AWS will make switches to go after Cisco – report

Amazon increasingly accepts hybrid cloud is a thing, but would it really get into support?

Updated Rumours emerged late last week that Amazon Web Services plans to make and sell white box switches for you to use on-premises.

Citing a couple of folk familiar with the plan, The Information framed a story as AWS using white box switches to go after Cisco by undercutting it on price. Causation hasn’t been proven, but Cisco’s share price shed about five per cent of its value not long afterwards.

Maybe the report is right. But if so it’s a very odd move indeed for AWS as the company consistently tells world+dog that it thinks all workloads are headed for the cloud. Building on-prem hardware would be a major diversion into a market AWS thinks will shrink!

Doing something for hybrid networks make a bit more sense, because AWS now recognises that hybrid cloud has legs. Between VMware-on-AWS , the AWS virtual storage appliance and the Virtual Private Cloud (VOC) tool that can include on-prem resources in a network, AWS has a few irons in the hybrid fire. It also has the Direct Connect service to speed movement of data between kit in some designated commercial data centres and its own bit barns (which are almost certainly co-located).

It’s therefore not hard to imagine that AWS could go down the same route as its virtual storage appliance with a virtual switch that improves on Direct Connect and VPC, and improves its hybrid cloud story along the way.

Building a virtual switch tied to a white box design wouldn’t be a stretch for AWS – it already has this kind of kit all over its data centres. Making such devices available to customers in the service of a wider hybrid play makes sense. And would take a little bark off Cisco’s hide.

Or perhaps AWS has a plan to shake up the networking business by making network services an as-a-service concern that we consume by the hour?

At this point some of you might counter that selling anything that runs on-prem requires enormous channel and support operations, and that while AWS has a fine channel and a growing consulting operation going out into meatspace to fiddle with hardware just isn’t in the company’s DNA.

But AWS’ parent company is very good at having stuff delivered in a hurry and has long considered hardware needs to be hot-swappable. So a device with built-in redundancy that just plugs in and works, backed by a rapid replacement service, could be feasible.

But even if that’s the plan, why stop at networking? A white box switch is basically a server. Nutanix’s partnership with Google, VMware-on-AWS and Azure Stack all show there’s a market for hybrid clouds in which the on-prem and cloudy portions behave identically. If AWS goes to all the trouble of taking its networking code into a white box, why not also do compute and storage?

We may never know, as The Information’s sources weren’t sure the switches were more than an experiment. But we did learn, last week, that AWS is willing to do custom jobs for really big clients and then turn them into products, because it did just that for Netflix.

So perhaps there’s some truth in the matter. But it’ll be a while before we know as The Information says the kit will go on sale “within the next 18 months”. ®

Updated to add

AWS has officially denied it is getting into the commercial switch business.

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