Skip to main content

Mapping out Amazon’s invisible server empire

Mapping out Amazon’s invisible server empire


It’s bigger than you think

Share this story

Amazon’s network of servers for hire is so big and so invisible that it can be hard to take it in. Luckily, there is a surprising number of tools to help you along. One of the best tools comes from Amazon itself, which offers an interactive color-coded map of all the Amazon Web Services locations around the world. There are lots of them, and none of the locations are any more specific than “near San Francisco,” but it’s still fascinating. If you look at the map long enough, you start to see the strategy behind it, with an AWS presence near population centers on each continent and just enough backups to reroute if any single region goes haywire.

A lot of the more specific information we have about AWS’s physical footprint comes from WikiLeaks, which published the so-called “Amazon Atlas” last October. The release didn’t get much attention at the time — in large part because of WikiLeaks’ ongoing political decline — but it’s a really interesting look into Amazon’s network of data centers, which has grown into a kind of globe-spanning parallel internet. Mostly, it includes specific locations for many of the data centers in the US and overseas.

The location of those data centers isn’t quite as secretive as WikiLeaks likes to suggest (some of them are even labeled on Google Maps), but there’s still a lot to learn from the atlas. When I think of an AWS hub, I tend to think of an enormous suburban warehouse entirely controlled by Amazon, the digital equivalent of its notoriously demanding fulfillment centers. Those warehouses really do exist — particularly in Virginia, Oregon, and Washington state — but most of the AWS footprint consists of overseas hubs in colocation centers run by companies like Equinix or Securus. Amazon has the same level of control over its servers and network in those hubs, but it’s easier to let someone else take care of the actual building, especially since colocation makes it easier to interconnect when fiber is scarce.

This level of infrastructure has never seen the kind of bloodthirsty competition we see over the rest of the tech stack. In part, that’s because of the structure of the internet itself. It’s easy to connect to the internet (that’s the whole point), which means it’s hard to build the kind of competitive advantage over hosting that you could have over social networks or e-commerce. Still, as the internet centralizes and closes off, there’s always a chance that data centers and fiber connections will be one of the places where intercorporate conflicts play out. If that happens, the sheer scale of AWS will be a huge advantage for Amazon. If you’ve ever wondered why Amazon’s streaming service has never had the same interconnection problems as Netflix, the sheer inescapability of AWS is why.

The Verge on YouTube /

Exclusive first looks at new tech, reviews, and shows like In the Making.