Amazon built a $2 trillion company through years of aggressive spending on its retail and logistics businesses. Its future gains will likely be determined by the billions designated to fund its artificial-intelligence push.

Amazon is planning to spend more than $100 billion over the next decade on data centers, an impressive level of investment even for a company known for its spending ways. The Seattle company is now devoting more investment money to its cloud computing and AI infrastructure than to its sprawling network of e-commerce warehouses.

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Amazon Web Services, the arm that manages Amazon’s cloud business, has opened data centers for years, but executives said there is a surge in investment now to meet demand triggered by the excitement around AI.

“We have to dive in. We have to figure it out,” said John Felton, who took over as AWS’s chief financial officer this year after spending most of his career in Amazon’s retail fulfillment operations.

Amazon is pouring billions into its AWS cloud business to meet demand from the growth of artificial intelligence.

Amazon is pouring billions into its AWS cloud business to meet demand from the growth of artificial intelligence. – Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The company’s financial commitment reflects the importance and high costs of AI. Felton said building for AI today feels like building that massive delivery network in years past. “It’s a little uncertain,” he said. AWS is expanding in Virginia, Ohio and elsewhere.

The company’s overall capital expenditures decreased last year primarily because it reined in fulfillment and transportation spending, but the share of that spending on infrastructure mostly for AWS has surged. The increase represents a new era of expansion for Amazon, in which investing in cutting-edge cloud equipment is more critical to its growth than developing its network of retail warehouses.

Amazon’s spending on data-center capital expenses, including leases, compared with total capital expenditures hit a decade-high last year of 53%, according to market-research firm Dell’Oro Group. Amazon said it expects AWS infrastructure spending to remain high this year, and the company has announced many AWS investments in recent months.

Amazon’s cloud business has long been the company’s profit engine, and AI is expected to catapult demand for cloud computing to new heights. Executives are aiming to take advantage of the AI boom, which relies on cloud services because of the intensive computing resources required. Amazon expects tens of billions of dollars in revenue from AI in the next several years.

An Amazon Web Services data center in Hilliard, Ohio, part of the cloud-computing infrastructure Amazon is building.

An Amazon Web Services data center in Hilliard, Ohio, part of the cloud-computing infrastructure Amazon is building. – Brian Kaiser/Bloomberg News

“We’re just keeping our heads down and focusing on delivering that capacity right now,” said Kevin Miller, AWS vice president of global data centers.

Amazon’s shift represents the changing needs of a company that, despite having the world’s leading cloud-computing business and years of experimenting with AI, is seen by some experts as trailing in AI behind its big tech peers. Amazon has said it isn’t falling behind others in AI and its AI capabilities at AWS have been well-received by customers.

Amazon has a long history of spending big to stay ahead. It had years of heavy capital investment in its delivery infrastructure to establish its e-commerce dominance and then to meet explosive demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

That heavy investment contributed to Amazon this past week becoming the fifth-ever U.S. company to reach the milestone of $2 trillion in market value. The stock closed Friday at $193.25, valuing the company at $2.011 trillion.

Amazon’s increased focus on data centers is also reflected in the company’s senior leadership, which has increasingly become stocked with people with connections to the cloud business. Andy Jassy served as the AWS chief executive for more than two decades before becoming Amazon’s chief executive in 2021.

“There is a natural tendency to invest more in AWS and technology for the folks left behind because that’s what they grew and built,” said Cayce Roy, chief executive at e-commerce fulfillment company Standvast and a former vice president at Amazon.

Amazon plans to add at least 216 new data-center buildings in the next several years, said Marc Wulfraat, president at logistics consultant MWPVL International. Amazon’s retail capital expenditures probably won’t grow much through 2025, he said, in part because Amazon has extra capacity in that segment after overbuilding during the pandemic.

Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon.com, at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle in 2021.

Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon.com, at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle in 2021. – David Ryder/Bloomberg News

With high demand for AI infrastructure, Amazon and other tech companies have struggled to get the parts, property and power that data centers with supercomputers require. Amazon and other big tech companies have sought nuclear power to feed their energy needs. The company’s fulfillment build-out took many years to accomplish and didn’t require the same technical equipment that data centers do.

Jassy has reoriented Amazon to focus on AI products throughout its various businesses. He has said generative AI could be a critical element of its next pillar of growth in addition to its online retail business, Amazon Prime and AWS.

In May, the company named Matt Garman, a veteran executive with a strong engineering background, as the new AWS CEO, as it moves to better capitalize on AI.

Amazon is still by far the biggest online retailer in the U.S., and its recent financials have shown that it is in as strong a position as ever. The company continues to invest in its retail arm and open new delivery facilities. It has expanded its shipping capabilities to reach more Americans faster as it has faced competition from newer e-commerce entrants.

But now it is also time to invest in the AI opportunity, Felton said

“It’s a fascinating time to be here and think about how we can really think differently about how cloud computing works and how we can think differently about serving customers in the world of GenAI,” he said, referring to generative artificial intelligence.

Write to Sebastian Herrera at sebastian.herrera@wsj.com

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