After years spent lagging behind others in creating a hybrid cloud strategy that said the company was serious about the concept, AWS has now put the pedal to the hybrid metal.
The new AWS hybrid cloud initiatives announced in December 2020 expand the variety of ways Amazon cloud users can extend AWS services into their own data centers. This doesn’t mean AWS has caught up to the likes of Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform from a hybrid cloud perspective. But it brings Amazon closer to catching up with the pack.
AWS’s Hybrid Cloud Past
Prior to the December announcements, Amazon’s hybrid cloud strategy mostly amounted to a single platform, AWS Outposts. Introduced in 2018, Outposts makes it possible to run certain AWS services in private data centers or colocation facilities. Like other major public cloud providers, Amazon also offers a dedicated networking solution, Direct Connect, that can enhance the performance of connections between the AWS cloud and private infrastructure.
For at least a couple of years, then, Amazon has had a hybrid cloud strategy. But compared to the hybrid plays of other public clouds, Amazon’s was bare-bones. Outposts is not a multicloud solution like Google Anthos or Azure Arc; it’s tied squarely to the AWS ecosystem. It also requires users to purchase their hybrid cloud hardware directly from Amazon, which makes it less flexible than Anthos, Azure Arc, or Azure Stack.
Indeed, Outposts’ restrictions made it easy to wonder whether Amazon actually wanted to help existing AWS users expand into a hybrid cloud architecture, or merely use Outposts as a transitional platform to get more on-premises workloads into the AWS cloud.
A More Flexible AWS Hybrid Cloud
AWS’s hybrid cloud strategy grew marginally more flexible at re:Invent 2020, where the company announced several small but significant updates to its services.
The most important was the announcement of EKS Anywhere, an offering that extends Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service, or EKS, into private data centers. In other words, EKS lets customers host Kubernetes clusters on their own servers while managing them through the EKS platform, which includes a variety of tools to help deploy and administer Kubernetes-based workloads. Amazon also announced ECS Anywhere, which provides equivalent functionality for Amazon Elastic Container Service, the AWS proprietary orchestration platform.
The chief value here from a hybrid cloud perspective is that when EKS Anywhere (and ECS Anywhere, if anyone still uses ECS) becomes generally available later in 2021, people who want to use AWS container orchestration tooling won’t be forced to its public cloud infrastructure, too.
Importantly, the information Amazon has released so far suggests that, at least initially, both of these platforms will work only with on-premises hardware. You won’t be able to use EKS Anywhere to manage Kubernetes clusters hosted in Azure or GCP, for example, at least for now. That said, Protocol reports that the two services will eventually support other clouds, according to an unnamed AWS source who apparently offered no details or timeline. But for now, all of the product information about EKS Anywhere and ECS Anywhere focuses only on on-premises deployments, which presumably means that support for other clouds will take longer to arrive.
Also important to note is that EKS Anywhere and ECS Anywhere don’t offer brand-new functionality. Outposts also supports EKS and ECS, so customers could previously use Outposts to run Amazon’s container services on private infrastructure. With EKS Anywhere and ECS Anywhere, however, they can do so without having to pay for Outposts or purchase the specific hardware it requires.
Meanwhile, for those AWS customers who do use Outposts, Amazon’s hybrid cloud offerings have become slightly more flexible thanks to the introduction of smaller-form factor options for Outposts hardware. The smaller hardware choices will make it easier to deploy Outposts infrastructure to edge locations like stores and factories, Amazon says, rather than just traditional data centers.
Even with this change, Outposts remains a pretty restrictive platform. You still have to obtain your hardware from AWS, whether you choose one of the newer, smaller form factors or those that were available previously.
The More Things Change...
It still seems fair, then, to conclude that AWS shows little interest in building a truly robust and flexible hybrid cloud offering. Unlike the hybrid platforms of competing cloud providers, Amazon’s hybrid solutions work only within the AWS cloud, rather than providing options for integrating with third-party clouds. Maybe that will change if EKS Anywhere and ECS Anywhere actually turn out to be able to run anywhere and not just on premises, but it’s unclear if and when that will happen.
But at least users now have a few more options when it comes to building a hybrid architecture that incorporates AWS. Outposts is no longer the only way to do it, and for those who do use Outposts, a few more hardware options are available.