Netflix was arguably Amazon Web Services’ most important customer during its rise to the top of the public cloud market over the last decade, but it sounds like their special relationship is changing.
The Information reported Tuesday that Netflix has embraced Google Cloud for certain workloads, mostly focused around artificial intelligence. It’s not clear how much work has actually shifted from AWS data centers to Google (Google declined to comment), but even a minor shift marks the end of an era in which Netflix was held up as a model “all-in” AWS customer.
Netflix sought to downplay any drama. “There is no change in our comprehensive relationship with AWS. We’ve had a few disaster recovery workloads with Google for a while and we always experiment with new technologies. There’s nothing bigger here,” the company said in a statement.
Netflix made an early bet on AWS, compared to the rest of the tech industry, after struggling to scale its own infrastructure with the demands of its customers in 2008. The two companies developed a lot of the modern best practices used in cloud computing over the seven years it took Netflix to complete the move to AWS.
Times change. Google has been playing catch-up in the cloud market ever since it started to get serious about the business, but it is widely perceived as the leader in AI cloud services, which more and more companies are starting to find useful in their applications. It also has a world-class network built to handle the demands of Google search, and that infrastructure could be very useful to Netflix as a hedge against AWS issues as Netflix continues to grow.
There’s also a cost consideration. Google has been willing to come in much lower than other cloud providers in competitive bidding situations, according to lots of cloud industry watchers, as it tries to ramp up its cloud business. Google is well behind AWS and Microsoft in the cloud market, but it has started to sign deals with prominent customers such as Snap and Apple.
Netflix will likely keep a good deal of its workloads on AWS for the foreseeable future, given the investment it has made developing its infrastructure around AWS. But you probably won’t see Netflix on stage on re:Invent, the big AWS developer conference, in the future.
Putting aside the competitive drama (don’t forget that Netflix also competes with Amazon Prime Video), Netflix’s move also signals that multicloud strategies are moving from hopes and dreams to reality. Cloud vendors don’t always make it easy to move workloads between different public clouds, but companies are finding a way to spread their eggs around several baskets with technologies like containers and Kubernetes.
In chatting about the release of Docker Enterprise Edition 2.0, Docker Chief Product Office Scott Johnston told me yesterday that around half of Docker’s enterprise customers are running workloads in multiple public clouds. It’s always hard to tell how evenly those customers have split their business across multiple clouds, but if Netflix, a single-vendor public-cloud pioneer, thinks it’s time to embrace several cloud providers, you can bet other companies will follow suit.