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IaaS providers weigh new tech against core offerings

Like its rivals, AWS continues to push itself up the stack -- and capture headlines in the process. But user demand still revolves around core infrastructure features.

After the early adoption phase of their technology comes to a close, IT vendors look to broaden their appeal. AWS and several other IaaS providers are at this stage, and they feel compelled to provide the latest and greatest technology, including machine learning and serverless, to drum up hype.

Market demand might justify AWS' move up the stack, with emphasis on services like AWS Lambda for serverless computing, Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes for container orchestration and a growing variety of AI and internet of things technologies. But this upward momentum could also frustrate customers who want the vendor to focus on management capabilities and cheaper infrastructure.

Enterprise consumption patterns are clear: They migrate workloads to the public cloud -- including applications and data -- and those workloads live on that platform going forward. Once in the cloud, an enterprise must deploy rudimentary cloud platform services for these workloads, including storage and compute.

While some infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers offer higher-level tools, such as those for machine learning, that appeal to enterprises, these tools are typically only a fit for net-new applications. Developers create these new applications on the cloud, using native cloud services, including both higher-level and lower-level offerings, like basic storage and compute.

Higher-level cloud services might be little more than cloud bait today, but they will become tomorrow's workhorses.

Use patterns reveal a clear picture of the deployment of higher- and lower-level cloud services. Migrated applications -- either with a lift-and-shift approach or minor refactoring -- outnumber net-new applications roughly 100 to one for most enterprises. This means that the majority of enterprise workloads on AWS depend on rudimentary cloud services more than higher-level services.

But there is some common ground. AWS provides operations, security and management services that help enterprise workloads -- including legacy ones that only use those lower-level services -- perform better in the cloud than in the data center. AWS also abstracts users away from service and infrastructure management tasks to help boost productivity, which quickly translates into cost savings.

AWS looks to strike a balance

It's a bit complex to keep up with cloud market changes. On one hand, most AWS customers use the provider's basic platform services, such as storage and compute. On the other hand, AWS seems to concentrate investments on higher-level services that make headlines, even though most users don't need those technologies -- at least, not yet.

AWS' play here is to be the best among all the IaaS providers, and it gets a lot of attention because of the effectiveness of its lower-level cloud services. AWS' focus on higher-level services, in research and development and marketing, positions it to at least keep up with, or surpass, IaaS providers like Microsoft and Google. That reputation reassures new enterprise customers that AWS will meet their future needs.

Higher-level cloud services might be little more than cloud bait today, but they will become tomorrow's workhorses.

This was last published in January 2018

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