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AWS Thinks Inside the Box With Outposts Data Center Revival

By Peter Suciu
Nov 30, 2018 9:19 AM PT
aws outposts on-premises data storage system debuted at re:invent

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

Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy told reporters at the event that Outposts will enable the company to accommodate customers who demand the lowest possible 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 experience that attempts to recreate a stunted version of a cloud on-premises, because it's perpetually out of sync with the cloud version and requires a lot of heavy lifting, managing custom hardware, different control planes, different tooling, and manual software updates," said Jassy. "There just isn't a lot of value in that type of on-premises offering, and that's why these solutions aren't getting much traction."

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

A second version of AWS Outposts will allow customers to use the same 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 with Microsoft software.

Pummeling the Competition

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

"There have been some pretty exciting big reveals at re:Invent this week, and one is Outposts," said Jim Purtilo, associate professor in the computer science department at the University of Maryland.

"Locating the infrastructure on site for customers may give a bit less latency when it is accessed -- that was one of the overt benefits mentioned at the event -- but the real value is removing customer uneasiness over where data are stored and processed," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"AWS has been eating the lunch of the traditional data center companies already just by making things simple," Purtilo added.

"Managers who need upgrades can flip a switch to stand up operations in the cloud, turn out the lights in their expensive physical plant, and save both costs and headaches of a big footprint," he explained.

"The Outposts product is another way for AWS to pummel the competition," Purtilo observed. "Managers can have seamless co-lo options with automatic failover to traditional cloud infrastructure more or less for free."

(Full Disclosure: Purtilo's son and several former University of Maryland students now 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's announcements.)

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 it combined 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 center system, is the AWS equivalent of Azure Stack, Microsoft's on-premises version of their Azure cloud service," said Brian Klingbeil, executive vice president of strategy and technology at Ensono.

"This is a really smart move by AWS to accommodate clients who deal with challenges like latency and compliance," he told the E-Commerce Times.

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

"At the same time, the concept is something of an ass-backwards approach to hybrid cloud," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Addressing the Public Cloud

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

"Instead, customers wanted ways to ensure that their on-premises IT infrastructures would play nice and work optimally with public cloud platforms," said King.

"That's usually taken the form of working with trusted vendors to optimize existing IT resources or purchasing hyper-converged infrastructure solutions, so deploying an HCI or similar solution developed by AWS seems reasonable enough," he added.

"However, in order to seriously threaten mainstream x86-based system vendors -- like HPE, Cisco, Dell and Lenovo -- AWS will have to deliver solutions that either offer unique features and performance characteristics or cost significantly less than competitors' offerings," King maintained.

"Until specific pricing and performance details become available," he added, "claims about AWS Outposts should be taken with 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 priority for 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 around repatriotization of workloads on public clouds to private and on-premises clouds, and while Ensono isn't seeing a huge amount of this right now, we are seeing a continued, rich demand for on-premises deployments," Klingbeil noted.

AWS Outposts also could provide greater security and privacy for its clients.

"With the existing cloud, the data are just sort of out there, and while AWS offers assurance about location in some cases, it is still those customers on the hook for meeting diverse regulatory obligations about where data can live and who might use it," said University of Maryland's Purtilo.

"With Outposts, any customer who is asked where their data live can point and say 'right there,' and as laws about data storage will become nothing but more complex, so Outposts offers managers a solution path that decouples the technology from regulatory constraints," 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 the hardware 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 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 FoxNews.com. Email Peter.

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