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Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy, June 2016 (Amazon photo)
Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy outlines the company’s plans in June 2016. (Amazon photo)

Amazon Web Services, now 10 years old, is by far the dominant public-cloud service, but can it retain its lead? More than 24,000 AWS customers and tire-kickers will be gathering at re:Invent 2016 in Las Vegas next week to learn more about how to consume the company’s services, what it’s planning, and how Amazon will respond to competitors seeking a bigger piece of pie, especially second-place Microsoft Azure.

RELATED: Amazon Web Services re:Invent preview: 5 themes to watch, from Madrona’s Matt McIlwain

It’s AWS’s battle to lose. The organization is growing at an amazing rate, heading for a $12 billion year that could make an understatement out of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ prediction that AWS will deliver $10 billion in sales this year. It’s also a consistently profitable enterprise, one that has repeatedly saved its parent company from having to report an operating loss.

AWS CTO Werner Vogels
AWS CTO Werner Vogels

But AWS can’t rest on its laurels. Morgan Stanley this summer predicted that Azure will emerge as the dominant provider of infrastructure and platform as a service by 2019.

Microsoft consistently wins praise for supporting hybrid (on-premises plus cloud) computing, an approach many if not most companies naturally prefer when initially confronting the cloud. A stronger offering in this realm could really increase AWS’s appeal to the enterprise.

Microsoft’s long experience with selling into the enterprise is one AWS simply can’t match. (Neither can third-place Google Cloud, for that matter.) And many companies report Azure requires less engineering effort to put together the pieces than AWS or ultra-techy Google Cloud. So more guidance in the form of wizards, and a salesforce with stronger experience selling into medium and large companies, are measures AWS could profitably implement. It could at least make clear that it feels their corporate pain.

AWS Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton

AWS is of course mum on announcements planned for the conference, but Fortune speculated it will unveil a PostgreSQL database service, just as it took popular open-source database MySQL and turned it into the managed service dubbed Aurora.

Amazon’s acquisition of business messaging and video conferencing startup Biba Systems, first reported by GeekWire, could also factor into AWS’s announcements at the event. TechCrunch cites a source who says Amazon will unveil a video conferencing product, possibly based on Biba’s technology, at re:Invent next week.

Artificial intelligence, probably the hottest technology trend right now, will almost certainly figure into the mix. So might enhanced voice-interface services, building on the popularity of Alexa Voice Service.

If the past is any guide, the announcements could be major. At last year’s conference, held in early October rather than after Thanksgiving, AWS debuted its Internet of Things service. It announced its online software marketplace had grown to more than 2,300 listings and created new competencies (credentials for consultants) in DevOps, migration and Internet of Things. And it announced QuickSight, a cloud-based business intelligence and visualization service.

Claimed to be “the largest global cloud-computing conference,” re:Invent will take place Monday through Thursday. It has been sold out for weeks. Attendance is up 26 percent over last year’s conference, which 19,000 people attended. Another 38,000 watched AWS CEO Andy Jassy’s livestreamed keynote speech.

GeekWire will be reporting from the scene, and the two main keynotes, by Jassy (8 a.m. PT Wednesday) and by CTO Werner Vogels (8:30 a.m. Thursday), will be livestreamed. So will a presentation by Distinguished Engineer James Hamilton (8 p.m. Tuesday).

The gathering’s focus is at least as much on education as it is on sales and marketing. This year there will be more than 400 instructional sessions, up from 278 last year. One-hour breakout sessions are broken down by six industry focuses and three levels of expertise and are spread among three hotels. Entire tracks are devoted to big data, containers, databases, DevOps, gaming, mobile, networking, storage, and building skills for Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant.

“Mini-cons” — full-day sessions — will address large topics like security, serverless computing and machine learning. To avoid being squeezed out of sessions, this year for the first time those attending have been able to reserve seats, joining waitlists if the sessions are full.

There are full-day technical and business-oriented bootcamps, and those attending can get AWS certified as solutions architects, developers, DevOps engineers or SysOps administrators. Of course, certification exams can also be taken elsewhere, but it’s probably an extra kick to get certified while infused with the show’s cloudy essence.

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