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AWS roadmap should point the way 'up the stack'

AWS is a dominant force in infrastructure as a service, but a new day is coming in cloud computing, IT pros say, and AWS will have to adjust.

The AWS roadmap is mysterious, but IT pros are hopeful it includes a focus away from back-end infrastructure.

The next long-term movement in the cloud -- server-less computing -- has already begun, and some Amazon Web Services (AWS) shops think the IaaS provider already trails competitors in that emerging field. Users also want more abstraction of the back-end to concentrate on the overall user experience.

Despite the fact that Amazon is the first among the major cloud providers to offer server-less computing options with AWS Lambda, newer companies developing on the Amazon infrastructure have better approaches, according to Joe Emison, an AWS user and CTO and founder of Asheville, N.C.-based BuildFax Inc.

Facebook's Parse and Google's Firebase have more finesse because they don't require software developers to manage any back-end infrastructure, while Lambda is focused on more efficiently connecting back-end services, Emison said.

Amazon took the industry from servers on-premises to servers in the cloud, and the next step is to not need servers at all -- instead to just deploy code to a highly abstracted front-end, according to Emison.

"Sort of the original promise of platform as a service, which platform as a service never delivered," Emison said. "You don't actually need to control the back-end experience if someone else needs to run it for you."

Infrastructure focused projects like the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Container Service are wildly popular but, in the long term, Emison sees them as a distraction -- and says the industry is moving up the stack.

"Amazon seems, right now, not to be leading the next phase," Emison said.

Amazon and the other cloud services are not really as game changing as they could be.
Alex IzaguirreCIO, CTO for the Baylor College of Medicine (Houston)

Still, Amazon has tons of market power and a lot of time. It took Microsoft Azure a long time to catch up, and it is still generally looked at as number two behind Amazon.

"I'm not saying they can't catch up, I'm just saying, when I look at their focus right now, it just seems they're going to get passed if they don't make some changes," Emison said.

Amazon is correct in calling cloud the "new normal," according to Carl Brooks, analyst with 451 Research based in New York. But that means its differentiations in infrastructure as a service have lost steam.

"It used to be [that] Amazon's strength was deploying infrastructure and economies of scale," Brooks said. "What they did in minutes or hours, other people would take days and weeks to do. That's gone."

The future will consist of very large cloud players, such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, bumping up against each other in a bid to become a comprehensive environment for IT, Brooks said.

"Amazon, frankly, is not going to be the Alpha and the Omega here," Brooks said. "They're going to be part of a large ecosystem of folks who are doing fundamentally similar things."

Wanted: the iTunes of clinical research

Even customers who focus today on building out cloud infrastructure want to see a more software as a service (SaaS)-like approach to accessing it.

For example, Alex Izaguirre, CIO and CTO for the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is building out a private cloud on-premises based on NetApp Inc.'s FlexPod hardware, CliQr Technologies' cloud management software and a custom-built interface for researchers. That interface for researchers is the key piece of the puzzle for Baylor, but its work Izaguirre would rather see a cloud provider do in the future.

"Amazon and the other cloud services are not really as game changing as they could be," Izaguirre said. Instead, he looks for a cloud service provider, hopefully Amazon, to do for clinical research and other collaborative fields what Steve Jobs did for the music industry with iTunes.

"He didn't invent the MP3 player… he didn't invent software that helped you organize your music … he didn't invent peer-to-peer transmission of music … [but iTunes] was put together in a way that the experience was really digestible to everybody," Izaguirre said.

Allowing clinical research customers to deploy apps or provision infrastructure such as through the AWS Service Catalog is only one part of the overall experience Izaguirre envisions as possible for Amazon to create.

The whole economy around music changed with iTunes, and Izaguirre thinks a similar thing is going to happen in the health sciences, if cloud providers build an experience where people can find colleagues, share files, chat over video conference connections, and have a central place to use the resources that are in this marketplace to get work done.

This isn't the first time Amazon has been called on to better curate its variety of do-it-yourself infrastructure ingredients. Industry analysts have also urged Amazon to package its big data products in a more easily digestible format for end users.

What do IT pros want from AWS in the short-term? Click here for part 1.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected]or follow @ on Twitter.

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