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Re:Invent 2020: AWS CEO Andy Jassy on redefining hybrid cloud

Amazon Web Services’ Re:Invent user conference has moved online this year, with the firm’s CEO using the opening keynote to explain how AWS’s take on hybrid cloud has changed over time

Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Andy Jassy has opened up about how the cloud giant is continuing to adjust and tweak its take on hybrid cloud, as the requirement for many enterprises to retain some IT on-premise continues to persist.

Hybrid cloud has emerged as one of the enterprise’s preferred ways of consuming and accessing corporate IT services in recent years, but the meaning of the term has notably broadened over time, said Jassy during the opening keynote of this year’s AWS Re:Invent user conference.

“When you think about the term hybrid infrastructure, I think a lot of people believe that this term, and these solutions are pre-set, but in our very strong opinion, both the definition of the term and the solutions themselves are innovating and being reinvented really quickly,” he said.

“People defined [hybrid cloud] early on as a combination of cloud alongside on-premises datacentres, and one of the reasons [for that] is the people who popularised this term were on-premises infrastructure product providers and they wanted to ride along with the momentum of the cloud.

“And it led to all this breathless debate about whether this was going to turn out to be a binary situation: would you only use the cloud, or only use on-premises?”

The reality of the situation is that the choices enterprises have to make on these matters are far more nuanced than previously anticipated, said Jassy.

As previously reported on by Computer Weekly, in the early years of AWS, the company championed the view that enterprises would look to shutter their private datacentres in favour of going all-in on the public cloud, but its view on that has notably softened in recent times.

In 2015, CTO Werner Vogels said hybrid cloud was not an end-point for enterprises looking to close down their datacentres, but more of a temporary stop as they moved towards a whole shift of their IT infrastructure to the cloud.

Jassy reiterated some of this during his 2020 Re:Invent keynote, while also acknowledging that there might be workloads within the enterprise that do have to remain on-premise indefinitely, but the size of those workloads varies from client to client.

“We stated our then very strong belief that the vast majority of companies in the fullness of time will not have their own datacentres and those that do will have much smaller footprints, but we always thought that was going to happen in the fullness of time – and we knew that would take several years,” he said.

In response to these trends, AWS has moved to expand its portfolio of on-premise, hybrid IT enabling technologies, said Jassy.

“When you go back to asking what is hybrid, it’s not just cloud and on-premises datacentres,” he said. “It’s cloud, along with various edge nodes, on-premises data centres being [just] one of them.

“And we think most of this computing will end up in the cloud over time, but several other workloads will reside where it makes most sense. You’ll have on-premises datacentres when you’re doing this transition from on-premises to the cloud, and you’ll have them in various smaller venues when you want them in a restaurant or at a hospital or a factory.

“You’ll have them in major metropolitan areas where you have your most demanding low-latency workloads where you’re willing to pay a little bit extra to have that low latency, you’ll be able to have them in a disconnected edge, and you’ll be able to have [the] AWS [cloud] as well.”

Jassy added: “People will want this hybrid experience to be delivered by AWS, by distributing AWS to these edge nodes with the same APIs [application programming interfaces], the same control plane, the same tools and the same hardware that they get in AWS regions. That is where we believe hybrid is headed, how we’re trying to enable it.”

On this point, Jassy said the company is expanding the AWS Outposts family to include two smaller form factors, aimed at enterprises with smaller on-premise storage and compute needs.

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Originally launched at Re:Invent 2018, AWS Outposts are managed, configurable, on-premise datacentre racks that come equipped with Amazon compute, database, analystics and storage services, where enterprises can run workloads that are not yet ready to be moved to the cloud.

The first of these smaller Outposts is a 1U-sized unit, which Jassy described as the same size as a pizza box and about one-40th the size of the original Outposts, and there is a 2U-sized one that is “almost like two pizza boxes stacked”, he added.

“These two smaller Outpost formats have the same functionality as [full-sized] Outposts for a smaller space,” said Jassy. “Now it means that restaurants or hospitals or retail stores or factories can use Outposts to have AWS distributed to that edge.”

The company is also broadening out its hybrid and edge computing play by expanding the distribution of its AWS Local Zones, which are hyper-local datacentre hubs that the company first announced at Re:Invent in 2019.

These hubs are kitted out with Outposts and are designed to give enterprises access to AWS compute, storage and database resources in edge locations for specific applications or workloads that require single-digit millisecond-latency connections to function properly.

The locations favoured for Local Zone deployments tend to be where there is keenest demand from customers for this type of functionality, but where the creation of a larger AWS datacentre region would be prohibited by cost or logistics.

The first went live in Los Angeles, and Jassy used the keynote to announce the immediate availability of several additional Local Zones in Boston, Houston and Miami, with a dozen more to follow in various other US locations throughout 2021.

IT reinvention was a recurring theme of this year’s keynote, with Jassy using his three-hour presenting slot to talk about how the company’s cloud services portfolio continues to evolve and expand in line with changing enterprise cloud usage trends.

As such, the keynote saw Jassy run through a number of additions to AWS’s existing product portfolio, including a slew of new Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instance types, cloud storage offerings, container management tools, as well as new machine learning services designed for use by industrial machine operators.

The collective migration of enterprises to the cloud is still in its relative infancy, said Jassy at the start of the session, but the pace of progress has picked up markedly over the past decade and there is still plenty of room for the company to grow.

As confirmed by the company’s most recent financial results, AWS is a $46bn revenue run rate business with an annualised revenue growth rate of 29%, and – according to a data point shared by Jassy during the presentation – is now the world’s fifth biggest enterprise IT company.  

“To give you an idea of how fast AWS is growing, it took us a little over 10 years to grow to a $10bn business,” he said. “And it took us only 23 months to go from $10bn to $20bn, 13 months to go from $20bn to $30bn, and then 12 months to go from $30bn to $40bn – so the rate of growth in AWS continues to accelerate.

“If you look at the total amount of global IT spend that is in the cloud, it’s only 4% at this point. And if you believe, like we do, that the vast majority of computing is moving to the cloud, it means there’s a lot of growth ahead of us.”

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