There has been a rumour floating around lately that Amazon is going to be introducing Ethernet switches. A move like this by Amazon will eventually challenge manufacturers like Cisco Systems. I have came across a video from Packet Pushers where Greg Ferro talks about the possibilities and avenues which Amazon would take to venture into the switching or even networking arena.
As Greg stated, Amazon, in this case AWS already run their own network on their own hardware and software. This is because they cannot have a profit margin by relying on another vendor. It would be cheaper in the long run, to run on your own hardware and software managed and manufactured by themselves. Furthermore, it will be near impossible to run the biggest cloud architecture in the world and run the network on some other vendor. They would most likely run their underlying network as a fabric, controlled by Software Driven Network SDN such as OpenFlow and run the rest of the architecture virtualized and controlled by the AWS console.
Selling the switch as unsupported is one option considered by Greg and it might be something Amazon would do, since they have a well known brand name and customers will buy it since it is from Amazon. However, no company is going to buy an unsupported hardware unless they know what they are doing and have the technical expertise to use such device. These switches can of course run switch operating systems such as Cumulus Linux etc. Even though it is entirely possible from a technical point of view, I highly doubt this is the avenue which Amazon would take. Amazon wants to have some sort of continuous revenue generating product and certainly wouldn’t want to team up with other vendors. In this case, I believe Amazon might offer a way to manage these switches via their AWS console, and have the customer pay a fee per device or per feature set. This is going into the Cisco Meraki territory in a larger scale targeting enterprise IT. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon give this option a go, because it makes more sense to have customer retention. I will cover that at the latter part of this blog.
As I mention previously, it is not Amazon’s nature to manufacture a potential subscription worthy hardware and not take advantage of it. We need to look at the bigger picture outside of the technical arena. It all boils down to how much a company can make by offering a product or service. I think, by offering a hardware is not going to enable Amazon to make money. However, selling a hardware with an attached service to AWS does make a lot of sense. This model will enable the customer to have a contentious subscription to AWS to manage these devices, and when the AWS service is terminated, the hardware becomes useless.
Customer retention and the Amazon ecosystem
When you look at Amazon, they always want to have customer retention as their core of their business model. What this means is, they offer an attractive service, even go out of there way to help the customer to on-board them into their service, then once the customer is moved to the Amazon ecosystem then it is hard for the customer to move away from it. It is the case with most of the ecosystem, however Amazon does a great job at it. An excellent example is Amazon AWS Snowmobile where they will collect the data from a customer will let you literally upload the data by the truckload.
The Amazon Switching
It is possible that Amazon might want to build their own switch hardware and software and want to support it. This would take a bit of time, even for a company their size and experience to build their ecosystem, however it is definitely have an impact on vendors such as Cisco Systems.
Whatever direction Amazon takes, they will definitely introduce a method to simplify the under laying network. This is one of their core principal and this is exactly what they have done with AWS. This will definitely take the low level design burden off the customer’s shoulder and make them concentrate on the architecture. This could mean, building a network fabric and control everything via the AWS console where the customer would pay a fraction of the price for the hardware with an ongoing subscription to AWS.
It is too early to predict what Amazon would do at this point, but If they do come up with any enterprise switching models, they would definitely shake the share prices of big vendors such as Cisco Systems.