AWS Outposts: Are ‘hybrid clouds’ best for SMEs?

AWS joins other in offering cloud services that are based in customers' data centers, as reality bites for the big providers.
29 November 2018

Amazon staff at AWS’s Re:Invent 2018. Source: Amazon Events

Amazon has taken the opportunity of re:Invent 2018 to present AWS Outposts to the business community– a method by which AWS cloud platform can be taken– literally– to the enterprise’s own data center.

With hybrid clouds being a more common feature of organizations’ IT stack, 2019 will see AWS hardware operating outside of Amazon’s own data centers, in its customers’ premises. The same hardware will run, and be configured & used by the same methods. Amazon will “deliver racks, install them, and then […] do all the maintenance and repair on them”, AWS CEO Andy Jassy said, in a co-presentation with VMWare’s CEO Pat Gelsinger.

The new service will come with VMWare-designed software which effectively mixes two technologies currently favored by enterprise, but not necessarily deployed in their entireties– cloud and virtualization.

After the presentation, Jassy reflected the feedback the company had been getting; specifically that many companies simply didn’t want (or couldn’t afford) the potential upheaval that a move to a 100 percent cloud-based platform would entail.

“We […] have a number of customers who say, ‘while most of my applications can and will move [to the cloud], there are some of my applications that just can’t or won’t easily move,'” he told press.

AWS’s announcement online is thin on detail, saying only that several different types of EC2 compute instances will run on Outposts. They will use Elastic Block Storage, but other AWS services won’t be available initially.

Microsoft’s Azure Stack is a similar pay-as-you-go hybrid model, running on customers’ own hardware– this difference reflected in a lower price from ‘traditional’ Azure. Azure Stack was initially available on hardware from Dell EMC, HPE, and Lenovo.

Google’s deal with Nutanix, struck last year, also provided a way in which companies could be helped to transition to the web, with hyper-convergence software (rather than devices) smoothing the overall management of in-house and cloud combinations. Oracle Cloud at Customer is that company’s attempt to do the same.

Despite the evangelizing of companies like AWS and Microsoft that it was the cloud way or no way at all, the reality is that many companies’ investments in bare-metal services are not only performing well, but spikes in demand, for instance (which cloud scalability helps to solve, among other pluses) are not reason enough to subject customers and users to potential upheavals.

As Sunil Potti, senior vice president of engineering at Nutanix said at the time of the Google Cloud/Nutanix co-working announcement in June 2017, “We are taking a more software-centric view of the world.”

It seems that the large cloud providers and the software companies that run large data centers are responding to the reality check they’ve received from the enterprise-class companies whose decisions are based on the overall business implications of migrating to platforms. After weighing up the pros and cons, many CTOs are saying, “not just yet.”

In short, while the cloud offers significant positives, wholesale moving there isn’t as simple as its providers would have everyone believe: shiny things do not (necessarily) make it better.