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AWS Blox puzzles fans of containers in cloud computing

The container orchestration pool is already crowded and competitive, and AWS has waded in with an unusual play.

The world of containers in cloud computing got a jolt when Amazon launched an open source container scheduler last...

week, but made no mention of the open source container cluster manager, Kubernetes.

AWS chief rival Microsoft Azure said it will support Kubernetes, which has already gained tremendous momentum in the market of orchestration of containers in cloud computing this year, particularly among large enterprises that run at scale. Given these factors, industry watchers expected AWS to support Kubernetes as well.

Instead, CTO Werner Vogels unveiled Blox, an open source project that will allow customers to build custom schedulers and other utilities on top of Amazon's EC2 Container Service (ECS). Vogels' examples of third-party schedulers that could be brought to ECS through Blox included that of Mesos, but he did not mention those from Kubernetes or Docker Swarm.

"Blox is, in my opinion, an attempt to depose Kubernetes," said Robert Stroud, an analyst at Forrester Research.

While nothing stops enterprising IT pros from hooking up the Kubernetes scheduler to ECS through Blox -- and Kubernetes can be run on raw Elastic Compute Cloud infrastructure -- some enterprises had looked for stronger out-of-the-box AWS support for the platform, not unlike those that Microsoft and Google offer.

The disclosure left some IT pros to wonder about Kubernetes' place in the larger container orchestration universe, and how Blox fits in.

"It will be interesting to see: Can I take a container that works in Kubernetes and bring it over to a Blox environment, or do I have to change my applications [if I] want that cross-cloud compatibility?" said Justin Erenkrantz, head of compute architecture at Bloomberg, the global finance, media and tech company, based in New York.

Cross-infrastructure compatibility, particularly in hybrid cloud deployments, is one place some enterprise IT pros would like to see Kubernetes become the de facto standard for containers in cloud computing.

"The fact of the matter is Kubernetes is a perfect tool for doing hybrid [cloud] and that's the big attraction of it, and you'd love AWS to play ball with that," said an SVP at a large financial services company who declined to be identified. The executive said the company plans to put Kubernetes into production next quarter. Customers can deploy Blox schedulers on premises, but if they use AWS on the public cloud side, they remain tied to Amazon's ECS.

IT pros question AWS open source governance

The governance model for Blox raised eyebrows among industry watchers as well; it's available in a GitHub repo, but it has not been turned over to an open source foundation. Amazon is not known for its contributions to open source communities.

"AWS needs community support for Blox to be successful," Stroud said. "AWS still lacks a good governance model and, without it, it will not be successful."

Customers enthused about developing container orchestration schedulers, meanwhile, look for projects that deliver a complete platform rather than a plug-in to ECS, whether from Kubernetes or a boutique offering from a smaller vendor.

"Blox is just a way to utilize the EC2 Container Service -- it's a tiny piece of the puzzle," said Matti Paksula, CTO at AppGyver, a Finnish mobile app development company that contributes to the Kontena project. "It's great that Amazon is doing this, but Kontena is the whole package."

AWS' strong suit: Serverless computing

While Blox may interest some, other enterprises will look to the AWS Lambda event-driven, serverless computing platform. Industry watchers see AWS investing more energy in that direction.

"Lambda, serverless, stateless, and fine-tuned granularity on what kind of code you write and where it runs, is definitely the way things will go forward," said Greg Arnette, CTO of Sonian, an email archiving and analytics company in Waltham, Mass.

AWS can play defense with ECS and Blox because its focus is really on Lambda, added the financial services SVP. "The advantage that Amazon has right now ... is that there's no really credible open source equivalent to Lambda or Google Cloud Functions or Microsoft Azure Functions," he said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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