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AWS, Azure and Google made hybrid cloud technologies a main point of focus in 2018. Their strategies, however, were unique -- and look to remain that way in 2019, as all three providers continue their efforts to court enterprise users.
Initially, AWS' foray into hybrid cloud revolved around its VMware partnership and, by extension of that, an on-premises version of its Relational Database Service. The vendor has also enabled users to run some EC2 instances on premises via its Snowball Edge appliance. But these efforts, it seems, were just the start.
At its annual re:Invent conference this year, AWS doubled down on its commitment to hybrid cloud technologies, said Jean Atelsek, an analyst at 451 Research. The provider revealed AWS Outposts, a hardware appliance that enterprises can install in their own data centers to run native Amazon cloud services, or the VMware Cloud on AWS offering, on premises. AWS fully manages Outposts, as well.
"This is a commercial necessity for AWS because the company wants to serve enterprise customers that still have data and operations that must remain on premises due to compliance needs, licensing terms or legacy dependencies," Atelsek said.
However, AWS Outposts isn't expected to be generally available until the second half of 2019. So, for now, the message to enterprise users is essentially "hang on; the AWS cavalry is coming for your on-premises workloads," Atelsek said.
Jean Atelsekanalyst, 451 Research
Meanwhile, Microsoft's Azure Stack -- another hardware appliance that, similarly to Outposts, is designed to provide users with a more consistent way to operate and manage a hybrid cloud -- has been around for a year now. The system is available from hardware vendors, including Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Cisco.
Azure Stack's earlier entry into the market, coupled with Microsoft's long history with enterprise clients, might give the vendor an advantage.
"Microsoft is the furthest along in hybrid cloud -- thanks, in part, to its embedded, [or] some might say captive, enterprise customer base, and it has been gaining share in the cloud computing market," Atelsek said.
But while Azure Stack does help ensure operational consistency between on-premises environments and the Azure public cloud, it seems to be mostly targeted at edge deployments, said Lauren Nelson, an analyst at Forrester. What's more, based on conversations with prospective customers, Azure Stack installations can come with a hefty price tag, she said.
Google, for its part, announced Cloud Services Platform, a hybrid cloud offering that includes the provider's managed Kubernetes service and Istio service mesh technology. Revealed in July, this was Google's answer to VMware Cloud on AWS and Azure Stack, Atelsek said.
Two schools of thought for hybrid cloud
Deepak Mohan, an analyst at IDC, sees a similar breakdown between the leading cloud providers -- but also stresses that there are two distinct ways to look at the hybrid cloud market.
First, there's the "next-generation" hybrid cloud model, in which public cloud-native functionality also lives on premises. Then, there's the "traditional" hybrid cloud model, where enterprises want to move some legacy workloads to the public cloud and leave others on premises. The major providers -- Amazon, Google and Microsoft -- differ in their approaches when viewed from this perspective.
"Amazon is building out a strong story for the traditional hybrid space with their VMware partnership, helping customers extend into the public cloud using on-premises tools and services," Mohan said. However, AWS also has a set of offerings -- such as Snowball Edge and Outposts -- that look to engage next-generation and cloud-native services in edge locations and enterprise data centers, respectively.
Microsoft's Azure Stack also delivers a consistent set of services across the public cloud and on-premises systems. However, a majority of on-premises environments are VMware-based and, in those cases, it can be difficult for users to move complex applications, tools and processes over into an Azure Stack environment. As a result, Azure Stack seems primarily designed for newer workloads.
Meanwhile, Google has taken a completely different approach to hybrid cloud technologies, according to Mohan. Its story is largely based around Kubernetes, which users can run both on premises and across multiple public clouds to support cloud-native applications. Google underscored this strategy with its release of Google Kubernetes Engine On-Prem.
This makes Google a strong player for those more forward-looking or next-generation hybrid cloud deployments, Mohan said.
In terms of what to expect in the year ahead, be on the lookout for open source standards to emerge to help reduce complexity in hybrid cloud models, said Atelsek. Also on the horizon is the continued adoption of containers and serverless platforms that take infrastructure out of the equation and let companies focus more on application logic, she added.
In addition, according to the Voice of the Enterprise Survey from analyst firm 451 Research, more than half of enterprises plan to use multiple public cloud platforms in the foreseeable future. This will result in more vendors stepping up with management tools that aim to create a "home base" for the operation of diverse IT environments. Examples of tools in this category include IBM Multicloud Manager, HPE OneSphere and VMware vRealize Suite, Atelsek said.