Business · Cloud · Data

Amazon drives cloud innovation toward the enterprise

 

Amazon continues to drive forward with innovation at a blistering pace. At their annual re:Invent confab, Amazon announced dozens of products to an audience of over 30,000 attendees. There are plenty of newsworthy posts outlining the specific announcements including Amazon’s own re:Invent website. However, there are several announcements that specifically address the growing enterprise demand for cloud computing resources.

INNOVATION AT A RAPID SCALE

One thing that stuck out at the conference was the rate in which Amazon is innovating. Amazon is innovating so fast it is often hard to keep up with the changes. On one hand, it helps Amazon check the boxes when compared against other products. On the other hand, new products like Amazon Rekognition, Polly and Lex demonstrate the level of sophistication that Amazon can bring to market beyond simple infrastructure services. By leveraging their internal expertise in AI and Machine Learning, Amazon’s challenge is one of productizing the solutions.

The sheer number of new, innovative solutions is remarkable but makes it hard to keep track of the best solutions to use for different situations. In addition, it creates a bulging portfolio of services like that of its traditional corporate software competitors.

As an enterprise uses more of Amazon’s products, the fear of lock-in grows. Should this be a concern to either Amazon or potential enterprise customers? Read my post: Is the concept of enterprise lock in a red herring? Lock in is a reality across cloud providers today, not just Amazon. Building solutions for one platform does not provide for easy migration to competing solutions. Innovation is a good thing, but does come at a cost.

DRIVING TOWARD THE EDGE

There are two issues that challenge enterprises evaluating the potential of cloud computing. One challenge is the delivery mechanism. Not all applications are well suited for a centralized cloud-based delivery approach. There are use cases in just about every industry where computing is best suited at the edge. The concept of hybrid cloud computing is one way to address it. At re:Invent, Amazon announced Greengrass which moves the computing capability of Amazon’s Lambda function to a device. At the extreme, Greengrass enables the ability to embed cloud computing functions on a chip.

Moving cloud functionality to the edge is one issue. A second perspective is that it signals Amazon’s acknowledgement that not all roads end with public cloud. The reality is that most industries have use cases where centralized cloud computing is simply not an option. One example, of many, is processing at a remote location. Backhauling data to the cloud for processing is not a viable option. In addition, Internet of Things (IoT) is presenting opportunities and challenges for cloud. The combination of Greengrass and, also announced, Snowball Edge extend Amazon’s reach to the edge of the computing landscape.

AS THE SNOWBALL ROLLS DOWNHILL…

As a snowball rolls downhill, it grows in size. Last year, Amazon announced the data storage onboarding appliance, Snowball. Since last year’s re:Invent, Amazon found customers were using Snowball in numbers exceeding expectations. In addition to the sheer number of Snowball devices, customers are moving larger quantities of data onto Amazon’s cloud. Keep in mind it is still faster to move large quantities of data via truck than over the wire. To address this increase in demand, Amazon drove an 18-wheeled semi-truck and trailer on stage to announce Amazon Snowmobile. While everyone thought it was a gimmick, it is quite real. Essentially, Snowmobile is a semi-trailer that houses a massive storage-focused data center. From an enterprise perspective, this addresses one of the core challenges to moving applications to cloud: how to move the data…and lots of it.

IS AMAZON READY FOR ENTERPRISE?

With the announcements made to date, is Amazon truly ready for enterprise demand? Amazon is the clear leader for public cloud services today. They squarely captured the webscale and startup markets. However, a much larger market is still relatively untapped: Enterprises. Unlike the webscale and startup markets, the enterprise market is both exponentially larger and incredibly more complex. Many of these issues are addressed in Eight ways enterprises struggle with public cloud. For any cloud provider, understanding the enterprise is the first of several steps. A second step is in providing products and services that help enterprises with the onboarding process. As an analogy: Building a beautiful highway is one thing. When you ask drivers to build their own onramps, it creates a significant hurdle to adoption. This is precisely the issue for enterprises when it comes to public cloud. Getting from here to there is not a trivial step.

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To counter the enterprise challenges, Amazon is taking steps in the direction of the enterprise. First is the fundamental design of their data centers and network. Amazon understands that enterprises are looking for data center redundancy. One way they address this is by maintaining multiple data centers in each location. After learning about the thoughts and reasons behind some of their strategic decisions, it’s clear there is quite a bit of deep thinking that goes into decisions. That will bode well for enterprises. Second, Amazon announced their partnership with VMware. I addressed my thoughts on the partnership here: VMware and Amazon AWS Partnership: An Enterprise Perspective. A third step is Amazon’s AWS Migration Acceleration Program. This program is led by a former CIO and directly targets enterprises looking to adopt Amazon’s services. In addition to their internal migration organization, Amazon is building out their partner program to increase the number of partners helping enterprises migrate their applications to Amazon.

ALL ROADS DO NOT LEAD TO PUBLIC CLOUD

Even with all the work Amazon is doing to woo enterprise customers, significant challenges exist. Many assume that all roads lead to public cloud. This statement overstates the reality of how companies need to consume computing resources. There are several paths and outcomes supporting the reality of enterprise computing environments.

How Amazon addresses those concerns will directly impact their success in the enterprise market. Amazon is closing the gap, but so are competitors like Microsoft and others.

CIO · Cloud

VMware and Amazon AWS Partnership: An Enterprise Perspective

 

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Much has already been written about the VMware and Amazon AWS Partnership that was announced October 13th, 2016 and the potential opportunities for enterprises. Unfortunately, many of the core issues for enterprises are either being glossed over or simply not addressed.

FUNDAMENTALS OF THE PARTNERSHIP

In a nutshell, the partnership provides clients with the ability to run VMware based VMs on Amazon’s AWS infrastructure. On the surface, this is a good thing for a number of reasons. Namely, it provides enterprises with the ability to move VMs from their internal corporate data centers (and infrastructure) to another provider. In essence, this moves the organization from CapEx to OpEx and gets the enterprise out of the data center business.

But if it were that simple, why isn’t everyone already doing it? Amazon’s offering is not the first of its kind. There are many other options for enterprises looking to get out of the data center business by moving their infrastructure and services to another provider. In addition to colocation options, companies like IBM and smaller, private firms have offered the ability to host VMware based VMs for years now. So, is the AWS/ VMware partnership different? And what is holding back progress?

UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGES

To answer that question, one needs to first understand the enterprise perspective. While the moving of a VM from one infrastructure to another may seem relatively simple on the surface, there are indeed many challenges in doing so. Many often gloss over these issues, but to the vast majority of enterprises, they are their reality. It is not a reality that one can simply will away.

The fundamental issues not addressed center into several categories:

  1. Pricing Model: One of the core issues enterprises have with VMware is their pricing. VMware is a fabulous solution that is mature and solid. But it is also very expensive. What is unclear is if the move to AWS will reduce costs, keep them the same or increase costs. Yes, all three of those are possible without fully understanding the ramifications.
  2. Ancillary Services: Most enterprise applications do not live in a silo. They interconnect with many other applications or services. Making those connections outside the confines of the corporate data center is not a trivial feat.
  3. 3rd Party Connections: One of the benefits of running your own corporate data center is that you can do things your own way. Moving to a shared infrastructure presents a number of new challenges for enterprise applications and processes.
  4. VM Management: Management of VMs is a core function within a VMware based infrastructure. This will change when you consider multiple locations (corporate data center vs AWS infrastructure). It is also unclear how much control the enterprise will maintain.
  5. Performance/ Bandwidth: Moving an enterprise application (VM or otherwise) to cloud is not trivial. In addition to the items listed above, bandwidth performance and cost will come into play. The performance of the infrastructure that VMs reside will also come into play. Within the corporate data center, an enterprise has far more control and visibility to issues for their infrastructure. Moving that to a AWS-based model will invoke many other variables.
  6. Security Constraints: Many enterprise applications are not built to live outside of the corporate data center nor protection of the security perimeter. Shifting that Amazon brings into play a number of questions yet to be answered.
  7. AWS Halo Effect: By having access to public cloud infrastructure (AWS) in the same facility as your VM-based infrastructure offers a number of advantages to those applications that integrate between the two worlds. The issue is in how many enterprise applications will take advantage of this.

 

HOW DOES THIS BENEFIT VMWARE?

In many ways, the partnership provides little benefit to VMware and its customers. There are still many questions that enterprises must answer before making the change. In addition, there are alternative approaches and offerings that may provide an advantage over the AWS offering for VM-based workloads.

HOW DOES THIS BENEFIT AMAZON?

The partnership benefits Amazon in several ways. At the most fundamental level, they now provide a solution to ingest the massive footprint of VMware based workloads onto their infrastructure. That becomes valuable, not because of the ties to AWS, but rather the fundamental weight that the data brings. The switching costs to move from one infrastructure to another are huge. As we go through time and data sets grow, the problem will only get worse over time.

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

On the sum, is this a good or bad deal for enterprises? To answer that question, one has to do a bit of homework and understand their situation clearly. The devil is in the details. It is not as simple to wave a wand and say that the partnership is a sure thing and good for most enterprises. The world is not that simple. And neither are the enterprises that we’re talking about.

However, based on what we know today, the partnership appears to be okay on the surface. It is not something new and offers little to the vast majority of enterprises and their workloads. Compare that against the risks and outstanding questions…and the pendulum likely swings negative. As more details come out and issues addressed, we may see the opportunity shift yet again.

In the meantime, I would expect that current VMware based enterprise workloads will continue to reside within the corporate data center. You can read more about how CIOs are getting out of the data center business in other posts I’ve written on this site.