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It's Actually Pretty Much Impossible To Quit Amazon

05/29/2014 07:31 am ET | Updated May 29, 2014

You may want to quit shopping at Amazon these days, considering how the whole blow-up with Hachette is going.

Amazon has come under fire for its handling of e-book negotiations with Hachette, the fourth-largest U.S. book publisher. Amazon reportedly wants to pay less to Hachette, but the publisher won't budge. While negotiations stall, Amazon has made it extremely difficult for its customers to buy some Hachette books, outraging some authors and readers. Amazon also has been criticized for poor pay and working conditions for warehouse workers and delivery drivers.

But breaking free of the Amazon empire is near impossible -- because of a part of Amazon's business you may never have even heard of.

Sure, you can visit a local bookstore for your books, order your Chromecast from Google or buy toys from the local toy store (if there is one).

But Amazon is much more than just "The Everything Store." It's also the largest provider of cloud services in the world. Its cloud computing arm, Amazon Web Services, or AWS, touches nearly every corner of the Web.

Have a smartphone? Use apps on that smartphone? What about a Netflix account? Do you visit Reddit? Use Yelp? Shop at Etsy? Read The New York Times?

If you answered yes to any of those, then you're using Amazon. All of these companies use, or have used, AWS.

Other big companies and organizations that have relied on AWS technology include PBS, Pinterest and the University of Notre Dame.

The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA, and even President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign have also been customers of Amazon Web Services.

And these are just the companies and groups that have spoken publicly about their use of AWS. There are hundreds of thousands of other customers all over the world.

As much of 70 percent of what you do online each day may be connected in some way to AWS, estimated James Staten, an analyst at Forrester who covers cloud computing.

Although it's easy to stop buying products from Amazon, "it would be super hard to completely exit Amazon," Staten said.

Amazon is tight-lipped about how much money AWS generates. But MGI Research, an independent research and advisory firm, pegs that number at $5 billion for 2013, increasing to $6 billion to $7 billion this year. Although that's a fraction of Amazon's $74.5 billion in sales last year, it's still a huge business.

As The New York Times' Quentin Hardy wrote last fall, AWS is "estimated to be five times larger than 14 other cloud-computing providers combined."

"They are hands-down the clear leader in public cloud infrastructure," said Andrew Dailey, managing director at MGI Research. "No one is close."

"The point is you're using it whether you know it or not."

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