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What’s missing from Outposts, AWS’ latest hybrid cloud announcement

At this week’s Wikibon post-re:Invent CrowdChat, one of the questions concerned which, if any, of the many announcements at Amazon Web Services Inc.’s annual conference last week in Las Vegas we would characterize as “ho-hum.”

This was how I responded: “AWS Outposts. ‘Ho-hum’ in several senses: 1) it’s not going into GA till late 2019, 2) it comes late into the market vis-a-vis Azure Stacks, 3) AWS already has hybrid cloud connectors & running VMware on AWS.”

Yes, I’m taking a contrary position to my colleague David Floyer on this particular matter, but I have good reason. Although I’m generally positive on AWS Outposts as a True Private Cloud enabler, I’m leery of information technology solutions that are announced with a marketing splash long before they’ve been proved out in production deployments.

Under such circumstances, I tend to double down on the “but wait a minute” observations. Breaking out this week’s CrowdChat tweet even further, here’s what I find lacking, or perhaps simply overhyped, about the Outposts announcement:

  • General availability of Outposts is at least a year away: In the spirit of not counting hybrid-cloud chickens before they’re hatched, let’s not overlook the fact that AWS Outposts is not yet a shipping product and that general availability is not expected for another year, at least. It’s currently in private preview. So far, only an alpha model of the solution has been made available to select AWS customers with beta deliveries projected to start in the first quarter of next year. Outposts variants with some of the more in-demand EC2 instances may trickle out to customers in prerelease versions throughout the year with general availability of more complex instances coming later in 2019.
  • AWS didn’t spell out how customers will be able to price, size or gauge performance of Outposts instances during the buying process: Almost certainly, AWS customers will want to know the price-performance profiles of Outposts instances before they commit capital expenditures to acquiring them. AWS did not mention how the product will be sold or whether it will use reseller channels, though the company indicated that users will be able to configure and order Outposts online from AWS Console. Just as important, no information was provided on pricing, performance, capacity or configuration options for any variant of Outposts.
  • AWS is limiting the cloud services that it incorporates into Outposts for on-premises hybrid-cloud deployments: AWS announced that not all of its public cloud services will be installed for on-premises deployments in Outposts. It said that it does not intend to replicate the entire AWS cloud experience within Outposts. At launch, or soon after, the native AWS Outposts racks will come equipped with EC2 instances and a subset of AWS data, networking and analytics services. Those will include both AWS managed container services — ECS and EKS — database and analytics services, and the SageMaker managed machine learning service. So it remains to be seen how many total services AWS will ultimately make available on Outposts. AWS indicated that, over time, customers can expect to see more AWS public-cloud capabilities be packaged into Outposts, as well as VMware’s Cloud Foundation for EC2, NSX and AppDefense vRealize Automation solutions. It remains to be seen whether its popular AWS Lambda serverless technology will be available in Outposts in the first shipping version.
  • Outposts will offer limited availability of AWS EC2 instances for the foreseeable future: AWS stated that, in Outposts, it will offer the same EC2 cloud instances for deployment in customer premises or in a partner’s managed data center. However, it said not all EC2 instances will be available on Outposts in all locations. It also stated that not all instances will be available at the beginning. If AWS had provided a more detailed rollout schedule for instances by regions and quarter, it would have been clear which customers could avail themselves of on-premises Outposts for their hybrid-cloud deployment and when. More to the point, that would give customers enough of an availability heads-up to start building Outposts acquisitions into their capex planning for 2019 and beyond.
  • DevOps tools for hybrid onpremises/public EC2 and other AWS services are lacking for Outposts: AWS and VMware have indicated that Outposts will provide users with consistent infrastructure as a service experience whether on premises or in AWS data centers. I assume this will also apply to application developers and information technology operations personnel who will need to incorporate this platform as a production target in their hybrid-cloud DevOps workflows. We heard that DevOps professionals will be able to run VMware Cloud on AWS locally on AWS Outposts, while those who prefer to use AWS’s management console on-premises with Outposts will be able to do so. However, neither of the providers discussed any plans for DevOps tooling to manage continuous integration and deployment of infrastructure and application components across AWS and VMware clouds that span a common Outposts deployment. At the very least, customers will probably be able to use any of various third-party multicloud DevOps tools with Outposts. But it was puzzling that AWS didn’t at least discuss how its CloudFormation infrastructure-as-code offering might be extended to work with Outposts in DevOps workflows.
  • Hybrid public/private cloud deployments are already addressed in AWS’ solution portfolio prior to Outposts becoming available: There are many ways to stand up a hybrid public/private cloud and AWS already supports several of them. One can run public and private clouds separately while interoperating through integration middleware, an option that AWS supports through its Direct Connect and Amazon Storage offerings. One can run private cloud infrastructure in the public cloud, an alternative that AWS supports this option through its Amazon Virtual Private Cloud and VMware Cloud on AWS. And one can, of course, run public cloud infrastructure and services on-premises, which is the core deployment mode that Outposts addresses, though it is already supported in more limited use cases in AWS’ solution portfolio through the current Amazon RDS on VMware and AWS Snowball Edge Compute Optimized offerings.
  • Outposts don’t yet have any clear vertical-industry packaging: Clearly, there are plenty of AWS customers in communications service providers, manufacturing, media and other industries who might benefit the low-latency, edge-facing, hybrid-cloud “physics” enabled through Outposts. But AWS and VMware didn’t disclose any specific plans to package instances, services and vertical solution accelerators with variants of Outposts. Likewise, there was no discussion of value-added resellers and other channels partners to deliver the racks into such opportunities.
  • Installation, service and support channels for Outposts haven’t been announced: AWS stated that it will install the racks (if customers prefer) and handle all maintenance and replacement of racks. AWS also stated that it will service Outposts instances. But it’s not clear if AWS is investing in building its own global hardware manufacturing, fulfillment, deployment, and service team, or whether they’re going to rely on (unnamed) partners in various regions to shoulder those essential functions. Be that as it may, AWS and VMware indicated that they plan to tap their respective partner ecosystems for many of these functions.

Last but not least, let’s not forget that AWS’ rivals already have solutions in market that compete with Outposts. These include:

  • Microsoft Azure Stack, through which it enables customers to run Azure Cloud services on-premises;
  • IBM Cloud Private, through which it enables customers to build their own private cloud for use on-premises or in IBM Cloud, as well as to automate movement of data, workloads and containerized microservices between on-premises and cloud-based clusters; and
  • Oracle Cloud At Customer, through which it offers on-premises deployments of Oracle Cloud services for data management, big data analytics, enterprise resource planning, human capital management, customer management and supply chain management.

These won’t be direct competitors to Outposts. Whereas Outposts implements a hybrid-cloud mélange (AWS/VMware public/private infrastructure as a service/platform as a service) in a rack, the others’ on-premises offerings are targeted at customers that intend to deploy hybrid public/private clouds on technology from a single vertically integrated vendor.

But the rivals’ on-premises hybrid-cloud solutions may tip the hybrid-cloud market momentum in those vendors’ favor if AWS and VMware delay in delivering robust, production-grade and reasonably priced Outposts that meet their joint customers’ needs.

Here’s the view on Outposts and AWS’ broader strategy from AWS Chief Executive Andy Jassy, who was interviewed by theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming service, at re:Invent last week. And you can read the transcript on theCUBE as well:

Image: University of Texas at Austin

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