Amazon gingerly embraces the hybrid cloud

Brandon Butler

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For the past two years AWS's re:Invent conferences have primarily been about Amazon's public cloud. In 2014, no doubt the focus is still on public Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). But Amazon is starting to embrace hybrid clouds now too, at least in its own way.

During the first day's keynote at re:Invent, in front of a packed crowd of more than 13,500 attendees, AWS Senior Vice President Andy Jassy said it's not a "binary decision" whether customers go all-in with AWS's public cloud or keep everything on their own premises. AWS wants to make it as seamless as possible to connect customers' existing on-premises systems with the company's market-leading public cloud.

AWS's acknowledging this is a shift for the company. Ever since it invented the public cloud IaaS market, AWS has maintained that the public cloud can host any workload -- and the company still believes that. But in the past year AWS, perhaps in response to some of its top competitors defining their strategies around hybrid cloud computing, has defined its own version of the hybrid cloud.

Hybrid clouds are fundamentally defined as bridging a public cloud with a private one. While many people think about private clouds running on customers' own premises, AWS takes a slightly different view. AWS offers virtual private clouds (VPC), which provide customers with a logically isolated section of the company's public cloud. "Our VPC has really become an extension of our customers' own data center topology," Jassy said recently. AWS competitors' private cloud management tools run on a customer's own premises.

Instead of offering on-premises management software, AWS wants to make it easy to connect those on-premises workloads to its public cloud. To do this AWS offers Direct Connect services, which allow dedicated network connections between their data centers and Amazon's cloud, or between hosting providers like Equinix and AWS's public cloud. And AWS offers plugins for private cloud platforms like VMware's vSphere, too.

AWS is also building up its partnerships. This fall it announced deals with Verizon and AT&T to provide connections via those companies' networks between customers and AWS's cloud. "These partnerships are symbiotic to both AWS and the networking giants and underscore customer demand for hybrid IT and multi-vendor environments," wrote Technology Business Review's Jillian Mirandi. "The integration will allow customers to benefit from AWS' highly scalable and cost-effective public cloud, while leveraging on-premises data centers and private clouds offered by AT&T and Verizon."

Big enterprise customers are happy to see AWS embrace hybrid clouds. At re:Invent, Johnson & Johnson CTO Daniel Zelem said the Fortune 500 company is going all in on a hybrid approach using AWS's cloud. In the future, the company will have what he calls a borderless data center. "It's not going to be clear where the data center begins and ends. What's important is to maintain that operational control and visibility." J&J has 120 apps in this hybrid environment now and expects to triple that next year.

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