Amazon Snowcone underlines AWS’s hardware approach to the edge

Amazon Snowcone underlines AWS’s hardware approach to the edge

Amazon Web Services (AWS) upgraded Snowball, its petabyte-scale data migration and edge computing device products, in May. Now AWS has added Snowcone, its smallest product in the Snow product line which also includes the Snowmobile, a 45-foot edge trailer introduced in 2016.

The following company briefing has been made available through our partnership with Structure Research, an independent research and consulting firm with a focus on the cloud, edge and data center markets.

Details: Snowcone is a small portable device with 8TB of storage and 4GB of RAM. The waterproof and dust-proof case houses an Intel chip that can run two EC2 instances plus AWS IoT Greengrass. Amazon suggests it can be used for IoT or drone purposes or even carried in a backpack by first responders. The device is leased rather than purchased which shows Amazon thinks it will mostly be used for temporary data gathering exercises or other one-off jobs.

Edge use case: Snowcone is part of Amazon’s Snow range of products, which Amazon brought out to help customers transfer data to Amazon’s S3 storage services. In 2018, Amazon realized these devices could have potential beyond data transfer and launched Snowball Edge. As the name suggested, the use case was at the edge and an early adopter of the product was Boeing’s drone division, inSitu. InSitu’s drones are used to capture high-res imagery in remote areas for mapping wildfires, strip mines, desert wells and even battlefields. InSitu uses Snowball Edge to pre-process data using AWS Greengrass, Lambda, and standard EC2 functions before being shipped back to a central location where further analytics functions are performed.

Angle: Snowcone takes the concept one step further by making the device portable. The edge is now everywhere and anywhere. The evolution of this product line is probably not that remarkable, and other vendors such as Alibaba and Microsoft have something similar on the market. Snowcone does, however, show just how different Amazon’s approach to the edge is from its closest rivals Google and Microsoft. Much of this comes from the different heritage of these technology giants. Microsoft’s roots are in software, Google’s in search, and Amazon’s in logistics. Amazon’s retail arm has long grappled with the issue of delivering services to remote and difficult locations. It is a smaller step for Amazon to go from drones dropping off parcels to equipping those drones with edge compute and storage. But Amazon’s hardware approach to the edge goes beyond the Snow line. There is also Amazon Outposts the ‘data center in a box’, originally positioned, as an on-premise data center, but also being deployed in secondary edge markets (often in colocation scenarios). In contrast, Google’s focus is around its homegrown container orchestrator Kubernetes and Microsoft’s is around Azure Stack, which grew out of its .NET software framework. One last point to note about these different approaches. Amazon is promoting its cloud as the platform at the edge, and these hardware products support that. That contrasts with Microsoft and Google whose approaches are based on the assumption that the edge will be multi-cloud.

Daniel Beazer, Senior Contributing Analyst, Structure Research

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