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12 December 2019

Outposts goes live, could increase demand for MNOs’ connectivity

The launch of Amazon Web Services’ Outposts on-premise enterprise edge offering was a highlight of last year’s re:Invent, and one that appeared to throw cold water on telcos’ dreams of being the leaders in owning and managing physical edge infrastructure.

This year, AWS said Outposts was generally available, and added a connectivity layer to the service, called Local Zone.

Outposts takes AWS into the on-premises hardware business. Some enterprises which are interested in edge applications – for reasons of control, data privacy, low latency or other motivations – will want to keep that edge infrastructure on their own premises. Of course,  both AWS and the telcos would prefer these organization to use their public edge locations on a managed services basis – less fragmentation of the infrastructure, better economies of scale, better ability for operators to monetize existing site assets and small data centers. But if companies insist on on-premises edge, it will be important for AWS, and the operators, to secure a good place in that ecosystem.

For AWS, the challenge is greater than for Microsoft Azure, which already has an entrenched position in enterprise data centers via its parent. AWS, whose model is fully reliant on public cloud, has said that on-premises edge offerings – such as its Snowball miniature data center and its Greengrass IoT-focused developer platform – will help it to infiltrate the corporate space, and to provide cloud deniers with a reassuring first step towards the full cloud experience.

That will clearly be a motivation for Outposts, which is a way to bring the AWS hybrid cloud into the enterprise premises by offering enterprises local compute and storage, based on the same hardware as AWS uses in its own data centers. Companies and their developers get consistent tools and experience across the edge and the central cloud, and can choose to place different elements of their applications in different locations according to requirements.

Users can run the native AWS APIs (application programming interfaces) on Outposts infrastructure, or there will be an option to run VMware private cloud software instead, available from 2020.  Either route aims to create a uniform experience across the public and private cloud, and to help companies move more smoothly between the two.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy said: “This makes it such that you can now run those workloads, which need to live on premises, with the same AWS APIs, the same AWS control plane, and using several of the same AWS container and database services, to deliver a truly consistent hybrid experience.”

The native version of Outposts is available in all European Union countries, plus Norway and Switzerland, said AWS. According to Jassy, there are two overriding motivations for enterprises to select Outposts – to reduce latency and to keep data securely within their own walls.

Customers can mix and match compute, storage, databases, analytics and machine learning modules on site, and select AWS services such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Elastic Block Store (EBS), Virtual Private Cloud, Elastic Container Service (ECS), Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Relational Database Service (RDS) and Elastic MapReduce (EMR). Users can connect directly to regional services like Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) or Amazon DynamoDB tables through private connections, and from next year, AWS will add the ability to run more services locally on Outposts, starting with S3.

The cloud giant has established a team to carry out installations, monitoring and management of Outposts equipment and services, and in future will also build up a network of systems integrator partners. Its approach mirrors that of Microsoft Azure with Stack, which deploys cloud software on customers’ own servers, and Google with the Anthos toolbox.

Jassy summed up the challenge that AWS, its rivals, and the telcos are all trying to address in order to grow their enterprise business. “The second barrier we’re hearing from customers, particularly larger organizations, is say I have end users in a particular geography that have workloads that are latency sensitive, and where I don’t have a data center or a colocated facility, and I don’t want to manage any more – what can you do about that?”

The CEO also announced Local Zones, which adds further reach and capabilities to Outposts “useful, low level flexible building block”, as Jassy put it. While Outposts targets on-premises workloads and resources, Local Zones focuses on end users and resources across a localized geographic area that goes beyond enterprise premises. Users anywhere in the zone can use the AWS cloud services locally while connecting back to the rest of their workloads in the main cloud.

That connectivity is where the operators have the opportunity to become significant partners in driving success for Local Zones, by allowing AWS to leverage their 5G or other high quality networks.

The first Local Zone is in Los Angeles, providing developers, content providers and enterprises in that city the ability to deploy applications with single-digit millisecond latencies to end users.