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AWS Outposts continues the trend of 'cloud-down' hybrid

AWS Outposts may not make an impact until 2020, but organizations still need to prepare for Amazon's on-prem cloud service to see if the 'cloud-down' approach fits their needs.

AWS Outposts has generated a great deal of hype, despite the lack of details about the on-premises service. Still, it's not too early to consider real-world applications for this impending offering.

These managed hardware and software stacks will reside in customer data centers but will be managed by Amazon. AWS Outposts won't be available until late 2019 and will only offer limited capabilities initially. But the attention already paid to the service underscores the shift toward hybrid cloud and changes in how enterprises build and deploy applications.

"Outposts is another sign that cloud computing, as a concept, is moving away from being just another data center where you can get cheap service and storage to really a colocation facility with all the tools and services that companies can use to build better software faster," said Dave Bartoletti, analyst at Forrester.

This represents a cloud-down model for organizations that have built their architecture around platforms such as AWS and want the public cloud in their data centers, too, said Edwin Yuen, analyst at ESG. That's in contrast to a cloud-up approach where the public cloud is an extension or supplement to existing on-premises architecture.

"With Outposts, you will run workloads on it as if you were in the cloud, and if you need other cloud services, you simply access them through the network," Yuen said.

Microsoft, which has a large on-premises install base, was first to offer a locally run version of its public cloud when it added Azure Stack. Conversely, AWS began primarily with born-in-the-cloud startups and was reluctant to embrace hybrid cloud. But Amazon has changed its tune as more enterprises adopt its technology, and Outposts puts an exclamation point on an effort that began with VMware Cloud on AWS.

How to know when AWS Outposts is the right fit

AWS Outposts could expand AWS' reach, but it could also deepen vendor lock-in for users. Organizations will need to decide whether they want to solidify their commitment to AWS by bringing it on premises.

Neither approach to hybrid -- cloud-up or cloud-down -- is inherently superior, Yuen said. Rather, it is about optimization. For example, an organization may want take a cloud-up approach if it plans to maintain its existing on-premises applications for many years to come, while others may want a cloud-down approach where they need a resource such as AWS Outposts to extend their AWS environment due to privacy or data sovereignty concerns.

For now, organizations should proceed with caution with AWS Outposts since it won't be available for another nine to 12 months, said Mike Dorosh, analyst at Gartner.

"We don't even have an idea about form factor and pricing," he said.

AWS Outposts does have some potentially strong uses, primarily involving on-prem ingestion and processing of data before it's sent to AWS. For example, AWS Outposts could rationalize data, strip out personally identifiable information and then randomize or prepare it for further transformation.

"Outposts could help reduce the amount of data passing through the network so it can go right to analytics," Dorosh said.

It could also enable AWS to shift services down from its data center to run locally.

"The idea is that you could extend Lambda functions down to the data center to do processing locally for things you don't want in public cloud or to do preprocessing on premises or other similar use cases," he said.

AWS Outposts could also work for specialty applications or edge deployments, especially as 5G becomes widely available, Dorosh said. However, for the near term, he doesn't expect any organization in production with Outposts until 2020.

Plan ahead for security and governance

It seems likely that Outposts will be always on and connect to an EC2 region, so potentially, users should consider whether that meets their needs, Dorosh said. For example, do you aim to reduce latency or provide pre- or post-processing? Or is this a case of institutional inertia meant to put off an actual migration to the cloud?

Organizations should think, too, about potential gotchas around privacy and security.

"There will be a sealed box in your data center where someone else has a kill switch," Dorosh said. "Are you comfortable with that, or would you be better off with a colo center or hyper-converged infrastructure?"

Organizations should also think about policy implications regarding data egress and overall governance. Many organizations set up barriers between their data center and the cloud, and AWS Outposts may blur those lines.

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