Disgusting: Amazon treats people like virtual machines – the human cloud

This article is not directly about cloud computing, but if I look at the whole issue I see many similarities with the concept of the Amazon Web Services. Beyond that it makes me very angry, how a company like Amazon treats its employees – notabene HUMANS.


A recently published documentary by the ARD (video) has revealed the inhuman machinations of the world’s biggest retailer Amazon with temporary workers in Germany. That the working conditions in the Amazon logistics centers are generally described as very poor is no secret, there have been several reports about it. But what this report reveals is among all human dignity, for which all stakeholders including Amazon itself must be held publicly accountable.

The report reveals that the success of Amazon is generated on the back of temporary workers that must “live” under worst conditions, and this here in the middle of Germany. Therefore the corporation collects Europe-wide contract workers and accommodate them in unused holiday villages. Amazon uses subcontractors e.g. for the recruitment and the “security” of the temporary workers. In totally overcrowded buses, employees are brought into the distribution centers. If they come to late to the shiftwork – even without their own fault – they paid less. The documentary shows how a company like Amazon “… must bring along 5,000 people for three months and then get rid of.

Amazon treats contract workers like virtual machines

In order to get a little curve to the cloud, I see so many parallels between the disregard of human dignity through Amazon and the cloud computing concept as it operates by the Amazon Web Services. Simply swap the term “virtual machine” to the word “human“.

Amazon requires, as the report good describes, “humans on demand” and let them work through 15 days in a row. Amazon transfers the concept of the cloud, so the principles of “on demand” and “pay per use” in its retail business and in the logistics centers, and thus creates its “human cloud”. It is a very good analog example for the technical situation of the webshop during the Christmas season. Meanwhile, excessive resources for computing power are needed to keep the shop stable because of the high requests. The situation is similar in the logistics centers. If the requests at the webshop increase, the commissions are need to approved, accepted and prepared for shipment. If the requests decline, even in the warehouses less is going on. Accordingly, fewer people are needed, which are then no longer need to be paid. An example of an Amazon headman of the logistics center in Koblenz: “3300 employees work here, 3100 of them are temporary.”

Theoretically a nice idea Amazon, but that does not work! You can not boot up humans like virtual machines and then dispose them when they are no longer needed!

By Rene Buest

Rene Buest is Gartner Analyst covering Infrastructure Services & Digital Operations. Prior to that he was Director of Technology Research at Arago, Senior Analyst and Cloud Practice Lead at Crisp Research, Principal Analyst at New Age Disruption and member of the worldwide Gigaom Research Analyst Network. Rene is considered as top cloud computing analyst in Germany and one of the worldwide top analysts in this area. In addition, he is one of the world’s top cloud computing influencers and belongs to the top 100 cloud computing experts on Twitter and Google+. Since the mid-90s he is focused on the strategic use of information technology in businesses and the IT impact on our society as well as disruptive technologies.

Rene Buest is the author of numerous professional technology articles. He regularly writes for well-known IT publications like Computerwoche, CIO Magazin, LANline as well as and is cited in German and international media – including New York Times, Forbes Magazin, Handelsblatt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Wirtschaftswoche, Computerwoche, CIO, Manager Magazin and Harvard Business Manager. Furthermore Rene Buest is speaker and participant of experts rounds. He is founder of and writes about cloud computing, IT infrastructure, technologies, management and strategies. He holds a diploma in computer engineering from the Hochschule Bremen (Dipl.-Informatiker (FH)) as well as a M.Sc. in IT-Management and Information Systems from the FHDW Paderborn.

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