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AWS Outposts: A hybrid approach to designing hybrid environments—Part One


Amazon Web Services® (AWS) Outposts is a fully managed service that extends AWS infrastructure, AWS services, application programmer interfaces (APIs), and tools to virtually any data center, colocation space, or on-premises facility for a truly consistent hybrid experience.

Introduction

AWS Outposts diagram AWS Outposts diagram

AWS Outposts is ideal for workloads that require low latency access to on-premises systems, local data processing, or local data storage.

This three-part series examines the following topics:

  • Why AWS Outposts is relevant in today’s technology ecosystems
  • How you can leverage Outposts to create hybrid environments
  • What makes up an Outposts' data rack
  • What does it cost to incorporate this technology into your environment
  • How to begin your Outposts journey by setting up a site

What once was old is new again

Has any organization in the history of information technology been more instrumental in the proliferation of public cloud technology, and the abandonment of traditional on-premise infrastructure than AWS? The Amazon public cloud offering has grown at unprecedented rates, and it has done so at the expense of the long-standing hardware giants that once ruled the data center.

At its core, the public cloud value-proposition tells us that the deployment of racks of IT hardware inside a privately-owned or leased colocation facility is an inefficient and wasteful endeavor. You acquire the racks of equipment, wrought with underutilized and inflexible hardware, at a premium rate and at the cost of being deprived of valuable capital assets. Public cloud provides the foundation for rapid innovation, theoretically limitless scalability, unrivaled durability, maximum availability, cost optimizations, and so much more.

On-premise data centers, on the other hand, typically require large capital expenditures or costly leased models. Furthermore, IT decision-makers are forced to take their current storage and compute needs, and then add an arbitrary year-over-year growth rate to try to predict the optimal size of equipment to buy. If their best guesses on the rate of growth are inaccurate, organizations are forced to forego innovation and delay projects until the next budget cycle arrives and allows them to purchase more hardware. It is a vicious cycle, and it was one of the driving factors in the seemingly exponential cloud-adoption rate across all verticals.

If cloud proponents view purchasing racks of hardware to place in an on-premise data center negatively, how is it that one of Amazon’s newest services, introduced at re:Invent in 2019, relies on that very concept? AWS Outposts might seem to run contrary to the AWS goal of public cloud domination, but the decision to create an extension of their secret sauce in hardware format is a savvy and strategic move by the minds at AWS. In addition to AWS’s customer-obsessed go-to-market strategy, they are also best known for driving solutions based on business outcomes. To effectively do that, you cannot apply a one size fits all mentality to your approach.

Maybe an organization wants to maximize their ROI on a previous CAPEX purchase by extending the use of aging hardware. Or perhaps they’re at a loss about how they can transform their IT staff from siloed device-specific SMEs into cloud-focused engineers. Either way, many organizations attempt to hedge their bets and straddle the line between the old and the new methodologies.

Even organizations that are ready to embrace cloud infrastructure fully often find themselves retaining a portion of their infrastructure in on-premise facilities. They might have existing licensing structures, applications that are not cloud-friendly, or data that hasn’t been cleared to live in the clouds due to security or compliance constraints. The result highlights the potential for sub-optimal operations in both environments and a constant state of bridge-building to make the two environments live in relative harmony. The more time an organization’s staff must spend working on solutions to bridge the gap, the less time they have to move up the stack to more productive endeavors.

So what is the best solution for overcoming the hybrid gap?

A new twist on hybrid

The phrase hybrid operating environment often evokes the image of an aging server farm sitting in a cold, lonely, dimly lit on-premise datacenter being tended to by a slump-shouldered data center engineer clinging to the MCSE study guide like it was the good book. Typically, that data center connects to a bright and shiny AWS cloud infrastructure where rainbows are shining, birds are chirping, and children are frolicking between rows of server racks shaped like clouds, as Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” song plays on a loop. At least, that is how many cloud enthusiasts would paint that scenario.

The reality is that this simply not the case, and on-premise data centers and organizations that rent space in colocation facilities are still very abundant throughout the world. This approach will continue to be a viable and acceptable plan for IT infrastructure for decades to come. With cloud adoption skyrocketing and on-premise data centers still holding their ground, there is a huge market for organizations that can bridge that gap, and bridging that gap comes with its own set of challenges.

For instance, some organizations think they are best served by a hybrid or multi-cloud approach where they divvy up a little bit of functionality into Azure®, Google Cloud Platform (GCP)®, On-prem, and AWS. These organizations reason that by doing so, they’re avoiding vendor lock-in and trying to leverage the best capabilities of each option. In reality, they’re adding substantial complexity to their environment, decoupling their applications into disparate systems that don’t play well together. And, they’re ensuring that their recruiters will have to hire four times the number of people to support completely different infrastructures.

Regardless of whether an organization prefers a hybrid approach because it simply their preference or technical drivers make a hybrid approach the only possible path forward, hybrid architectures will always present unique challenges that need to be addressed and overcome.

However, what if hybrid was not so black and white? What if you could maintain your on-premises data centers, and somehow incorporate and leverage the power of AWS.

Next

Part two of the series is ready, so read on.

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Wayne Zettler

I like to consider myself a hybrid technologist with over 20 years of combined experience in leadership roles, engineering deployment roles, pre-sales solutions architect roles, and quota-carrying B2B sales consulting roles. I am happiest when I’m working directly with clients to transform their organizations using AWS as the catalyst for change. My passion lies in driving cloud-based project design through business-drivers analysis, resulting in well-architected AWS information technology solutions. I pride myself on being capable of having extremely granular technical conversations with an organization’s top engineers, while still being able to relate the information to non-technical C-suite executive team members. My diverse work experience allows me to view client transformation engagements through multiple different lenses. I’ve been the person to sell the solutions, I’ve been the person to design the solutions, and once upon a time, I was even the person to deliver the solutions. Like all solutions architects worth their weight in salt, my focus is on extracting the foundational business requirements at the core of all cloud migration initiatives and translating those needs into an architectural design, leveraging AWS cloud infrastructure.

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