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Hybrid cloud push extends with Amazon EC2 Run Command

Amazon's hybrid cloud strategy continues to evolve with Amazon EC2 Run Command, extending its reach into customer data centers amid growing competition from Microsoft.

Amazon sees the public cloud as the inevitable endgame for IT workloads, but its latest foray into customers' data centers shows that future is still a bit distant.

Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Run Command, Amazon's remote instance management service that rolled out last year, has added capabilities for workloads running on premises and on other clouds. It's not the most comprehensive way to manage hybrid environments, but it highlights the challenge AWS must overcome with customers that aren't all-in on public cloud and a growing challenge from Microsoft -- a company well-versed in more traditional IT environments.

Tools such as Run Command are steppingstones to get clients on AWS, and, eventually, the efficiencies they achieve will make them want to migrate everything over, said Chris Moyer, vice president of technology at ACI Information Group and a TechTarget contributor.

"One of the big barriers for things like the [Amazon] EC2 Run Command is that it locks you into using AWS; but making it also work outside of AWS makes it a much smaller barrier," Moyer said.

Customers want a unified way to manage servers on premises and in other clouds, looking at a common use case, explained Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at AWS, in a blog post announcing the update. Customers install Simple Systems Manager agents on their external Linux or Windows server, activate the agent and use existing commands to manage them. There is no additional charge for using the service. (Amazon declined to comment for this story.)

IT pros want tooling and automation that provide the biggest bang for the buck, so having things work on premises the way they do in the public cloud is a positive step in that direction, said Kris Bliesner, founder and CTO at 2nd Watch, an AWS premier partner based in Seattle.

"This particular piece of technology is a small chunk of what is possible, and I do think AWS will get more pressure from their customers to help bridge the gap between on-premises and public cloud," he said.

AWS offers other ways to connect with services outside its public cloud, including networking with Virtual Private Cloud and Direct Connect, and backup tools with Storage Gateway, Simple Storage Service and Glacier. It's also made strides in simplifying how customers move data into the cloud, including the Snowball appliance for transferring massive amounts of data via a portable connected device that ships in the mail.

Corporate data centers aren't going anywhere soon

The leading public cloud providers all send the same message: Cloud is the preferred destination for workloads. So, the discussion around hybrid typically revolves around making it easier to get applications, or at least parts of them, to the cloud, said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst with Forrester Research.

VMware, Cisco, Dell and others take an inverse approach -- they view the cloud as a partial extension of customers' data centers, with some moving slowly over time, but still running much the same way they do on premises, Bartoletti said. Regardless of the approach vendors take, even big players that are cloud-first realize, for the next decade, a huge swath of workloads will remain in the standard corporate data center.

The best way to overcome hybrid cloud challenges is to help IT operations teams ... say, 'I'm not losing control, I can still upgrade and patch the servers and check for viruses no matter where it is.
Dave Bartolettiprincipal analyst, Forrester Research

"It would be stupid for the public cloud vendors to ignore the millions of VMs running in data centers," Bartoletti said. "There are millions and they're not going to the cloud overnight, and they're not going anytime soon."

The Amazon EC2 Run Command update is all about AWS' continued push for simplicity and visibility into managing updates and operations across environments, Bartoletti said.

"I don't think this radically changes the market for hybrid computing, but it shows the best way to overcome hybrid cloud challenges is to help IT operations teams when they move to the cloud be able to say, 'I'm not losing control, I can still upgrade and patch the servers and check for viruses no matter where it is,'" Bartoletti said.

One of the biggest challenges IT shops face is deciding what monitoring tools to use when moving to the public cloud, Bartoletti said. And a big battle over the next five years will be over the future of private clouds and whether users want them to be neutral and independent, or if they prefer to see them aligned with AWS, Azure and the other hyperscale providers.

Hybrid hype versus reality

Hybrid applications are more of a pipedream than reality, with few IT shops actually bursting workloads to the public cloud or splitting components of an application between public and private environments because of the challenges around complexity and governance, said Andrew Reichman, research director at 451 Research.

When it comes to different workloads running in different environments, however, there has always been a dream of a single interface to do everything, even if that sacrifices environment-specific features to get some level of consistency, Reichman added. Microsoft has an advantage here with its server, virtualization and operating system business operating across private data centers and its Azure public cloud. That will only improve when its delayed Azure Stack hits the market.

"Microsoft is a huge threat to Amazon," Reichman said. "Their cloud is growing rapidly and is much more synced with what their customers run today."

Despite that threat, there are probably limits to what Amazon should do, he added. Amazon EC2 Run Command is a pretty basic point of integration; and part of what makes AWS attractive is that it's a simple, effective and reliable set of services. Trying to integrate with every private cloud and getting away from the full benefits of public cloud would counter what's been successful for AWS thus far, Reichman said.

"I don't see Amazon really having the appetite to build that, rather than building more functional things and more features," Reichman said. "Adding more products is generally going to be their focus, rather than really deep integration and advanced controls for other products."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].

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