In the shadow of the pandemic, a skittish post-US election economic climate, and the semi-permanent shift to work-from-home, cloud vendors are facing a groundswell of customer demand for multicloud solutions. We’ve recently seen two of the Big Three cloud vendors increasingly embrace multicloud. Azure announced expansion of support for hybrid and multicloud environments, and Google continued to expand its multicloud offering with the launch of Anthos. As for AWS, as of last year the company had still banned the term “multicloud” altogether in parts of its partner ecosystem.
And that made the buzz surrounding this year’s AWS Re:Invent conference — which started in earnest today in a virtual-only format — that much louder. Because in a market moving increasingly toward multi and hybrid cloud models, people are eager to see how AWS’s attitude will evolve.
Here’s what we know after AWS CEO Andy Jassy’s keynote talk today at AWS Re:Invent and what we might see for the remaining two weeks of the conference.
Yes to hybrid cloud but not multicloud … yet
Jassy spoke about bringing in new AWS on-prem solutions that can also work in the cloud, but there was absolutely no mention at all of multicloud. In the medium-to-near term, however, I expect to see a softening of AWS’s previous hardline anti-multicloud stance. There’s really no other option. Customers are actively seeking cloud solutions today that are vendor-neutral and remain wary of vendor lock-in. AWS has stayed at the top of the cloud services market by adapting to change, and this specific change will ultimately be no different.
In fact, we’re already seeing early signs that change is underway, with recent reports that AWS is upgrading management tools to enable customers to administer tasks running on other providers. We haven’t heard any announcements yet on that front, however, there is still more to come at AWS Re:Invent, so stay tuned. My team has also personally noticed a desire within AWS to allow partial data migration to an alternative cloud, while maintaining data in the existing AWS cloud.
There was clearly no dramatic shift in policy in Jassy’s keynote. AWS is not going to go all-in on multicloud just yet. The reason? Partially because doing so would necessitate a radical change in the company’s egress charge policy — how much it costs to move data out of AWS and into other clouds. Full support of multicloud demands an equalization of ingress and egress charges, and at the moment I don’t foresee this.
The commoditization of cloud storage
Cloud vendors have increasingly fewer business concerns about where data resides and more financial stake in what’s being done with it. This is why companies like Dropbox, that pioneered cloud storage, are at near all-time lows in their share prices — cloud storage has become a commodity.
This also another driver for the grassroots demand for multicloud support. As the cloud becomes more about applications and less about storage, we’re seeing more competition on applications and services and more openness to applications partners. AWS is no exception to this trend. In his keynote, Jassy spoke extensively about a variety of applications, particularly those relating to machine learning, and little about storage. I expect this trend to continue throughout AWS Re:Invent, perhaps with a strong focus on AWS support for buzzworthy cloud analytics partners like Snowflake, Databricks, Cloudera, and others.
The new workplace
With the exception of very specific job functions, we’re seeing a permanent post-pandemic shift to geographically-agnostic work, with a massive shift in commute culture and real estate closely following. This change is already reflected in how companies (my own included) attract and hire talent. Geography is literally no longer a factor in our hiring — restrictions on where our employees are located are largely passé. Like many companies, we’re rethinking our existing office space, looking into coworking options, and keeping a close eye on the rapidly-evolving commercial real estate market as full-time commuting becomes something our children will read about (and likely mock).
As Re:Invent goes forward, I expect to hear a lot of buzz about the cloud implications of this tectonic shift away from the physical workplace culture. Buzz, but perhaps not much technical substance. The requisite underlying shift in cloud infrastructure is either already underway or fully accomplished. Cloud already forms the backbone of utility computing, and that’s not going to change, no matter where employees live and work.
The bottom line
Enterprises rely on cloud infrastructure for their core business functions and are no longer willing (and soon may not even be regulatorily able) to put all their eggs in one cloud basket. Demand for multicloud is not going away. It is unquestionably one of the biggest items on AWS’s plate at the moment, and we’ll continue to listen closely to the keynotes for hints of new directions AWS will take.
David Richards is founder and CEO of WANdisco.