AWS opens UK cloud region, predicting “incremental demand”

Aerial shot of London Bridge over the Thames
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Amazon Web Services (AWS)'s UK data centres opened for business today, with the company hoping to attract a wave of new cloud customers so far perturbed by data location or latency issues.

AWS's UK & Ireland MD, Gavin Jackson, told Cloud Pro the new region puts customers "in complete control" of their data, as they can choose to host it in the UK or another of the company's 42 availability zones around the world.

He said: "It gives people more choice. We have had a perception challenge before [over cloud]; this will give them the sense they are in complete control at all times and if they want to host their data in the UK they can, if they want to host it abroad they can."

That 'perception challenge' centered around data location and security, with some enterprises unconvinced cloud could meet compliance demands over where data is stored, or worried cloud environments hosted in other countries would mean their services would be rendered too slow to be effective.

With the UK region comprising multiple data centres (Amazon won't say exactly how many) in the south-east of England, AWS now believes it meets those location demands for sensitive data.

It's also running several CloudFront edge locations in the UK, which help customers deliver websites, apps and content to users with low latency. CloudFront acts as a content delivery network, deciding which location is best to serve content from depending on where the user is, creating a copy of the original content in the most appropriate edge location.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy said the firm built the UK region in response to customers, saying: "A local AWS region will serve as the foundation for even more innovative cloud initiatives from the UK that can transform business, customer experiences, and enhance the local economy."

The cloud giant's UK region is up and running three months after Microsoft opened facilities in London, Durham and Cardiff, with the Ministry of Defence and NHS signed up as early customers of Redmond's.

But Jackson said AWS is confident there is "pent-up demand" for a UK-hosted AWS cloud, with the company reeling off a list of SMBs and enterprises welcoming the region.

Ticket booking service, Trainline, has just moved from hosting its own data centre to go 100% cloud with AWS, and CTO Mark Holt said: “From extensive testing, we know that 0.3s of latency is worth more than £8 million and so, while AWS connectivity is already blazingly fast, we expect that serving our UK customers from UK data centres should lead to significant top-line benefits.”

Large firms including BP and building materials supplier Travis Perkins also welcomed the announcement, with the latter's group CIO, Neil Pearce, saying: "The opening of the new AWS region in the UK, and the scalability and security that it provides, will make it even easier for us to free ourselves of our legacy systems and business processes.”

However, despite enterprise interest, Jackson believes take-up will be gradual, and will come from companies who still have a fair degree of on-premise IT, who face data location or latency challenges.

"Mostly we think it will be incremental demand," he told Cloud Pro. "We are not expecting [existing] customers to necessarily migrate from one AWS region to the other, but a lot of companies ... have been waiting for the UK region to come online because they want to have greater scrutiny on data location over an application, or lower latency with things like advanced trading."

Plus AWS has its own public sector customers in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the DVLA. The latter's CTO, Dave Perry, said: "As we transform our organisation, and move to the cloud, we continue to protect the personal data of citizens that use our services with exemplary levels of security. The availability of UK-based cloud options supports this move while removing concerns around data residency."

Is the launch really a sign Britain is 'open for business' after Brexit?

Karen Bradley, UK secretary of state for Culture Media and Sport, cited the announcement as evidence the UK's technology sector was booming, despite economical challenges such as the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote.

She said: "I'm delighted to welcome the opening of the UK AWS region, which is a strong endorsement of our approach to the digital economy. The new AWS region shows a clear confidence in the UK being open for business and one of the best places in the world for technology companies to invest in and grow."

However, AWS first announced plans for the new region in November 2015, seven months before the referendum (though many months after the Conservative Party promised one in its electoral manifesto). Still, Jackson pointed to the new data centres as evidence the UK's tech sector is thriving.

"A competitive Britain is one that invests in networks and energy but also massive scale cloud computing," he said. "It's in the national interest for private sector companies to invest in markets that are really spurring the digital revolution securely.

"There's no reason for us to believe that the UK isn't a lead market for entrepreneurialism and for business transforming into digital enterprises."