I made a hyperbolic statement on Twitter. I claimed that AWS’ Snowball Edge device was a direct competitor to Nutanix and other hyperconverged platforms. It’s Twitter. Tweets like mine are meant to generate conversation. It’s equivalent to clickbait. Of course, Snowball Edge isn’t a direct competitor to Nutanix and other HCI solutions. I further explained my position over on TechRepublic.com. However, Snowball edge strengthens Amazon’s position as a competitor to traditional IT including classic HCI.
While hyperbole, there is some truth in my statement. Snowball Edge has limited computing. Snowball Edge extends the Greengrass platform to the edge of a customer’s network. Companies such as Cisco call this capability Fog Computing. Fog computing is the overlay between a public cloud and a user’s on-premises compute.
Cloud computing at the edge
By providing an edge computing devices, AWS has removed a barrier to adopting public cloud as the replacement to traditional customer owned computing. Snowball Edge is not just a challenge to Nutanix; it’s a challenge to the notion that AWS lacks the technical capability to replace legacy IT infrastructure.
The proximity of compute to data is always a challenge to the centralizing IT services. AWS and cloud providers face the same challenge regardless of the label. Over the past few years, enterprises pushed to centralize compute services. By centralizing compute, IT organizations reduce the cost of compute services and raise the level of reliability. Data gravity quickly becomes a factor. Data gravity proves time and time again a challenge to the centralized data center model.
Andy Jassy’s wind turbine use case isn’t unique in the challenges presented. The data locality problem exists in medical research, oil and gas, and many areas. Data is too big to ship to the cloud for real time processing. A simple solution in traditional IT is to deploy an HCI cluster local to the data source. HCI provides ease of management and enough local compute to meet some business needs.
With Greengrass and Snowball Edge type devices, AWS potentially replaces the need for HCI. Today, Greengrass on Snowball Edge is too small for heavy compute use cases. However, Snowball Edge produces just enough compute to offer an alternative for some HCI use cases.
Snowball Edge doesn’t compete against HCI directly. Like every other AWS service, Snowball Edge helps AWS compete against all on-premises compute options including HCI.