier. Shares of Cisco, up 5% so far in 2020, lost all 5% in pre-market trading on Thursday. E-commerce platform Shopify said its revenue jumped 47% to $505 million, better than expected. Its shares, already up 34% in 2020, dropped 1% in pre-market trading. And Spotify disclosed in a securities filing that it will pay almost $200 million in cash for podcast network The Ringer.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The story of Facebook's origin has been told multiple times, including in the engaging movie The Social Network. But longtime tech journalist Steven Levy has dug up some new information in the form of pages from Mark Zuckerberg's handwritten notebooks. In a long feature for Wired, Levy recounts his many interviews with Zuck over the years and discloses what the future CEO was thinking way back when.

The notebooks have now mostly disappeared, destroyed by Zuckerberg himself. He says he did it for privacy reasons. This is in keeping with sentiments he expressed to me about the pain of having many of his early IMs and emails exposed in the aftermath of legal proceedings. “Would you want every joke that you made to someone being printed and taken out of context later?” he asks, adding that the exposure of his juvenile jottings is a factor in his current push to build encryption and ephemerality into Facebook's products. But I discovered that those early writings aren't totally lost. Snippets, presumably those he copied and shared, present a revealing window into his thinking at the time. I got ahold of a 17-page chunk from what might be the most significant of his journals in terms of Facebook's evolution. He named it “Book of Change.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Business’s coronavirus conundrum: What’s the best alternative to a handshake? By Eamon Barrett

Airbnb’s bottom line is hurting. New safety efforts could make matters worse By Aric Jenkins

Exclusive: Space Internet startup Astranis raises $90 million By Aaron Pressman

How virtual reality could help women during childbirth By Sy Mukherjee

Businesses lost an extra $500 million from email scams last year. Here’s how By Alyssa Newcomb

Popular antivirus software Avast under investigation for selling user browsing histories By Chris Morris

Huawei poses a 5G spying risk, but other options are hard to come by By David Meyer

BEFORE YOU GO

As we continue worrying about the coronavirus outbreak (which I'll have more time to do since MWC was cancelled), some interesting perspectives have emerged out there. Fortune spoke to screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who wrote the 2011 thriller Contagion (famous in our household because Gwyneth Paltrow plays patient zero), and his medical adviser Dr. Larry Brilliant, who helped wipe out smallpox in real life. Brilliant is worried about whether coronavirus may be spreading untracked in countries with poor health care systems. "My fear is what we don’t know," he says. "Are there countries with weak immunity systems where the virus has been there for five weeks, spreading unseen?”

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com