Sources: Amazon Web Services Poised To Enter Cloud Managed Services Market With New 'Sentinel' Product
Kevin McLaughlin and Joseph Tsidulko
Amazon Web Services is working on a new offering that will let large enterprise customers manage and monitor their public cloud workloads in a self-service fashion, which could compete with its managed service provider partners, multiple sources told CRN this week.
The product, code-named Sentinel, involves a set of automated tools that handle some of the functions currently provided by AWS MSP partners, according to the sources.
"It is a very narrow use case but definitely signals their entrance into the MSP space," said one source familiar with the Sentinel offering.
[Related: Cloud Makes For Strange Bedfellows: Apple Signs On With Google, Cuts Spending With AWS]
Several MSPs that have built businesses around migrating, managing and automating enterprise workloads on the AWS cloud told CRN they're concerned that Sentinel could compete with their own offerings.
"MSPs generate long-term recurring revenue, which is highly sought after, so Sentinel is viewed as a competitive threat," said one partner who didn't want to be named. "Will AWS grow it over time and compete with its channel? I trust they won’t, but it’s going to be tough [for Amazon to say] no to the top customers who want buy services directly."
AWS has invited a handful of MSP partners around the world to take part in the Sentinel beta, said the sources, adding that these partners will help customers get the service up and running in their environments.
AWS is downplaying the potential for channel conflict, telling these MSPs it plans to sell Sentinel to only a handful of its largest customers, and that the product is designed for only a narrow set of simple workloads that don't include customized software, according to the sources.
"If you're a multinational company and you have some workloads that fit, and you would rather have AWS managing your infrastructure than someone else, you'll be able to buy Sentinel directly from AWS," one source with knowledge of the offering told CRN.
AWS has been working on Sentinel for more than a year, and possibly since as long ago as 2013, but the sources said the provider's timetable for launching the product isn't clear.
An AWS spokeswoman told CRN in an emailed statement: "We don’t comment on rumors, but will note that we always build services with our partner ecosystem in mind, enabling our partners to leverage and extend whatever we build to create unique value-added solutions for customers."
Another reason AWS is developing Sentinel is because its MSPs currently offer a range of different pricing models and features, which can be confusing to customers. With Sentinel, AWS is creating a baseline MSP service on which partners can model their own to create a more consistent experience for customers, said the sources.
AWS has not talked publicly about Sentinel but has apparently been recruiting staff to run and support it. Amazon listings posted on job sites in December and January included mention of an "AWS Sentinel support product offering" and a "Sentinel operations team," according to cached versions of those pages in Google search results. Those listings have since been edited to read "AWS Services" instead of "Sentinel."
|An Amazon listing posted on Glassdoor.com in January referenced a "Sentinel operations team" and a "Sentinel support product offering."|
There's a domain name called "aws-sentinel.com" that was created in October 2014 and administered by Stephen Farrell, which is also the name of an AWS cloud support engineer based in Ireland, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Many Fortune 500 companies are looking to independently manage their cloud-based workloads, and it's common knowledge in the Amazon partner community that some of those top-tier accounts have been asking Amazon for help building the tooling they need to do so. While there is a class of customer that has no internal management capabilities and will always seek out an MSP, "the happiest customers we've seen on Amazon, by a wide margin, are the ones that do it themselves," one partner told CRN.
Yet at some level, the existence of Sentinel suggests that AWS isn't fully confident that its current crop of MSPs can meet the needs of enterprise customers. AWS executives have been saying for years that it's tough to find highly skilled MSP talent.
"We don't have enough partners in the ecosystem who really understand -- and can deliver -- cloud managed services," AWS channel chief Terry Wise told CRN in December 2014.
AWS launched a managed service provider partner program last year to address the deficiency of skills in key areas like orchestration, automation and DevOps. But there is still a certain segment of MSPs in the market that are providing limited value to customers, one partner told CRN.
"This cloud environment is not about CPU utilization, or what traditional monitoring systems do. It's about things like latency and app performance, and making changes to those environments at the speed that DevOps provides," said the partner.
Some solution providers do not expect AWS to become a full-blown MSP and start competing with them. Tools like Sentinel will enable MSPs to become more "Amazon-like" in the way they operate, sources said.
"It’s a natural consequence of our business. As far as it threatening the existing managed services provider ecosystem, it could from the tooling if ecosystem partners are relying on their own tooling, but from a services point of view, if there's any threat it would be to companies that are dealing with large, large enterprises."
Some AWS partners are responding to Sentinel by building more of their own unique intellectual property and focusing on hybrid cloud, an area that Sentinel won't cover. Other AWS partners are considering relationships with Microsoft, Google and other cloud providers.
"If [AWS Sentinel] balloons and gets bigger, the AWS partner community won't have a choice but to support multiple clouds," said one partner.
Despite the potential for channel conflict, some AWS partners told CRN they see Sentinel more as an opportunity than a threat.
"It's not their job to prop up their partners' business models," one MSP partner said of AWS. "It's my job to ensure that we continue to serve a useful function as the cloud computing industry evolves."