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Amazon Snowball Edge a possible threat to server, network vendors

Amazon Snowball Edge, a server-like IoT device, could eventually pose a threat to server and networking vendors, which are already losing business to the public cloud provider.

Amazon's recent push into the enterprise data center is expected to add pressure to legacy server and networking...

vendors losing business to public cloud providers.

The company introduced last week at its re:Invent conference in Las Vegas a server-like appliance, called Amazon Snowball Edge, that gets the company into customers' data centers. The product's purpose is to make it easier for businesses to collect internet of things (IoT) data and move it to the Amazon cloud, which would analyze the information for actionable intelligence.

Having Amazon in the corporate data center is not good news for companies making servers and networking gear. That's because data headed to the cloud is not processed locally, which reduces the number of servers and related networking equipment needed in the data center.

As a result, Amazon is indirectly stealing business from networking suppliers, such as Cisco, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Juniper Networks. "If you get rid of a bunch of servers, then there's usually some networking gear attached to those servers," said Dan Conde, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., based in Milford, Mass.

What is Amazon Snowball Edge?

Amazon Snowball Edge is the latest product in Amazon's Snowball data transfer service, which uses physical appliances to store and ship large sets of data to the cloud provider. Customers have the option of sending the data over the network to Amazon or, if the amount of data is exceptionally large, ship a storage disk to the vendor. Amazon handles the data transfer to its cloud servers.

If you get rid of a bunch of servers, then there's usually some networking gear attached to those servers.
Dan Condeanalyst at Enterprise Strategy Group

Amazon Snowball Edge can store 100 TB of data and includes compute capabilities. The latter is useful, for example, to filter data received from IoT devices at the network's edge, so only information useful for analysis is sent to Amazon.

Snowball Edge includes a new technology called Greengrass, which brings event-driven computing to the appliance. In general, companies can configure Greengrass to trigger a particular task in response to any event, said Peter Christy, an analyst at 451 Research. "It's very simple," Christy said of the technology. "It's what's called serverless computing."

Amazon has taken a wait-and-see approach to how companies will use Snowball Edge. John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the product lets Amazon "put its toe in the water" to see what customers are looking for in edge computing, especially as it relates to IoT.

"This does not mean they want to go into competition with Cisco, HPE or any of the other server vendors," Rymer said. "They're going to see where it goes."

Wherever the technology takes it, Amazon will aim the products at the growing number of companies turning to public clouds. Analyst firm Technology Business Research, based in Hampton, N.H., predicted global spending on public clouds will increase from $80 billion last year to $167 billion in 2020.

If Snowball Edge takes Amazon into a closer competition to server vendors, then the company is likely to move quickly into the market. As a cloud provider, Amazon can roll out product upgrades faster than legacy server vendors, which depend on customers to deploy changes. How fast updates are applied depends on the work schedule of IT departments and the value the new software brings to an organization.

"The scary thing about what Amazon can do is they're able to crank out stuff at a really, really rapid pace," Conde said.

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