AWS gets serious about hybrid cloud with Outposts, so who is it for?

Cloud giant is taking hybrid cloud more seriously through its partnership with VMware and a new product called Outposts

Andy Jassy (AWS)

Andy Jassy (AWS)

Amazon Web Services (AWS) made a hybrid cloud splash during its re:Invent conference with the announcement of Outposts, a new service where AWS delivers pre-configured racks to customer premises where AWS services can be run as though it were in their data centre.

It was the announcement that really got tongues wagging, with some heralding it as a step change in what 'hybrid' cloud really means.

Microsoft and Azure Stack users may disagree with that assessment, but at worst the announcement marked a significant step towards greater hybrid cloud acceptance from a vendor that has long been an exponent for customers to go 'all-in' on its public cloud.

Essentially, Outposts is a fully managed service from AWS where customers get AWS configured hardware and software delivered to their on-premise data centre or co-location space to run applications in a cloud-native manner without having to run it in AWS data centres.

That infrastructure is installed, managed, maintained, and supported by AWS, but pricing and specifics on specs are still light on the ground at this point ahead of a 2019 rollout.

Outposts should be of particular interest to customers that are looking to move to the cloud but who have certain applications that will need to remain on premise for the time being, such as low-latency applications on a factory floor, or those with data residency concerns.

Speaking on stage during AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, alongside VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger, AWS CEO Andy Jassy said: "We have customers who have a number of workloads that will live on-premise for a long time and there are lots of different reasons for that, oftentimes they need really low-latency for something that sits on premise, so in a factory or something like that.

"What they have asked us for is a way to provide AWS services, like compute, like storage, on-premises but in a way that really seamlessly and constantly interacts with the rest of my applications and services in AWS."

Essentially customers want consistency in their control plane, APIs, tools and basic functionality between their on-premise and cloud applications, and while AWS has capabilities that allow enterprise customers to make that transition - like Virtual Private Cloud, Direct Connect or Storage Gateway - that's not true hybrid cloud in the eyes of some customers.

"We had a breakthrough a few months ago when we were working with a customer trying to get compute and storage from AWS on-premises, and connect back seamlessly with the rest of their AWS presence in the region closest to them, and we thought that could be a more generalised idea," Jassy said.

The result is AWS Outposts, coming next year, which will bring AWS hardware, just as it is configured in its own data centres, to the customer, where they can lift and shift applications to run within their own data centre, but in a way that runs like an AWS application.

"Customers will order racks with the same hardware AWS uses in all of our regions, with software with AWS services on it - like compute and storage - and then you can work in two variants," Jassy said.

Those two flavours are: run VMware Cloud on AWS, or run compute and storage on-premises using the same native AWS APIs used in the AWS cloud.

As AWS UK managing director Gavin Jackson - who is a former EMC and VMware executive - told Computerworld UK: "We think we've had a pretty good hybrid story for a good while now with Direct Connect and Virtual Private Cloud, so that's inside your data centre stretching out to the cloud.

"Still there are some companies that have said they will be running applications on-premise for the foreseeable future, but still want access to the tools and fine-grained services we build on the AWS platform, so now we get to package all of that up and ship it to the client's data centre in two days."

This functionality could be of particular interest to the financial services industry, as head of financial services at AWS Scott Mulins told Computerworld UK, particularly as a means of overcoming some of their data residency issues.

"There are still some countries in the world where there are issues around data sovereignty and data residency," he said, meaning a true hybrid option could be of keen interest to certain clients residing in geographies where AWS doesn't have a region, like Switzerland for example.

Kurt Marko, an independent technology analyst told Computerworld UK: "Symbolically, Outposts is another acknowledgement by AWS that most enterprises want or need to split workloads and data between on-premise systems and public cloud services."

He notes that this is something Microsoft has offered for years through its Azure Stack. However, Marko said: "Outposts is the first time AWS users will be able to deploy a subset of core AWS services in their own data centres or co-located racks."

That being said, "there's still much we don't know, particularly the pricing model, hardware specifics and deployment process," he added.

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