AWS Managed Services, a radical departure from Amazon's early cloud strategy, reflects the shifting demand of its customers, but it doesn't meet all their needs just yet.

Trevor Jones
16 Dec 2016

Amazon has thrown its hat into the managed services game, but its new offering won't meet every customer's needs just yet.

AWS Managed Services, a new service that targets the Global 2000, provides a mix of automation, machine learning and AWS engineers to manage the underlying infrastructure of workloads on the platform. Such a product release was largely unthinkable a couple years ago, but it reflects the platform's increased complexity and the continued push by Amazon to meet the demands of more traditional enterprises.

The service uses an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud with multiple deployment groups across multiple availability zones, and packages each application or application component in a managed stack.

AWS Managed Services monitors workloads by correlating Amazon CloudWatch alarms, while AWS engineers investigate and resolve incidents the service cannot. All changes must come through a change request and holds all manual requests until approved.

There are predefined templates for provisioning, and AWS Managed Services handles patch management above the hypervisor. A mix of third-party and native tools addresses security and access management, and stacks are backed up at a specified frequency. A dedicated advisor delivers a set of financial and capacity management reports.

Cloudreach, a systems integrator and AWS premier partner, has worked with AWS Managed Services for more than a year and deployed it for several clients. It certainly fills a need for large enterprises that want a controlled environment but also want the advantages of being on AWS, said Tom Ray, head of operations.

"If you're a big enterprise with 100 apps, I can quite easily see 20 of them being part of Amazon Managed Services natively," he said.

There are, however, limitations. Existing AWS workloads can't be converted without reconfiguration, so it's essentially reserved for fresh environments, whether those are applications built on AWS or migrated from on-premises resources.

It's not well suited for development teams that must rapidly innovate or experiment because changes can't simply be integrated through the API. The service is best for static applications that would otherwise run on VMs in VMware or some other standalone traditional architecture, to essentially sit alongside other deployments on the platform, said Jason McKay, senior vice president and CTO of Logicworks, a managed service provider and premier AWS partner.

"We expect it to be its own hybrid cloud within AWS," he said.

AWS Managed Services supports 23 of the more than 90 different services on the platform. Among those not supported at this time are some of the newer frameworks such as AWS Lambda, EC2 Container Service and some of its newer DevOps tools.

It's currently available in the following regions: US East (Northern Virgina), US West (Oregon), EU (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Sydney). Amazon declined to share any information on pricing or what types of SLAs will accompany AWS Managed Services.

Managing the partner ecosystem

AWS has earned a reputation that it squashes entire segments of its partner ecosystem to extend its reach under the guise of being responsive to customer demand. However, there has been a concerted effort recently to strike a balance with partners, as evidenced earlier this month by the lack of sullen attendees as they exited the AWS re:Invent keynotes -- a contrast to past shows where product announcements basically signaled the death knell for some vendors.

"What they're doing is just the reality of what every vendor does at some point," said Steve White, program vice president for channels and alliances at IDC Research. "As they're getting bigger, deeper and more complicated, customers want the choice of having one throat to choke."

Ultimately vendors must accept that customers want choice, White said. But not everyone will want to use this new service -- IDC research suggests customers often want a more local partner to be the single provider that helps navigate disparate cloud services.

"The platform is getting so broad and deep that it's incredible how much it's growing, so consumption and management is still going to be a huge revenue opportunity for everyone," White said.

Some managed services providers were made aware of this new offering more than a year in advance and AWS has struck a cautious tenor about where this service does and doesn't fit. A training program will help partners integrate the service, and, in line with Amazon's shared responsibility model, there is no management at the application layer.

About a year ago, when Logicworks first heard about the program there was trepidation that it would infringe on its space, but after working on it for the past nine months it's clear it doesn't solve all of customers' problems, McKay said.

"Even the team that we worked with on it has admitted it's not really consumer friendly," he said. "We don't expect it to be consumed directly, except in those cases where they're large enough to have their own team on it."

Some companies will want more hands-on support, said Jeff Aden, co-founder and executive vice president of strategic business and development and marketing at 2nd Watch, a managed service provider and premier AWS consulting partner.

"I don't think we enter a world for 20 or more years where no human is going to be needed," Aden said. "That might be nirvana but at the end of the day there's still a need for help in coping with the changes of moving to the cloud."

Nevertheless, this new AWS Managed Services offering clearly eats into part of that market. It also comes at a time when many of these providers now extend their reach to other emerging platforms, such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, while still heeding Amazon's advice of going deep on the platform to provide higher level services. That model could leave a comfortable niche for third-party vendors in spite of this new release.

Of course, all of that could change depending on how far Amazon is willing to push. New services on AWS often launch with limited capabilities and expand over time, and the new service could eventually do the same.

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