AWS Attacks the Edge - but Still Nothing on Multi-cloud


By: Mary Jander

Amazon Web Services’ AWS re:Invent conference has kicked off a three-week agenda with a keynote by CEO Andy Jassy highlighting Amazon's dominance in the cloud and what he sees as an urgent call for companies to beef up their AWS presence at the network edge.

During his three-hour presentation this morning — interspersed with occasional customer testimonials — Jassy outlined ways in which AWS plans to help the 96% of enterprise IT that remains in on-premises data centers to be drawn into the cloud. He focused in particular on application development, data management, and machine learning (ML), highlighting a range of announcements in these areas.

In one notable part of the announcement, Jassy announced that customers will be able to run Amazon Elastic Container Service or Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service in their own data centers. This appears to be a counter strategy to ward off worries that AWS customers could part ways with Amazon to run other cloud services in their on-prem hybrid cloud environments.

But if anyone expected Jassy to talk multi-cloud networking or cooperation at the edge, they were disappointed. For AWS, there is but one cloud to rule, and one cloud to meet at the edge. (More on that momentarily.)

Hybrid Cloud Redefined

CEO Jassy said the term hybrid cloud no longer refers to the meeting of public cloud services with on-premises data centers. Instead, he says, the term is better understood as referring to cloud edge nodes, which will eventually replace data centers for all enterprises.

“The vast majority of companies will in the fullness of time no longer have data centers,” Jassy said. And any data centers that remain will be much smaller, more compact, even portable versions of what we have today.

Allowing users to run containerized AWS software in their own networks is a key piece of the puzzle. But AWS also aims to deliver common application programming interfaces (APIs), control plane, hardware, and tools across all forms of edge nodes, including on-premises data centers, points of presence, “disconnected edge” or micro data centers, and the 5G-enabled mobile edge.

Solutions in these areas include two new, miniaturized versions of AWS Outposts, which brings AWS services into a customer’s data center in the form of a large rack of servers -- a strategy that AWS took some heat about as a form of vendor lock-in. Now, two small form factors are offered -- unobtrusive 1u and 2u “pizza boxes” suitable for restaurants, factory floors, and other locations where a full-sized data center isn’t feasible, and where the term edge is more commonly applicable.

AWS also has beefed up another edge strategy by extending its Local Zones, which are AWS regional points of presence situated in metro areas to provide lower latency at a premium. At first restricted to two Los Angeles locations, new Local Zones now include Boston, Houston, and Miami, with 12 more cities to follow next year.

Specifics of IT Reinvention

Throughout his remarks, Jassy specified technologies in which AWS will support IT reinvention. In data management, for instance, AWS Glue Elastic Views, a new product that replicates data across multiple data stores, will support a move to deployment of multiple purpose-built databases.

Relational databases also factor in, and in an undisguised swipe at rival Microsoft (MSFT), AWS has released Babelfish, a tool that runs SQL Server applications on PostgreSQL. Cheers greeted Jassy’s assertion that Babelfish for PostgreSQL will be open-sourced on Github in 2021.

Jassy cited machine learning as, along with cloud, one of the two most important technical innovations of recent years. But AWS has been careful to apply ML to specific applications — adding it to a series of improvements to Amazon Connect contact center services, for example, where it is used to recognize customers’ voice patterns. Another series of industrial applications uses machine learning to detect, among other things, anomalies in the vibration patterns of factory equipment.

Where Is AWS on Multi-Cloud?

Some observers believe that before the three-week re:Invent conference is over, AWS will have released information supporting multi-cloud networks. In a note to clients today, Rohit Kulkarni, executive director at financial analyst firm MKM Partners, stated: “We believe that the keyword ‘multi-cloud’ doesn’t exactly receive cheers at AWS. However, several media outlets have recently reported that AWS is planning to introduce new services that support multicloud strategies.”

If true, this will be a surprise, given Jassy’s emphasis today on growing AWS’s 45% market share, his open disdain for Microsoft, and his overwhelming effort to demonstrate how AWS is meeting all customer requirements at the edge.

As of today, all roads for AWS lead to the cloud, and the cloud is AWS. But re:Invent has a long run to go yet. Stay tuned.