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


Amazon Web Services® (AWS) Outposts is ideal for workloads that require low latency access to on-premises systems, local data processing, or local data storage. In Part two, we dive under the hood.

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

If you haven’t already seen it, read Part one of this series, before reading this installment.

AWS Outposts—Public cloud re-imagined

AWS Outposts allows organizations to physically extend their AWS virtual private clouds (VPC)s into their on-premise environment while retaining all the power of AWS cloud-native services. This tight coupling of cloud resources and on-premises resources allows Outposts to leverage many of the tools and services that power the AWS cloud, while still having local access to their on-premise networks. The result is a purpose-built bridge that closes the gap between on-premises and cloud operations.

Under the hood

The AWS Outpost enclosure, pictured on the right, is delivered in 42U rack, measuring 80in x 24in x 48in. These measurements align with traditional full-rack specifications and should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever set foot inside a data center. They assemble the racks based on the client’s specifications, and a team of AWS engineers delivers them pre-installed. In some instances, the Outposts installation might consist of multiple enclosures, and they can aggregate the resources into a single larger pool of capacity. The racks contain your standard top-of-rack patch panels and fiber optic uplinks, network switches, uninterruptible power supplies, PDUs, and of course, the physical hosts that house the compute and storage resources. The hardware is not all AWS proprietary, and they do leverage components from technology partners and independent software vendors, such as Cisco®, Citrix®, Druva®, Dynatrace®, Veritas®, and others.

While this rack comes packed with the inner power of the AWS cloud, it does not have all the same safeguards that are so readily available in Amazon’s state-of-the-art data centers. Outposts is an AWS-managed service, and the onus is on AWS to keep that hardware and software healthy and happy. Still, it is at the mercy of the datacenter it resides in, as it pertains to power, cooling, and physical security. Even though Outposts is a tangible item that you can physically touch, the real benefits come from the unseen components.

At the time of this post, Outposts boasts support for the following native AWS services:

  • Amazon EC2
  • Amazon EBS
  • Amazon ECS (Docker)
  • Amazon EKS
  • Amazon RDS (MySQL, PostgreSQL)
  • Amazon EMR (Apache Spark, Apache Hive, Presto)
  • Amazon S3 Local Object Storage (Road mapped for “2020”)

This list of services perfectly complements many traditional on-premise compute, storage, and database offerings. Still, it is the use of common AWS APIs, tools, management services, and security constructs that truly sets Outposts apart from other purpose-built 3rd party hybrid designs. Outposts is an extension of the AWS region to which it is connected and provides on-premise access to a broad range of services available within that region.

Now, let’s look at some of the features that make up Outposts.

Compute and local non-S3 storage

Outposts supports a wide variety of compute and storage resource types, including General Purpose, Compute Optimized, Memory Optimized, Graphics Optimized, and I/O Optimized instance types. At the time of this post, only GP2 EBS persistent block storage volumes were available at tiers of 2.7 TB, 11 TB, 33 TB, or 55 TB. Like a standard cloud-based EC2 instance, the type of instance bundle selected determines the hardware required to achieve the desired result. Those underlying hardware specifications increase or decrease the cost accordingly. Note that this is essentially dedicated hardware, and there is substantial capital expenditure on AWS’s part to source, build, deliver, and manage these enclosures. Hence, AWS Outposts is not an inexpensive hybrid option. Just to give you an idea, I pulled the least and most expensive options from the AWS Outposts pricing page, shown in the following image:

Image source: https://aws.amazon.com/outposts/pricing/

Networking

Outposts has two important networking features that provide the foundation for the complete hybrid experience: VPC Extension and Local Gateway. VPC Extension provides the ability for organizations to extend their AWS cloud-based VPCs into their on-premise Outposts appliances. The result is a seamless communication path for your locally running AWS services on Outposts with all the other cloud services and infrastructure in the native cloud environment. Using this concept, organizations can even stand up more than one Outposts unit in their data center and have each unit tied to a different AWS availability zone, introducing levels of redundancy uncommon within on-premise data centers.

The second feature, Local Gateway, acts as the bridge from the Outposts unit into the existing on-premise network. This low latency connection is a pivotal component in joining Outposts hosted AWS services and legacy on-premise resources to form hybrid applications.

Tools

As previously mentioned, Outpost acts as an extension to the AWS Region it is attached to, and this framework allows tools such as CloudWatch, CloudFormation, CloudTrail, Elastic Beanstalk, and many other services to integrate seamlessly with the On-premise Outpost environment. When you couple the tight AWS integration, expansive AWS toolset, and the “Local Gateway” feature of the networking stack, you can see how Outposts will enable a seamless blend between two totally different worlds.

Security

One of the technologies that Outposts is built on is AWS Nitro System. Nitro System is an enhanced security service that offers continuous monitoring, remediation, and verification of the Outposts unit’s hardware and firmware. The Nitro System forces dedicated hardware and software to support specific virtualization resources and minimize the attack surface. The AWS Nitro System, coupled with the traditional AWS shared security model and various encryption capabilities, acts as the foundation for Outposts security. Since the Outposts unit is an extension of your AWS cloud environment, concepts such as users, roles, security groups, and other standard AWS security frameworks are all leveraged to secure your data.

When you combine all these attributes and leverage the native cloud capabilities of AWS, this service can change the hybrid game and force organizations to reexamine their cloud approach. Now that you are aware of what makes up an Outposts rack, let’s examine what it takes to get a unit ordered and routed to a data center near you.

Next

Part three 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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