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Amazon doesn't want IT thinking multicloud

Amazon has come far to accommodate customers running workloads on-premises; the same can’t be said, however, for how it addresses its customers using other public clouds.

At re:Invent last week, Amazon punctuated its softened stance on hybrid cloud — at least as a stopgap measure — as it touted its recent partnership with VMware and rolled out a series of services and products for use outside its own data centers. But when the notion of using multiple public clouds was broached, Amazon’s answer was simple: Don’t do it.

It’s hard to gauge how many companies actually deploy workloads in multiple infrastructure as a service public clouds. It’s a practice typically reserved for the larger enterprises that hedge their bets and avoid lock-in by storing backups on services such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, or by forward-leaning users that target specific tools for specific applications. It’s still early days as true competitors start to emerge, but there’s little evidence of workloads spanning across clouds — much how bursting was more hype than reality as hybrid clouds emerged.

Amazon, through a series of subtle and not-so-subtle messages, advised users that the grass is not greener elsewhere. AWS CEO Andy Jassy reportedly dissuaded vendors at the partner summit from a “strategy of hedging.” He didn’t ask partners not to work with other cloud providers, but he did say Amazon would direct business to those willing to do the tightest integration with its platform.* Amazon CTO Werner Vogels laid out a series of new products intended to fill in gaps in its data services, and talked about offering primitives and designing a “comprehensive data architecture” to meet users’ every need.

“We give you the choice of how you really want to do your analytics,” Vogels said in his keynote. “We’ll make sure you can do all of this on AWS — you never have to go outside.”

There were splashy roll-outs aimed at getting as much data as possible out of customers’ data centers and on to its cloud. There was James Hamilton, AWS vice president and distinguished engineer, on stage with a beer toasting to the death of the mainframe as part of a migration service offered by Infosys. The next morning Snowmobile, a 48-foot truck for transferring exabytes of data, was driven on to the convention hall floor to much fanfare.

Amazon is essentially reinventing what it means to be a giant tech vendor, except it’s doing it as a service provider, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research. It could lead itself to be the next Oracle, not in terms of culture, but in terms of results and becoming a destination where customers are reliant on it.

“Once you start using Oracle you never stop; once you start using AWS you never stop,” Brooks said.

There also was a big push to expand services and functionality around AWS Lambda, Amazon’s serverless compute service that inherently couples a customer to the platform. Lambda is part of an emerging space of higher-end services that offer exciting new capabilities customers likely couldn’t do on their own, but they come with the tradeoff of rendering migration off AWS prohibitive, at best.

Amazon advises its customers against multiple clouds, and the way to get the most out of the platform is to start looking at services such as Lambda.

“The challenge with a multicloud strategy is customers tend to innovate to what we call the lowest common denominator,” said Jim Sherhart, director of product marketing at AWS.

Of course, cloud vendors have obvious reasons for their current perspectives. Microsoft and Google, both of which regularly mention meeting multicloud demands, need it to be a reality to siphon off business, while Amazon gains little by accommodating rivals that seek to chip away at its market dominance.

It’s also worth noting that Amazon is not alone in pushing higher-level services, nor does it force users to go that route. It also added export capabilities earlier this year to its Snowball hardware device that enables customers to pull data back on-premises.

Despite its public stance, there are indications Amazon would change if it’s thrust upon them. And if its embrace of hybrid cloud — albeit in a very Amazon-centric way — is any indicator, it could eventually be open to multicloud if its customers demand it.

“They have an intense need to stick to the narrative, which is Amazon is great, Amazon is good,” Brooks said. “When they talk about alternatives it’s only in the context of solving a point-specific problem, which is essentially what the VMware partnership is.

“They are able to roll with change, they just don’t want to admit it.”

As for Jassy’s comments, it should be taken more as a call for better understanding of the platform than some kind of threat, said Jeff Cotten, senior vice president of multicloud at Rackspace, which provides managed services for AWS and Azure.

“They genuinely do understand that they can’t create everything, but I do think there’s frustration that there’s not a lot of deep experts and partners,” he said.

In fact, in Rackspace’s experience Amazon has been OK with multicloud, Cotten added.

“They’re also not going to be exclusive with any one partner, so they understand their partners may not be exclusive to them,” he said.

* – Statement changed after initial publication.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].