Amazon Web Services announced this week that customers can now test out AWS Linux container workloads on their own computers.
Linux is a popular operating system available from many companies—including Red Hat (RHAT) and Canonical—and competes with Microsoft Windows Server. Linux underlies many of the world’s most popular web sites and cloud services. Google (GOOGL) and Amazon itself, for example, both rely on Linux.
The news was disclosed in a blog post earlier this week by AWS evangelist Jeff Barr, who posited that customers want to run these images on-premises as they build and test their workloads. The software uses the same basic source code Amazon (AMZN) itself uses, he said.
Specifically, a customer running what AWS calls an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) on AWS can now run that same “image”—basically a copy of an entire computer system—on its own company-owned computer.
This gives users an opportunity to test “containerized” workloads on their own machines using the same operating system they use in AWS, said MSV Janakiram, an IT consultant who follows cloud closely. A container, as exemplified by the popular Docker container format, packages up all the parts of a software application in one nice bundle that, in theory, can run on all sorts of infrastructure, whether it’s in the cloud or an internal data center.
For non-IT professionals, this signifies something important for AWS, the market leader in public cloud services. Businesses increasingly want to put more data and run more software in shared public cloud infrastructures, like AWS, instead of building more of their own data centers. However, Amazon has been criticized for not making it easier for customers to keep running some applications in-house and some in AWS. Splitting up computing jobs that way is known as a hybrid model.
In making this Linux move, AWS may now also compete more directly with other flavors of Linux, especially Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which runs on AWS and is also the most popular Linux run by large companies in their own data centers. AWS also supports Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux and CentOS.
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AWS public cloud rival Microsoft (MSFT) has said its Azure cloud is much more amenable to splitting workloads between Microsoft data centers and internal data centers—providing they run a full complement of Microsoft software. As Amazon targets more sizable Fortune 500 companies, it needs to show similar flexibility. Not many financial, insurance, or big pharma institutions will be sending all their computing tasks to an outside provider.
Thus, Amazon has been making some changes, and company partisans privately complain that claims that it is all about vacuuming up customer data into its cloud are overblown. They point to tools facilitating two-way data migration, including the company’s database migration service, and Snowball, a hardware device that lets companies physically ship large swaths of data (80 terabytes at a time) in and out of AWS data centers.
What they don’t mention is that the marketing around the database migration service is about moving data into AWS—or that the outgoing Snowball was announced nearly six months after the incoming Snowball made its debut.
Last month’s news that AWS is teaming up with rival VMware (VMW) to run VMware’s data center software on AWS is another example of this enterprise push by Amazon. Most corporate data centers already run VMware’s vSphere virtualization and management software. This fruits of this partnership, VMware Cloud on AWS, is due next year and should make it easier for companies to move those applications more easily to AWS. VMware will sell and manage the customer workloads, likely eyeing the partnership as an opportunity to sell more of its software. Critics see this as yet another on-ramp to AWS that will make it easier for those same customers to move more of their data to AWS and detach from VMware over time.
That makes sense given Amazon’s huge cloud business, now on a path to reap nearly $13 billion in revenue annually, is predicated on more customer workloads running through its data centers.
Amazon execs Andy Jassy and Werner Vogels are expected to speak more about big business cloud computing at Amazon’s annual AWS Re:Invent developer conference in Las Vegas later this month.
Note: This story was updated to add consultant comments.