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Why Dropbox dropped Amazon's cloud

Brandon Butler | March 18, 2016
And what it means for the cloud market

Amazon just got dumped by DropBox.

At first it seemed the relationship would last forever. A rapidly growing cloud storage startup relies on Amazon Web Services’ cloud for most of its infrastructure needs, allowing Dropbox’s engineers to focus on its product and not investing in costly infrastructure to run it.

But DropBox has decided it would rather be single. The company announced in a blog post this week that it would build up its own infrastructure stack and move mostly off of AWS.

Could this be a sign that as companies grow their cloud that it could be more efficient to build their own cloud? If so, what is that cut-off point where its more efficient to not use the public cloud?

There were two factors that made Akhil Gupta, vice president of Infrastructure for Dropbox, realize that the company should get out of the cloud. The first is size and growth. Dropbox has 500 million users and is storing 500 petabytes of data. “The scale that we’re operating on is one that very few other companies will get to,” Gupta says.

Secondly, Gupta wanted to have end-to-end control of the infrastructure so that he could control the performance, reliability and overall user experience. “By optimizing the stack and customizing the infrastructure to our use case, we were able to provide a key differentiator in the market and a key value to our users,” Gupta says.

Not every company has the scale Dropbox operates at. And most companies would not see a huge benefit from customizing infrastructure to tailor it to their specific needs, Gupta says. Dropbox’s journey took two and a half years and required investments in personnel to figure out how infrastructure should be customized and other workers to manage their data centers.

“Customization is a lot of work upfront,” Gupta said. The return on investment is over a long period of time, so you need to have the scale to invest in the teams and develop relationships with vendors. Public clouds, Gupta admits, are very good at offering infrastructure services that are good enough for many workloads. Dropbox will still be using AWS for some services, but its main storage platform will be run internally.

Forrester Research Vice President Richard Fichera says unfortunately there is no simple rule for when it is more efficient to run something in your own data center compared to using the public cloud. But generally the cloud is a very efficient place to run most workloads. “Unless you’re in the upper few percentiles of size, it probably doesn’t make sense,” Fichera says of going-it-alone. Even if you do have the scale that would make economic sense to run it in-house, there are other advantages that the cloud brings. Cloud vendors provide you storage as a service – there is no infrastructure hardware to manage.

 

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