AWS Thinks Inside the Box With Outposts Data Center Revival

Amazon on Wednesday introduced AWS Outposts at its AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. The new system, which provides AWS-brandedboxes for use in traditional data centers, will allow the company to make advances into the world of on-premises storage, taking on legacy hardware vendorsincluding Cisco, Dell, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy told reporters at the event that Outposts willenable the company to accommodate customers who demand the lowestpossible prices for on-site storage.

It will be possible for Outposts technology to run on rival vendors’ data center equipment, he added.

AWS Outposts will extend the company’s reach from the cloud to data centers, attracting businesses that require on-site storage due to regulatory as well as privacy concerns.

AWS Outposts diagram

(Click Image to Enlarge)

“Customers are telling us that they don’t want a hybrid experiencethat attempts to recreate a stunted version of a cloud on-premises,because it’s perpetually out of sync with the cloud version andrequires a lot of heavy lifting, managing custom hardware, differentcontrol planes, different tooling, and manual software updates,” saidJassy. “There just isn’t a lot of value in that type of on-premisesoffering, and that’s why these solutions aren’t getting much traction.”

Outposts hardware will feature some of the morepopular AWS computing options, as well as storage software. It also can utilize virtualization technology from VMware. AWS willoffer a VMware variant of Outposts that will enable companies to runVMware Cloud via AWS locally.

A second version of AWS Outposts willallow customers to use thesame native AWS cloud APIs to run computers and storage systems on-premises.

The AWS Outposts versions currently are in private preview, with general availability expected in the second half of 2019.

At the re:Invent conference, Amazon also announced two blockchain services for use with distributed ledger technology, as well as a file service product that can work withMicrosoft software.

Pummeling the Competition

With its announcement of Outposts, it is clear that Amazon willcontinue to expand its role in business storage beyond the cloud.

“There have been some pretty exciting big reveals at re:Invent thisweek, and one is Outposts,” said Jim Purtilo, associate professor inthe computer science department at the University of Maryland.

“Locating the infrastructure on site for customers may give a bit lesslatency when it is accessed — that was one of the overt benefitsmentioned at the event — but the real value is removing customeruneasiness over where data are stored and processed,” he told theE-Commerce Times.

“AWS has been eating the lunch of the traditional data centercompanies already just by making things simple,” Purtilo added.

“Managerswho need upgrades can flip a switch to stand up operations in thecloud, turn out the lights in their expensive physical plant, and saveboth costs and headaches of a big footprint,” he explained.

“The Outposts product isanother way for AWS to pummel the competition,” Purtilo observed. “Managers can have seamless co-lo options with automatic failover to traditional cloudinfrastructure more or less for free.”

(Full Disclosure: Purtilo’s son and several former University of Maryland studentsnow work at AWS on projects that made appearances at re:Invent this week. However, Purtilo was not provided any information or insight on those projects prior to this week’sannouncements.)

Hybrid Cloud

AWS will deliver and install Outposts hardware at client facilities while providing ongoing support, including maintenance and software updates. In some ways, the offering could be seen an extension of the hybrid cloud concept that other vendors have embraced.

Microsoft introduced its Azure Stack in 2015, and itcombined its own cloud technology with hardware from partners including Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo, among others.

“AWS’ announcement on launching Outposts, an on-premises data centersystem, is the AWS equivalent of Azure Stack, Microsoft’s on-premisesversion of their Azure cloud service,” said Brian Klingbeil, executivevice president of strategy and technology at Ensono.

“This is a really smart move by AWS to accommodate clients who dealwith challenges like latency and compliance,” he told theE-Commerce Times.

“AWS’ plans for on-premises Outpost systems solutions are intriguing,and the company’s position in public cloud makes the initiative worthyof respect,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“At the same time, the concept is something of an ass-backwardsapproach to hybrid cloud,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Addressing the Public Cloud

Hybrid cloud solutions arose in part because enterpriseswere slow to accept the public cloud future envisioned and espoused by AWSand other cloud players. However, it has proved to be a nonstarter todate.

“Instead, customers wanted ways to ensure that their on-premises ITinfrastructures would play nice and work optimally with public cloudplatforms,” said King.

“That’s usually taken the form of working with trusted vendors tooptimize existing IT resources or purchasing hyper-convergedinfrastructure solutions, so deploying an HCI or similar solutiondeveloped by AWS seems reasonable enough,” he added.

“However, in order to seriously threaten mainstream x86-based systemvendors — like HPE, Cisco, Dell and Lenovo — AWS will have to deliversolutions that either offer unique features and performancecharacteristics or cost significantly less than competitors’ offerings,” King maintained.

“Until specific pricing and performancedetails become available,” he added, “claims about AWS Outposts should be takenwith a grain of salt.”

Re:Inventing the Data Center

AWS’ move into the on-premises storage space could create new competition among other hardware vendors.

“We’re going to see other providers, like Google, replicate this move,as compliance, latency and data movement continue to be a top priorityfor businesses,” said Ensono’s Klingbeil.

“It will allow AWS clients to have consistent Infrastructure as a Service experiences whether on premises or in AWS data centers,” he added.

“There’s a lot of discussion among the industry aroundrepatriotization of workloads on public clouds to private andon-premises clouds, and while Ensono isn’t seeing a huge amount of thisright now, we are seeing a continued, rich demand for on-premisesdeployments,” Klingbeil noted.

AWS Outposts also could provide greater security and privacyfor its clients.

“With the existing cloud, the data are just sort of out there, andwhile AWS offers assurance about location in some cases, it is stillthose customers on the hook for meeting diverse regulatory obligationsabout where data can live and who might use it,” said University ofMaryland’s Purtilo.

“With Outposts, any customer who is asked where their data live canpoint and say ‘right there,’ and as laws about data storage willbecome nothing but more complex, so Outposts offers managers asolution path that decouples the technology from regulatoryconstraints,” he explained.

It will be interesting to see the financial implications of Outposts– how modular the hardware will be, does the client own title on thehardware or does AWS, etc.,” said Klingbeil. “What’s also in store is to see how AWS deals with the materially messier world of infrastructure outside of their direct, physical control.”

Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and Peter.

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