How AWS lets Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spend billions on the future

Jeff Bezos owes Andy Jassy a beer. Or maybe a small Pacific island.

Time and time again, Jassy’s Amazon Web Services division has made Amazon’s overall profit numbers look better, and that includes the past quarter. Amazon would have posted a second-quarter operating loss of $288 million without AWS operating income of $916 million, and that’s the second time that’s happened in just the past year, as shown in the chart above.

Bezos has always been clear that Amazon is a company that shies away from short-term profits in order to invest in the future, and somehow that line has worked with Wall Street analysts for 20 years. But thanks to AWS, he’s been able to have it both ways; he’s been able to make huge investments in the future of Amazon, like Whole Foods, while still producing a profit thanks to the consistent operating profit provided by the cloud computing leader. That operating profit is also responsible for the surge in Amazon’s stock price over the past three years, which briefly made Bezos the world’s richest man last week.

How long can it last? Probably for a while: while shareholder pressure to spin off AWS into a separate company will continue to grow so long as it remains a profit engine, that’s not happening any time soon, and it will be a complicated exercise if and when that day comes. And while AWS will also face profit pressure as multicloud, hybrid cloud and new technologies like serverless computing exert downward pressure on profits, it’s also going to be some time before the impact sets in.

At Amazon, cloud computing is the engine that provides cover for The Everything Store to expand into literally everything, much the same way Google’s search engine is a cash machine for anything Larry Page and Sergey Brin can envision. And as we learned from Morgan Stanley at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit in June, cloud computing is really just getting started.