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AWS hybrid strategy adapts to enterprise demand, market pressure

The AWS hybrid cloud strategy has changed considerably over the years, and this month's Red Hat deal is the latest step toward coexistence with on-premises workloads.

Enterprises continue to force AWS to reevaluate its view on hybrid and push the cloud pioneer in previously unimaginable directions.

Earlier this month, Amazon and Red Hat said they plan to integrate OpenShift more tightly with AWS so customers can manage the public cloud's resources on premises. That follows the still-in-the-works service that will put bare metal servers within AWS data centers to house VMware workloads and several other products intended to ease the onramp to AWS hybrid deployments.

Collectively, these moves represent a steady but significant shift from a company that once viewed hybrid as a mere hindrance to its ultimate goal to get everything on its public cloud.

Datapipe, a hybrid IT company in Jersey City, N.J., has partnered with AWS since 2010. At the beginning, Amazon was very much about putting everything on AWS, but that's changed, said David Lucky, director of product management at Datapipe.

"I definitely see there's been an evolution, even from two years ago, and it's manifested with things like the Red Hat and VMware deals," he said.

This changing view charts fairly closely with enterprise IT's softened stance toward the public cloud. Startups and smaller companies made up the lion's share of AWS' early success, as larger corporations were wary to entrust their infrastructures to someone else. But over time, a litany of big-name success stories, combined with top-down pressure from corporate executives, has changed the public cloud conversation in even the most circumspect enterprises from "if" to "when."

Still, public cloud spending remains a small fraction of overall enterprise IT budgets; the vast majority of enterprises have no plans to dump the considerable investments they've made in their on-premises data centers.

AOL started its move to AWS in 2014, and it built a cost-transparency and consumption tool using Apptio to determine what workloads will easily move and what translates well to the public cloud.

Today, about one-third of AOL's workloads are on AWS, and it's doubled its asset efficiency over the past three years. AOL's online advertising business and web properties, such as Huffington Post and AOL.com, now reside on AWS, but custom applications and mainframes won't be going anywhere. For AOL, like many large enterprises, the decision comes down to cost and risk.

"Certain workloads we find are not worth the refactoring costs today," said James LaPlaine, CIO at AOL.

First, AWS eased the onramp

Amazon's first forays to address enterprise concerns came with Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, followed by AWS Direct Connect and various other improvements around security. Tools such as Amazon Inspector identify workloads that are appropriate for the cloud. AWS Import/Export Snowball allows enterprises to ship data to AWS using physical devices -- Amazon later added the ability to extract data from AWS with Snowball appliances -- and AWS Snowmobile now includes the ability to move actual truckloads full of data.

"Initially, they were lagging features and support for medium to large enterprises because their initial customers were smaller companies, but they're moving more and more into the enterprise market," said Eugene Von Taube, director of technology and cloud services at PTC, a software and services company based in Needham, Mass., that is in the process of moving to AWS.

Still, the shift to the cloud is laborious despite efforts to ease the transition; companies must factor in issues such as uptime during the move and setting up security and user groups. An entire cottage industry has emerged to help enterprises move workloads and manage them once they're in the cloud.

PTC is also wary of using only AWS tools to complete its migration because it wants to retain the ability to evaluate other cloud providers for cost and fit in the future.

"If you have an independent provider tool, you will be in a better position, objectively speaking, to support hybrid cloud environments," Von Taube said. "You need to have a standard tool."

PTC uses cloud orchestration vendor CloudVelox as it migrates more than 1,000 servers to AWS as part of a data center consolidation plan. It estimates this will reduce a six- to 12-month project down to three to four months, and speed the time to decommission some of its data centers.

Red Hat and VMware the next step in AWS hybrid deployment

With the Red Hat and VMware deals, AWS is going a step further in its embrace of hybrid -- from just a transition of on-premises data centers to the public cloud, to improved coexistence with those workloads. The VMware deal, in particular, has generated a lot of attention and is seen as Amazon's response to the emergence of Microsoft as its strongest cloud competitor. Microsoft offers private clouds and it's about to deliver a service called Azure Stack, which mimics its public cloud inside the data centers of customers. But Microsoft has faced a number of delays with Azure Stack, in part because of on-premises hardware challenges related to scaling down its popular public cloud.

Still, there are limitations on AWS' hybrid approach. Unlike what Microsoft wants to do with Azure Stack, integrating Red Hat and VMware still won't bring Amazon cloud services on premises. Amazon has not indicated it plans to go that route, and it often touts its own technical prowess and hardware ingenuity to justify the scale and services it sells.

The VMware deal, for example, is expected to hook into AWS utilities, but actual VMware workloads will sit on separate hardware inside AWS data centers. If customers want to pull those workloads out of the cloud, applications that depend on AWS Lambda or Amazon Aurora would stay on AWS. Similarly, customers can use the Red Hat OpenShift console on premises or in the cloud to configure and deploy services such as Amazon Redshift, Elastic MapReduce or Route 53, but those services will remain exclusively on AWS.

Amazon's strategy is more a Trojan horse than an embrace of on prem, and once they get inside your data center they are in the prime location to plan for its demise.
Erik PetersonCEO and co-founder, CloudZero

These limitations may not be a hindrance for AWS' hybrid strategy just yet as most hybrid cloud models present a siloed architecture. The majority of hybrid use cases today involve either consolidated data centers -- where a portion of an enterprise applications move to the cloud -- or some form of disaster recovery and back up.

Ultimately, enterprises will want to move their workloads back and forth between environments, but that's still several years from being a mainstream demand, said Raj Dhingra, CEO of CloudVelox.

In the meantime, Amazon has positioned itself to take advantage of today's segmented approach, he added. With higher level services that are unique to the cloud, AWS can target pockets of enterprise IT to increase customer consumption.

"Amazon is saying, 'Take a bite. ... You don't need to go all in and [use] AWS for everything -- how about consuming Aurora or Redshift?'" Dhingra said.

Still, despite Amazon's acceptance of hybrid cloud, some see the company's ultimate goal as unchanged.

"Amazon's strategy is more a Trojan horse than an embrace of on prem, and once they get inside your data center they are in the prime location to plan for its demise," said Erik Peterson, CEO and co-founder of CloudZero, a Boston startup focused on cloud security. "The integrations with VMWare and now Red Hat are just an extension of that strategy."

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

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