AWS meets the enterprise head on

Amazon Web Services must have been a very interesting company to work for over recent years. My conversations with AWS senior executives have sometimes been fraught — not because of any conflict or contention, but rather due to a pervading feeling that discussion gets in the way of activity. The organisation has been so busy doing what it is doing (and making a pretty reasonable fist of it) that it barely has time to stop to talk.

Any thoughts or feedback about how AWS might do things differently, about how the needs of the enterprise could be better achieved, have been met with flummoxed consternation. It’s all completely understandable, in a company which measures success by the number of new features achieved or services shipped, to question any question of whether it is doing enough. But still, the question needs to be asked.

Against this background, watching the feet is a far better option of watching the mouth. AWS has come a long way since its early stance of offering an out-and-out alternative to in-house enterprise IT processing and storage and indeed, continues to work on delivering ‘the’ technology platform for digital-first organisations that need, and indeed desire, little in the way of infrastructure.

From an enterprise perspective however, and despite some big wins, many decision makers still treat the organisation as the exception rather than the norm. In part this is through no fault of AWS; more that you can’t just rip and replace decades worth of IT investments, even if you wanted to. In many cases, the cheaper (in both money and effort) option is to make the most of what you have — the age-old blessing and curse of legacy systems.

In addition, as IT staffers from CIOs to tape operatives are only too aware, technology is only one part of the challenge. Over the years, Enterprise IT best practice has evolved to encompass a wide variety of areas, not least how to develop applications and services in a sustainable manner, how to maintain service delivery levels, how to pre-empt security risks and assure compliance, how to co-ordinate a thousand pools of data.

And, above all, how to do so in what sometimes feels like a horseless cart careering down a hill, even as the hill itself is going through convulsions of change, just one slope in a wide technology landscape that shimmers and twists to adapt to what is being called the ‘digital wave’ of user-led technology adoption. Within which AWS itself is both driving the cause of constant change, and feeling its effect.

So what? Well, my perception is that as AWS matures, its philosophy is becoming more aligned to these, very real enterprise needs. This can only be a perception: if you asked AWS execs whether they cared about security, they would look askance, because of course the organisation would not exist without pretty strong security built in. Similarly, the AWS platform is built with the needs of developers front and centre. And so on.

What’s changing is how these areas are being positioned, to incorporate a more integrationist, change-aware, even enterprise-y foundation. For example, development tools are evolving to support the broader needs of integrated configuration and delivery management, DevOps automation and so on. Security teams are not only delivering on security features, but are broadening into areas such policy-based management and, for example, how to reduce the time to resolution should a breach occur.

The seal on this deal is AWS’ recently announced Managed Services (previously codenamed Sentinel) offering, which brings ITIL-type features — change management, performance management, incident management and so on — into the AWS portfolio. The toolset originally appeared on the radar back in June last year but wasn’t launched until December, perhaps in recognition of the fact that it had to be right. It’s also available both to end-user organisations and service providers or outsourcing organisations.

By incorporating ITIL best practice, AWS has kicked into touch any idea that it doesn’t ‘get’ the IT challenges faced by larger organisations. Meanwhile many other areas of AWS’ evolving catalogue of capabilities, and indeed its rhetoric, reinforce a direction that takes into account the fact that enterprise IT is really, really hard and requires a change-first mindset. AWS’ confirmation that the world will be hybrid for some time yet, the expansion of its Snowmobile storage movement product to a 100 Petabyte shipping container, and indeed simple remarks like “many customers don’t know what they have,” all illustrate this point.

Such efforts are a work in progress: plenty remains for AWS to deliver internally, in terms of how products integrate, how features are provided and to whom: this will always be the case in a rapidly changing world. Nonetheless the organisation is a quick learner which is moving beyond seeing cloud-based services as something ‘out there’ that need to be ‘moved to’, and towards an understanding that it can provide a foundation the enterprise can build upon, offering not only the right capabilities but also the right approach.

With this understanding, AWS can engage with enterprise organisations in a way the latter understand, even as enterprises look to make the kinds of transformations AWS and other technology providers enable. Finally the cloud vendor can earn the right to partner with traditional enterprises, alongside the cloud-first organisations it has preferred to highlight thus far.