Amazon Testing Private Cloud Waters With Cloud Storage Hardware Appliance

Amazon Web Services is developing a hardware-based cloud storage appliance for enterprises that prefer to use a mix of private and public cloud infrastructure, CRN has learned.

The AWS cloud storage appliance, which already is being tested by some customers, effectively acts as a bridge between an enterprise's private cloud and the AWS public cloud. It lets enterprises keep sensitive data on-premise and use the AWS cloud for file sharing, backup and disaster recovery, sources familiar with the Seattle-based vendor's plans told CRN.

Amazon isn't manufacturing the cloud storage appliance itself and is instead working with a third-party white-box vendor, sources said. It's unclear how AWS will go to market with the cloud storage appliance.

An Amazon spokesperson declined comment, citing the vendor's policy of not responding to "rumors or speculation."

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The sources said this is the next step in a hybrid cloud strategy that began last January when Amazon unveiled its AWS Storage Gateway, a virtual machine image that runs in VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V environments. Amazon added a gateway-cached storage volume feature last November and started positioning AWS Storage Gateway as an alternative to local storage arrays for storing customers' primary data.

The AWS cloud storage appliance uses a similar approach to startups such as Nasuni, TwinStrata and Panzura, which sell on-premise hardware that ties into AWS and other cloud storage services. But unlike these offerings, the AWS storage appliance will only work with the AWS cloud, sources told CRN.

"This is Amazon extending the reach and purpose of already a robust cloud offering," one source with knowledge of Amazon's plans told CRN. "The appliance is a means to an end to ensure that customers have different paths to the same destination, which is cloud adoption."

The idea behind the AWS cloud storage appliance is to let enterprises tap into the cost efficiencies of its public cloud while keeping their sensitive data on-premise. This is a notable shift, as AWS executives have long preached that public cloud is capable of handling anything enterprises need to do, and that private clouds are unnecessary.

"Over time, we think very few companies are going to own their own data centers, and ones that do will have a small footprint," Andy Jassy, senior vice president, Amazon Web Services and Amazon Infrastructure, said in a keynote at the AWS re:Invent conference in mid-November.

Even after beating out IBM for a $600 million cloud computing contract for the Central Intelligence Agency, AWS executives avoided using the term "private cloud" to describe the project. But in an interview with "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday night, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos confirmed that AWS is indeed building a private cloud for the CIA.

"We're building what's called a private cloud for them ... because they don't want to be on the public cloud," Bezos told CBS News correspondent Charlie Rose, according to the interview transcript.

NEXT: Implications For Cloud Storage Competitors

The AWS cloud storage appliance has implications for cloud competitors such as Microsoft, which entered this space by acquiring Santa Clara, Calif.-based startup StorSimple last October.

IBM, which is in the midst of an AWS-bashing advertising campaign, partners with TwinStrata and Riverbed for cloud-integrated storage hardware.

VMware, which pitches its vCloud Hybrid Service as a seamless bridge between the enterprise data center and its public cloud, also has made cloud storage a priority and is working on its own disaster recovery-as-a-service.

Jamie Shepard, regional vice president at Lumenate, a Dallas-based VMware partner, sees the AWS storage appliance as a bid to build trust with enterprise customers. Lumenate sells the VMware vCloud Hybrid Service, and Shepard said AWS will need to enlist the aid of its channel to win share in this hotly contested space.

"AWS will have a long way to go to be able to accomplish this. They will need architects in the field, real people, they will need the help of the channel, allowing them to architect, sell and make good margin -- perhaps white-label themselves like we have done with others," Shepard told CRN.

AWS already has a footprint in the data center through its partnership with NetApp, which was unveiled last November. Under that arrangement, NetApp private cloud storage hardware is integrated with the AWS cloud, allowing workloads and data to travel securely back and forth.

Avnet, which partners with both AWS and NetApp, is handling pricing and distribution for the NetApp hardware, and only partners of both vendors can sell it.

Sources told CRN NetApp and AWS are very close these days. "Amazon people love to talk about NetApp, and there is a lot going on [between the two vendors] at the channel partner level," one source with knowledge of the matter told CRN.