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AWS is the undisputed leader in infrastructure as a service, but that doesn't mean its work is done.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has already launched more than 350 cloud features and services in 2015, and users and consultants hope that pace continues over the next two years, particularly features that address how user interfaces work in existing AWS products.
For example, Trusted Advisor, which is a subsection of the AWS Management Console offered to users with a Business or Enterprise support plan, has been a good tool for James Hirmas, co-founder of JHC Technology Inc., a consulting firm to the federal government and large enterprises in Washington, D.C. The tool advises those customers on ways to better configure their environment to cut costs or to follow best practices.
One potential improvement is for Trusted Advisor's best practices to include provisions for specific regulatory compliance mandates such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), Hirmas said.
"Trusted Advisor now starts to model things based on HIPAA compliance, not just general best practice standards," Hirmas said. "Or FedRAMP. Or FISMA [Federal Information Security Management Act]. If you could do that, it would provide a lot more context."
Another tool that has been a success, especially in the last year, is Elastic MapReduce (EMR), which recently added support for Apache Spark and last year boosted the number of instance types supported for running Hadoop-style data analytics jobs.
Because of these new additions, EMR has enjoyed great popularity among clients, but while the AWS Management Console works fine for certain purposes, some customers prefer the user interfaces from competing products, according to Randall Barnes, principal data architect for 2nd Watch, Inc., an Amazon Premier Partner in Liberty Lake, Wash.
Specifically, some customers prefer Cloudera Inc. and Hortonworks Inc.'s user interfaces, which can also be run on the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), according to Barnes.
Cloudera's Hue UI, for example, includes a Job Designer that can automatically run sample job designs to help the user learn how to use it. Amazon, by contrast, offers a step-by-step tutorial in its documentation for setting up a sample EMR cluster manually.
Hortonworks offers built-in data governance and integration tools; EMR secures back-end traffic, but it's up to the user to set up security groups and Identity and Access Management permissions.
New AWS products wanted for feds, Docker
In his work advising the federal government on cloud computing, Hirmas said one project remains a standout wish list item -- Trusted Internet Connection (TIC). Federal agencies are required to monitor all Internet traffic using an appliance called Einstein within an approved federal data center. This creates a less-efficient network topology than private sector users must deal with.
AWS has undertaken a pilot program to become TIC Ready -- the TIC Overlay Pilot, as AWS' project is known, is still in the testing phase, with an assessment report from Amazon due this month.
"The solution we've come up with is essentially using Direct Connect to route to a facility that can then route through TIC," Hirmas said. "So there's ways to do it, it's just not that easy."
Amazon's Docker cloud services have also turned heads in the market lately, but users want Amazon to offer its own Docker registry, which is the construct used to house Docker containers themselves as opposed to placing containers in a cluster as the EC2 Container Service does today.
"It's one of the few things to wish for from Amazon," said Anders Holm, whose company, Gilt.com, has been pleased with Amazon's scale-out capabilities, particularly in storage and data warehousing. "But it adds latency to deploying services when the registry is outside the service itself."
Amazon's CRM dilemma
Amazon products generally leave a bright dividing line where the infrastructure ends and the application begins, but that could soon change, according to analysts.
Amazon already offers customer relationship management (CRM) tools to its partners; it could also potentially offer this service to customers as well, competing with the likes of Salesforce.com.
And CRM is just one of the business applications Amazon has not yet touched; there are also other software categories from healthcare to human resources it could offer.
"You've got other very large companies that are arguably more experienced than Amazon in making that comprehensive integrated software platform pitch, and they're also in the cloud," said Carl Brooks, analyst with 451 Research based in New York.
Microsoft, for example, has become a cross-platform software house where customers can get anything from an office productivity platform to a database, Brooks said. Oracle is also coming into its own as a cloud player -- in this year's fiscal fourth quarter earnings report released in June, Oracle said it sold $426 million of new annually recurring cloud-subscription revenue, as compared with its prediction of $300 million in software as a service and platform as a service sales. When both cloud and on-premises offerings are taken into account, both of these players and IBM offer much broader business application portfolios than AWS.
However, should Amazon enter this market, it will be at something of a disadvantage considering how long competitors' products have been available. As always, it must also choose between cornering a market and potentially alienating partners.
"They [would be] opening themselves up to lots of competition from stuff that's been out in the wild 10 years, stuff that's been way more mature and more feature-rich than anything they'll be able to do for years to come," Brooks said.
Still, it wouldn't be an unprecedented move -- while Oracle arguably has a tremendous advantage in relational databases, that hasn't stopped Amazon from offering its own, Aurora.
Amazon declined to comment for this story.
Check out Part 2 for insights on where IT pros see AWS headed in the next five to ten years.
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