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AWS just went multi-cloud … and it’s only the beginning

Forrest Brazeal
Forrest Brazeal

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AWS, you sneaky devils.

Look at the FAQ for EKS Anywhere, announced yesterday for a 2021 launch, and you’ll find plenty of references to “on-premises”, bare metal compute, and VSphere. AWS’s stated rationale for expanding access to their managed Kubernetes service is all about hybrid cloud, which traditionally has meant “your old busted servers plus AWS’s shiny goodness.”

But wait … EKS Anywhere? Does that really mean anywhere?

Could it mean … Azure?

Lo and behold, Protocol has obtained confirmation that EKS Anywhere (and technically ECS Anywhere, but let’s be real, if you want to run on multiple cloud providers you’re using Kubernetes) will support workloads running on Azure and GCP as well as private data centers. AWS is giving you a single pane of glass that will let you roll out config updates, instrument monitoring, and connect other app services to container workloads on your cloud of choice.

That’s right: AWS just rolled out a multi-cloud container management service.

You are now permitted thirty seconds to pick your jaw off the floor.

What does AWS gain from doing this?

This marks … shall we say … a bit of a departure from AWS’s classic “one cloud to rule them all” rhetoric. After all, at various other times in Tuesday’s re:Invent keynote Andy Jassy unleashed a frontal assault on Microsoft SQL Server, dunked gleefully on archnemesis-turned-punching-bag Oracle, and found GCP so unthreatening that he closed his presentation, without comment, on a song lyric that used “Google” as a verb.

And yet multi-cloud is here to stay, and Jassy knows it.

Check out my recent piece “AWS Hearts Multi-Cloud” for a full analysis of why, but here’s the gist. Multi-cloud is a gravitational inevitability for enterprises. ACG’s recent State of Cloud Learning Report found that while about 75% of cloud shops still use AWS as their primary cloud provider, the same 75% also have at least some workloads running on Azure or another cloud. Could be due to acquisition, service envy, bet-hedging, or simple lack of coordination – or all of the above. Reality is messy and getting more so.

AWS has a huge head start on the rest of the cloud industry, but 75% of people won’t think of AWS as their “primary” cloud provider forever. Not when there are so many best-of-breed services to choose from, both on other clouds and on focused SaaS providers like Snowflake and Datadog. And certainly not given that plenty of industries have active incentive to avoid deep integration with a cloud provider owned by Amazon.

So AWS has a limited window of opportunity to keep that central status in cloud teams’ hearts. Providing higher-level, cross-cloud management tools is the easiest way to do it. The other cloud providers certainly get this; Azure isn’t hamstrung by an inability to admit the validity of AWS workloads, and they’re rushing into the breach with tools like Arc and Sentinel.

This is only the beginning

Really, the amazing thing is that AWS spun the “Anywhere” releases so adroitly, and described them so diffusely, that it took a day to confirm that multi-cloud was really their intent. And they can’t keep playing both sides much longer. They need to signal to large customers that yes, they get that Azure isn’t going away, and they’ll provide the tools to continue deserving the status of preferred cloud provider even if they can’t be the only cloud provider.

If you think that’s a bridge too far, you haven’t been paying attention to what makes AWS tick. I closed my last multi-cloud piece by pointing out that AWS created ECS because they have great engineers; they sell EKS because they are smart. As long as they are willing to cannibalize their own offerings in pursuit of customer value, they will remain hard to beat.

Lo and behold, Jassy echoed the same themes in his keynote. And while he never used the word “multi-cloud” (not yet!), you can be sure that EKS Anywhere isn’t a one-off or an accident. It’s the first glimpse of a massive strategic shift. Because once you realize what yesterday’s emphasis on “hybrid, open-source” rhetoric really means, it’s clear that AWS’s multi-cloud play is just beginning.

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