How AWS and Other Cloud Providers Became the Internet’s Most Powerful Moderators

In another era, Parler would have owned its servers—and remained online

Owen Williams
OneZero
Published in
4 min readJan 15, 2021

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Photo: Thiago Prudêncio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

When Amazon Web Services decided to stop hosting the alt-right social network Parler last week following the insurrection at the Capitol, it looked like the site was doomed to go offline.

Migrating an app successfully between cloud providers, and ensuring it works on the other side as expected, is hard enough. But moving the vast amounts of data associated with a social network (likely hundreds of terabytes of information) would be agonizingly slow, taking far longer than the 24-hour warning Amazon gave Parler.

Unfortunately for Parler, virtually every other vendor was ditching them as well. With cloud providers rejecting them and no physical servers of its own, Parler has nowhere to go and now says it may never return.

The swift shutdown of Parler illustrates a wonder of the modern internet. It’s simple to get a website or service online without ever physically seeing or touching a server. Developers can choose from an array of hosts, from Amazon Web Services to Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, click a few buttons, and be online in a few minutes. These companies manage vast data centers full of servers, renting them out by the hour, so you don’t need to think about setting up your own gear. They have centralized much of the web, which gives them unprecedented power to police it.

This is a relatively new phenomenon. Until just over a decade ago, getting anything online at scale was a complicated, expensive process. It required procuring expensive physical servers from a company like Dell or HP, putting them in a data center somewhere, and configuring them yourself to get them up and running. Smaller companies might contract with a “colocation” provider like Rackspace to rent a spot for their servers in its data center, but the arrangement was expensive and slow, taking days or weeks to get the contracts…

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Owen Williams
OneZero

Fascinated by how code and design is shaping the world. I write about the why behind tech news. Design Manager in Tech. https://twitter.com/ow