Startup heaven or megaprise tar pit?

Another day, another step towards Amazon’s play for global domination of tieing in startups to their infrastructure. The latest kid out of the blocks is Amazon Dev Pay – a one stop shop for handling customer account and payment functionality. Anyone who has had to deal with this kind of stuff knows that handling it well is both critically important to a business and also, generally, a sideline to its main activities. It is also quite hard to do right. The question is: should you use it?

I think it is going to be very interesting to see what happens to those startups that have successfully bootstrapped themselves up on the basis of Amazons infrastructure. They are going to be in the rather precarious position of having (hopefully) a very successful business on their hands and also being almost entirely dependent on someone elses infrastructure. I know Amazon made a big step forward a few months ago with the announcement of SLAs but you have to wonder how tightly coupled a lot of these companies actually are to AWS.

As it currently stands I would imagine that many of these companies have no desire to leave the safety of AWS. I also have no reason to believe that Amazon have any intention of causing them any harm. Indeed everything I have seen and heard from Amazon indicates to me that they know that what is good for their customers is good for them and they would actively try to do the right thing. But you have to wonder what will happen when one of these startups becomes a megaprise in its own right and starts to cause tension in the relationship. Migrating out of AWS is going to be an incredibly difficult proposition for many of these companies. What currently seems like startup heaven could well become a megaprise tar pit.

Tim Bray was right recently when he said that for a startup “Getting started should be free. Also, it shouldn’t take more than a few days.“. Amazon clearly subscribe to that mentality. I wonder whether they also subscribe to one of Tim’s other points: “Try to lock them in and they’ll walk away. Put it another way: make it easy to walk away, and they’ll come back.”?

What would the Amazon legal team do if someone created an opensource implementation of S3 or SimpleDB in a similar manner to Hadoop? Would they allow an open source implementation that even cloned the APIs? Whilst the technical services have the luxury of making use of Amazons vast compute scale and would be, basically, impotent for the vast majority of users what about the financial services such as Dev Pay? Clearly this is a service in the same right as all the others, and it is not clear that it is not reproducible on a much smaller scale. Will Amazon try to lock you in or make it easy to walk away?

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