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Amazon CTO: Data center workers deserve credit for ‘keeping the lights on’ during COVID-19

·Technology Editor
·4 min read
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Amazon (AMZN) Web Services (AWS) is the backbone of much of the internet, counting millions of websites as its customers, ranging from Airbnb (ABNB) and Ancestry.com to McDonald’s (MCD) and Volkswagen.

The world’s largest cloud provider, it has ensured that video chatting apps like Zoom (ZM), streaming services like Netflix (NFLX), and virtual learning platforms have operated throughout a pandemic that has kept everybody at a physical distance.

And according to Amazon CTO Werner Vogels, Amazon’s thousands of data center workers, who operate its some 200 data centers across the globe, deserve much of the credit for keeping those digital lifelines intact during a year of unending uncertainty.

“As much as frontline workers get all the credit, I think our data center techs should be getting a lot of credit as well for keeping the lights on for everyone,” Vogels told Yahoo Finance in an interview ahead of his appearance at this year’s all-digital SXSW Online on Tuesday.

Vogels, who heads up innovation at Amazon, highlighted the 15th anniversary of the launch of AWS, which remains the world’s preeminent cloud computing platform, edging out Microsoft’s Azure for the top spot with 31% of total global market share, according to Canalys. Amazon recently signaled its commitment to its cloud business, having selected AWS head and “cloud titan” Andy Jassy to replace CEO Jeff Bezos when he steps down this summer.

Amazon’s data center workers kept websites online at a point when even internet service providers were overwhelmed by the volume of users who needed to access a variety of online tools for work, school, and staying in touch, Vogels pointed out. To do this, Amazon needed to expand capacity at its various data centers and lean on the company’s technical expertise to ensure its services remained stable throughout the early days of the pandemic, he said.

Dr. Werner Vogels who is the Chief Technical Officer of Amazon.com, addresses the crowd on new software developments during a keynote session at the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Dr. Werner Vogels who is the Chief Technical Officer of Amazon.com, addresses the crowd on new software developments during a keynote session at the Amazon Re:MARS conference on robotics and artificial intelligence at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 6, 2019. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP)

Amazon’s cloud capabilities weren’t without their hiccups, though. In November, the company suffered an outage that impacted one of its AWS geographic regions, disrupting services provided by the likes of Autodesk (ADSK), Glassdoor, and Roku (ROKU).

Of course, the explosive growth in consumers jumping online pushed many Amazon customers to require ever more resources to remain connected to the web. To deal with that, Vogels said, Amazon deployed its AWS Disaster Response teams, which proactively reached out to customers to ensure they had the capacity necessary to keep their services online.

“We helped to make sure that they could use economies of scale such that the costs wouldn’t rise as fast as their usage would,” Vogels said.

On the flip side, the company also worked with companies in the hospitality and restaurant industries to reduce their AWS costs at a time when they were using far fewer resources than they otherwise would.

While AWS might have run relatively smoothly during the early days of the pandemic, the company’s retail operations were stung by the expected increase in consumers buying up everything from toilet paper to cleaning supplies, leading to extensive delays.

As a result of the massive growth in its e-commerce operations, Amazon hired 400,000 new employees, bringing its total to more than 1 million, and moved its annual Prime Day sale from July to October.

Amazon has also faced increasing scrutiny over how it treats its legions of warehouse workers, some of whom staged protests on Amazon Prime Day to voice their fears over contracting the coronavirus at work. Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are currently voting on whether to form a union — in a referendum that has captured national attention.

Amazon has strongly contested the assertion that it has neglected the health and safety of its workers. “Nothing’s more important than the health and safety of our employees, and we’re doing everything we can to support them through the pandemic,” Amazon Spokesperson Maria Boschetti previously told Yahoo Finance in a statement.

In April, as the pandemic was spreading across the U.S., Bezos donned a mask and toured an Amazon fulfillment center and Whole Foods grocery store to personally thank Amazon fulfillment center and Whole Foods employees.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com over via encrypted mail at danielphowley@protonmail.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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