At re:Invent 2018, AWS let loose a flurry of services announcements. One of the most interesting and perhaps the most consequential is AWS Outposts. Outposts is a fully managed, on-premises ITaaS platform that is essentially an extension of an AWS public cloud region into a customer’s data center. Its intent is to mirror the AWS EC2 environment—but one that does so on premises—and address applications that are latency sensitive or need to be on-premises for other reasons. Outposts come in two flavors, both based on an integrated hardware/software stack built on AWS hardware. Outpost Native is a fully AWS-managed platform running EC2. The other is VMware Cloud on AWS Outpost running essentially VMware’s SDDC stack, again as a managed, on-premises service. Either version will prompt potential customers to rethink what it means to run workloads on or off-premises and why.
AWS Outpost Native is essentially an extension of an AWS region into the customer’s data running native EC2. Dedicated or multi-tenant EC2. Configurations will come in single “server,” fractional racks, full racks and multiple rack configurations Once unpacked and plugged in, it will appear on a customer’s AWS console within an existing region and will be added to a customer’s monthly bill. Updates and maintenance will be managed by AWS, just as if it was in physically located within one of their cloud data centers. In addition, and underlining the fact that Outpost is an AWS-created and managed entity, customers should be aware that AWS Outpost will not connect to an on-premises network and remains outside the firewall.
The VMware Cloud option is also AWS’ hardware with the same configurations, but one that uses VMware’s Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) stack running on EC2 bare-metal, also delivered as a fully managed service. Once unpacked and plugged in, it will appear on the customer’s vCenter Console as a “VMC on AWS Outpost” instance that is VMware Cloud on AWS-managed. VMware will have access to Outpost to add extra capacity, do patch management, and to deliver first call support. The SDDC stack for this version of Outpost includes ESX, vSAN, NSX, vRealize. Future releases will include AppDefense, Data Protection with VADP API’s and support for Kubernetes. Like the Native version, customers will be able to use AWS services on Outpost including RDS, EMR and ECS. But unlike Outpost Native, this version can be connected to a customer’s internal data center network.
Many enterprise IT organizations are navigating cloud mandates that specify what percentage of workloads must be “in the cloud’ and by when. So it is common to hear IT administrators say that they have told to be 50% in the cloud for example by 2020. Quite often, this translates to meaning that 50% of workloads will be running in off premises public clouds by 2020. But now that the off-premises public cloud environment can be brought into the data center (albeit still outside the firewall), why Amazon now asks, does the workload have to move off-premises? Move it to the cloud? Yes. Move it outside the data center? No.
Cloud computing competes with on premises IT infrastructure vendors by attracting workloads away from their gear. But now comes AWS with its own gear—AWS servers in AWS racks. The question of whether or not AWS is now competing more directly with server vendors has been raised. To answer that question, it’s worth considering what AWS defines as a server in the context of its cloud architecture. Outpost delivers EC2 running on C5 instances. These C5 “servers” feature high performance compute (Intel Skylake-SP processors) with NVMe SSD and Elastic Network Adapters, all based on the AWS Nitro architecture that offloads virtualization processing overhead to specialized hardware. This is not traditional client/server and not really general-purpose server virtualization either. As AWS says, Outpost is an extension of an AWS region. It’s like carving out a chunk of the AWS public cloud and dropping it into a customer’s data center. Just plug it in and it magically shows up on the customer’s AWS console. So for me, it’s not that servers are being redefined by AWS in a way that competes with traditional server vendors. Rather, the whole concept of what it means to compute within the four walls of the data center is being challenged and (shall I say it?) re:Invented.