AWS re:Invent shows that it's Amazon's world, we're just paying rent to live in it

Profile picture for user kmarko By Kurt Marko December 4, 2019
Summary:
Amazon's re:Invent conference has been in Las Vegas this week with a series of major announcements.

Amazon

AWS re:Invent is the one tech event that makes even news-hungry tech watchers cry “Uncle.” The 2019 edition didn’t disappoint, delivering a shotgun blast of announcements covering every corner of the IT infrastructure domain. Indeed, the breadth and seeming disorderly release of AWS’s announcements makes the entirety something of a Rorschach test for cloud users: there’s something for everyone and the patterns and themes you see depend on what you’re looking for. 

One thing many IT execs and industry analysts were looking for was an update on how AWS is addressing the ostensibly inevitable trend towards multi- or hybrid-cloud enterprise infrastructure, particularly given its previous VMware partnership to build hybrid AWS-on-premises VMware environments. On that front, they were sorely disappointed, since as several live-Tweeters noted, AWS CEO Andy Jassy didn’t mention either term once in his lengthy keynote. 

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Instead, we got a parade of new services and supporting technology that extended the reach of AWS from its globally interconnected, hyperscale data centers, to the private data center (Outposts) to the metro area (Local Zones) and the cellular edge networks (Wavelength). Indeed, the pervasive extent of Amazon’s infrastructure it’s prompting tweets of angst. If anything, re:Invent demonstrated an AWS that is building an infrastructure and application platform that can scale and extend to the size and location needed for the job. Thus, it’s an AWS world that enterprises can rent wherever and however they need. 

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Jassy unleashed: Cloud services are the key to enterprise transformation and AWS is the best cloud

Understanding the breadth of re:Invent announcements and silence on a topic most tech analysts consider compulsory for any self-respecting cloud vendor requires delving into Jassy’s view of the changing business environment, the role of cloud services in driving those changes and AWS’s position of strength in the cloud market

Jassy began his re:Invent keynote by discussing the significant business changes buffeting every industry primarily the result of disruptive startups using the cloud and other technologies to build a better mousetrap. Indeed, he said the most important conversation he has with potential large customers isn’t about AWS technology, but rather, 

How should we think about transforming ourselves? How can we reinvent our business and our customer experience so that we can be meaningful and sustainable over a long period of time.”

Jassy hit on the “business transformation” theme extensively in a lengthy and revealing pre-show interview with SiliconAngle when he said (emphasis added):

If you’re an existing enterprise and you’re just seeing your world through the lens of your current market segment share, and you’re not thinking that there’s a chance that a startup you’ve never heard of, or maybe doesn’t even exist today, might disrupt your business with a better idea, and you’re not already experimenting and iterating quickly, you’re going to find yourself on the wrong end of that equation.

He added that such disruptive threats mean that enterprises can’t afford to tinker around the edges with incremental tweaks, but must make big, transformative changes to their business model and processes. It is within this zeitgeist that Jassy sees cloud services like AWS as essential enablers. 

If AWS’s experience is indicative, CEOs are internalizing the disruptive threats and required response since Jassy tells SA that CEOs are more involved than ever in the decision to select AWS as their preferred cloud platform. The criticality of the cloud to transformation strategies is likely responsible for (at least in part) Jassy’s dismissal of cloud heterogeneity and his not eschewing the multi-cloud mantra chanted at other cloud keynotes. The reason is twofold:

  1. Jassy rightly contends that AWS has the most features and capabilities of any provider and that competitors aren’t getting any closer. As he tells SA, “the functionality gap is widening and we’re about 24 months ahead of the next largest provider, and the next largest provider is meaningfully ahead of the third-largest provider.” Note: current market stats would make providers 2 and 3, Microsoft Azure and either Google (Synergy Research) or Alibaba (Gartner). 
  2. The reality of multi-cloud as implemented isn’t egalitarian, but monopolistic, with one primary vendor earning the vast majority — 70 percent or more — of an organization’s cloud businesses with other vendors used to fill in the feature gaps or placate developers on a particular project. Otherwise, as Jassy points out, with a more even cloud split “you have to standardize on the lowest common denominator [in terms of feature set], and these platforms are in pretty radically different spots right now in terms of capabilities and the ecosystem and maturity,” Due to point  numbers 1, Jassy expects — and revenue and market share numbers agree with him — that AWS will be the primary cloud. 

Indeed, due to the cloud’s central role in business transformation, Jassy sees vendor selection as the key to unlocking additional IT spending. As he tells SA, once companies make a strategic cloud decision (emphasis added):

All bets are off. [At that point] everybody they’ve been using before, everything they’ve been using before, everything is on the table to be reconsidered, which is interesting because it throws the world upside down. And it’s a great opportunity, not just for us, but for really the entire ecosystem.

This leads to Jassy’s ultimate mission to make AWS the pillar of next-generation of businesses:

Our goal is to be the infrastructure technology platform underneath all of these enterprises in their transformation strategies and to enable them to be able to invent and to build better customer experience and to help them grow.

The expanding world of AWS - key announcements

At more than 70 product announcements and 30-plus blog posts, the volume of news emanating from re:Invent defies summarization in a single column, however, the overarching themes are the company’s:

  1. Relentless investment in significant product development and innovation
  2. Breadth and depth of services, with the largest array of compute instances and options, multiple database services and network options paired with a growing AI/machine learning portfolio that increasingly targets business users, i.e. non-experts, via the SageMaker service.
  3. Expansion beyond traditional hyperscale cloud data centers into the mobile edge (MEC), metropolitan network hub and on-premises locations. 

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Points 1 and 2 are best illustrated by the announced general availability of instances using the AWS-designed Inferentia chip for ML inference workloads. Announced last year, the custom chip is designed to accelerate the execution of typical ML and deep learning workloads at a lower cost than GPUs. Further evidence of AWS’s R&D commitment came with the announcement of instances using a second-generation ARM-based Graviton processor that features 4-times the number of compute cores, double the cache memory per core and 7-times the overall performance of the first-generation chip announced last year.

  • A new Wavelength service for delivering AWS services to 5G edge networks and a partnership with Verizon that uses Wavelength as part of its 5G network. 
  • A new type of Local Zone to deliver low-latency ( < 10ms) network performance for the core AWS infrastructure services like EC2, EBS, FSx and ELB. The first deployment in Los Angeles illustrates the target workloads, in this case, the entertainment industry with demanding video editing and processing applications that were previously executed at a local private data center or colo. 
  • The general availability of Outposts to deliver AWS services within a private data center and the expanding list of services available on the platform including container managers ECS, EKS and App Mesh, RDS (database) and EMR (Map Reduce for Big Data).

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Together with its embedded products like IoT Greengrass and DeepLens , these services provide the flexibility to deliver some AWS services as close to the application as performance requirements dictates while providing others from traditional hyperscale cloud  facilities. 

My take

Re:Invent 2019 shows an AWS unabashedly promoting a cloud-native future with AWS at its center. In this model, the AWS ecosystem is the foundation for business applications, data and management controls, but one that is no longer hyperscale-centric, but instead can be delivered at the scale and location required by the workload. While the vision doesn’t banish corporate data centers to oblivion, it does render them secondary, as necessary appendages to the AWS environment where required by law or regulation (data privacy) or performance. 

Jassy’s eschewal of the multi-cloud, i.e. cloud-agnostic, theme shows that AWS never believed in the notion of hybrid clouds and that the VMware Cloud on AWS was a head-fake to appeal to potential customers with sizable legacy VMware investments. Indeed, as I wrote more than three years ago when it was first announced, the AWS-VMware tie-up had strategic value to both parties, but that AWS was playing the long game. Quoting (emphasis added0:

With this SaaS-like service, VMware can offer its customers a viable, compelling hybrid cloud strategy that uses the most popular public cloud service to power the dominant enterprise virtualization platform. ...Amazon gets ready access to enterprises wanting to get out of the infrastructure operations business and that are amenable to using public cloud infrastructure to run critical systems. Once these organizations are operating on shared infrastructure, it's easier both technically and conceptually to migrate applications to a native cloud design using standard AWS services, which is AWS's end game.

AWS is entering the end-game portion of its strategy in which it finally has the confidence of and working relationships with CEOs, not just CIOs, to drive a cloud-first, AWS-centric business transformation strategy. Other cloud providers are on notice that AWS is playing for keeps, not just a small piece of the enterprise pie. However, with its demonstrated ability to crank out services, custom silicon and other hardware and core infrastructure, other cloud providers must also know they are in for the fight of their lives.