There’s more to cloud computing than Amazon

In dozens of client conversations, I keep encountering companies — both IT buyers and vendors — who seem to believe that Amazon’s EC2 platform is the be-all and end-all of the state of the art in cloud computing today. In short, they believe that if you can’t get it on EC2, there’s no cloud platform that can offer it to you. (I saw a blog post recently called “Why, right now, is Amazon the only game in town?” that exemplifies this stance.)

For better or for worse, this is simply not the case. While Amazon’s EC2 platform (and the rest of AWS) is a fantastic technical achievement, and it has demonstrated that it scales well and has a vast amount of spare capacity to be used on demand, as it stands, it’s got some showstoppers for many mainstream adopters. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the market can’t fill those needs, like:

  • Not having to make any changes to applications.
  • Non-public-Internet connectivity options.
  • High-performance, reliable storage with managed off-site backups.
  • Hybridization with dedicated or colocated equipment.
  • Meeting compliance and audit requirements.
  • Real-time visibility into usage and billing.
  • Enterprise-class customer support and managed services.

There are tons of providers who would be happy to sell some or all of that to you — newer names to most people, like GoGrid and SoftLayer, as well as familiar enterprise hosting names like AT&T, Savvis, and Terremark. Even your ostensibly stodgy IT outsourcers are starting to get into this game, although the boundaries of what’s a public cloud service and what’s an outsourced private one start to get blurry.

If you’ve got to suddenly turn up four thousand servers to handle a flash crowd, you’re going to need Amazon. But if you’re like most mainstream businesses looking at cloud today, you’ve got a cash crunch you’ve got to get through, you’re deploying at most dozens of servers this year, and you’re not putting up and tearing down servers hour by hour. Don’t get fooled into thinking that Amazon’s the only possible option for you. It’s just one of many. Every cloud infrastructure services platform is better for some needs than others.

(Gartner clients interested in learning more about Amazon’s EC2 platform should read my note “Is Amazon EC2 Right For You?“. Those wanting to know more about S3 should read “A Look at Amazon’s S3 Cloud-Computing Storage Service“, authored by my colleagues Stan Zaffos and Ray Paquet.)

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Posted on March 2, 2009, in Infrastructure and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great article…could not agree more! While dynamic setup/teardown is certainly an interesting use case case for certain applications do you have any data on how many cloud customers setup/tear-down servers/resources by the hour?



  2. Anecdotally (from buyers as well as vendors), very few. There aren’t many companies who really have applications engineered to scale seamlessly with real-time, dynamic creation and destruction of server resources. There are, however, companies who do daily batch processing — I have a client who needs dozens of servers for an hour or two each day, for instance.


  3. Hi Lydia,

    I’ve been reading your blog and always enjoy your writings. This one in particular hits close to home for me because not a day goes by when people aren’t asking me to help them move to the cloud computing. Then… I wait for it. How long and how much will it cost do you think it’ll take me to migrate my to Amazon? The time and cost equations are always a little out of wack since few still really understand the complexities of combining services like AWS+EBS+S3 and a management interface, configuration management scripting, monitoring and more.

    Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Amazon Web Services and frequently use it for myself and clients. But, I agree 100% that they are not the right tool for every job. Amazon has done such an amazing job of making it look like the be all end all of Cloud Computing (great Marketing and Evangelism) that people easily under-estimate the complexities involved around security, image management, scaling, high availability, load balancing, AMI performance, and operational work when deploying to EC2+S3+EBS. The issues most clients will face are not trivial. Some times, other providers can be a little more like for like in a migration situation. Each case I’ve come across has been unique in some way. So, you never know until you dig into the project. I treat a cloud migration with all the care that I would treat a physical data center migration. The only time this isn’t true is if something is totally brand new code and AWS was assumed and properly planned for/coded for from the outset. Then, things move a little differently but can still get interesting depending on framework/app choices.

    It’s pretty rare still for an application to be 100% coded for the cloud (Amazon or otherwise). But, that will change over the next several months I do believe.

    The market is trying to fill some of those holes you noted in your bullet list as well. VPN-Cubed, GoGrid Cloud Connect, and others.

    Exciting times!!


    Kent Langley


  4. @lydia RE: Anecdotally…

    I just ran across this article series at JavaWorld (link to part 1)

    Building cloud-ready, multicore-friendly applications, Part 1: Design principles

    Since designing for the cloud is part parallel application design, part distributed everything, and other things too, this is a pretty good read along with reading ReleaseIT by Michael Nygard.

    Release IT!

    -Kent Langley


  5. Hey Lydia,

    Great article.

    I find the infatuation with EC2 both amusing and a bit irksome at the same time.
    The blogosphere and the press seem irrationally obsessed and exuberant about it.

    But then again, I get a bit confused at how people act like cloud computing is a brand new thing…

    Some random thoughts:

    When Voxel was first starting out at the turn of the millennium, we had a few racks at the newly opened Equinix in Newark NJ. I remember walking past (and admiring) a big cage filled to the brim with Sun servers, Cisco switches, and Alteon load balancers. The cage belonged to a company you might have heard of – LoudCloud (emphasis on CLOUD). While Loudcloud is no more, what became of it (Opsware, their management technology) was recently sold to HP for 1.6 billion. I think that’s telling.

    Companies (some still around, some not) like Loudcloud, DigitalNation, Rackspace, and Voxel have been trying to deliver on the core promises of cloud computing (even though it wasn’t called that at the time) for years. A lot of the fundamental value props of the cloud in 2009 were the same almost 10 years ago: Don’t worry about the infrastructure, scale up and down, don’t spend any capex, etc etc.

    The value prop continued to evolve with companies like Rackshack and Softlayer (and Voxel), all of whom offered infrastructure quickly (within several hours) and with granular billing (monthly).

    However, all that being said, I think we have to give credit to AMZN for a few specific things. They were the first to do two key things, which definitely deserve a certain degree of hype:

    1. Ability to turn up and turn down infrastructure programatically (via an API), in minutes.

    ^ That’s a big one. While I agree with your point that most web apps today can’t take full advantage of it, it’s a paradigm shift nonetheless. The difference between several hours and several minutes is pretty huge. Arguably, several seconds would be just as huge a difference.

    2. Truly granular billing (hourly) instead of less granular billing (monthly)

    ^ This amplifies #1. And of course, its what puts the E in EC2. I think that this is actually less important than people might think for web apps, but its still a pretty big deal.

    Of course, virtualization is a big enabler for AMZN to be able to do this – it allows them to build and tear down castles in the sky without needing to staff a datacenter with technicians on roller skates…


  6. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes which will make the biggest changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!


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