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Amazon CTO Werner Vogels on transparency, developers, multi-cloud

In this Q&A, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels dishes on transparency, technology roadmaps, developers, multi-cloud and more.

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels is known for his work with Amazon Web Services, but he actually leads technology innovation across the entire company. In a keynote talk at this week's AWS Summit event in New York City, he outlined new product directions and his philosophy for the future of cloud computing.

Vogels sat down with TechTarget to discuss a wide range of issues, from transparency into future development of AWS services to customers' multi-cloud plans.

In December 2018, AWS posted a public roadmap for its container strategy on GitHub. This was seen as an unusual, maybe unprecedented move. Talk about transparency in terms of a philosophy -- will we see more of this kind of thing out of AWS?

Werner Vogels: As always, with respect to customer interaction, we try to experiment. The whole thing with roadmaps is that once you produce it, you have to stick with it. And historically, we've always tried to be more secretive. We've always tried to keep the roadmap with customers under NDA. Mostly so we could have the opportunity to change our minds.

Because once you promise customers you're going to deliver X, Y and Z in September, you have to deliver X, Y and Z in September for them.

And so I think given the tremendous interest of developers in containers, this seems like a really great space to start with giving the community access to a roadmap, knowing what's coming. And I think definitely given our close cooperation with that group we need this sort of ecosystem. I think it was really important to show what our plans are there.

One critique of AWS is that CloudFormation lags too much with regard to support for new AWS features. In response, AWS pledged to provide more transparency around CloudFormation, including a roadmap. What's going on from your perspective with CloudFormation?

Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO
Werner Vogels, vice president and CTO of Amazon

Vogels: Often we have a number of innovations scheduled for CloudFormation, but as you can see we put a lot of effort into the Cloud Development Kit, or CDK. One thing we've gotten from developers is that they prefer to write code instead of these large, declarative JSON and XML files. I showed it onstage this morning, with the demo that we did. We've put most of our effort in actually going the CDK route more than sort of extending CloudFormation.

Most customers have asked for new features in CloudFormation to get sort of parity with what Terraform is doing. I have great respect for HashiCorp and the speed at which they're innovating. They're a great partner. And as such, we're working with CloudFormation to take it in the direction that customers are asking for.

I think overall, we're on a good path, the right path. But I love the fact that there is a long list of requests for CloudFormation. It means that customers are passionate about it and want us to do more.

There is a sense these days that enterprises should look to be multi-cloud, not tied to a single provider, for reasons such as cost, vendor management and richer opportunities for innovation. One of your competitors, Google, hopes to be a middleman player with its Anthos multi-cloud deployment platform. What is your stance on multi-cloud, and can we see something like Anthos coming out of AWS someday?

Vogels: It depends a bit on how you define multi-cloud. If you think about if you have this one application that you want to run on any of the providers, you pretty quickly go to a lowest common denominator, which is to use a cloud as a data center. You just use instances as a service. Now you get some elasticity, you get some cost savings out of it, maybe some more reliability, but you get none of the other benefits. You can't use any of the security tools that Amazon is giving you. Plus, you need to have your workforce, your development force able to be proficient in each and every one of these clouds that you're using, which seems like a waste.

Given the tremendous interest of developers in containers, this seems like a really great space to start with giving the community access to a roadmap, knowing what's coming.
Werner VogelsCTO, Amazon

The few companies that I've seen being slightly successful with having a multi-cloud approach are ones that say, oh this is one particular thing that this particular provider is unique in and I really want to make use of that. Well, sometimes that's as some sort of a vertical, or it might be in a particular location.

The other thing that we're working with most of our enterprise customers is, what is an exit strategy? What do I need to do, if one moment I decide that I would like to move over to another provider? That for any large enterprise is just good due diligence. If you start using a [SaaS application], you want to know about what do we need to do to get my data out of there, if I want to move let's say from Salesforce to Workday.

It's the same for most large enterprises. They want to know how much work is it actually for me to actually move if I decide to go from cloud provider A to cloud provider B, or maybe bring it back on premises.

That's something that we've been working on with most of our large customers, because that's just good due diligence.

You talked about your strategy for developers today [in the AWS Summit keynote]. Are you satisfied with where AWS is with regard to developer experience?

Vogels: I'm never satisfied. I think this is mostly focused on serverless. Anything serverless is still so much in flux. We see customers building more and more complex and larger applications using only serverless components, and we're learning from that. What are the kinds of things that customers want?

For example, when we launched [Lambda] Layers, that was purely from feedback from customers saying, 'Hey you know, we have this whole set of basic components that we are always using for each of our applications, but it doesn't allow us to actually easily integrate them.' So we built Layers for customers.

We continue to look at how we can do these things. The same goes for building Custom Runtimes. There [are] only so many languages you can do yourself, but if there's someone else that wants to do Haskell or Caml, or any let's say, less popular language, we should be able to enable them. And so we built Custom Runtimes.

Part two of TechTarget's Q&A with Amazon CTO Werner Vogels will touch on AWS Outposts, AWS' pace of innovation, and how customers can control cloud costs.

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