Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cloud Computing: Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Early March I attended a presentation on Amazon’s Web Services (AWS), it was the second in a series of presentations on cloud computing put together by the washing technology industry association. The first event in the series provided an overview of cloud computing, while subsequent events focused on vendor specific take/implementations.

AWS combines various aspects of cloud computing, the EC2 service is largely a virtual environment, S3 provides storage while Cloud Front, SimpleDB and Simple Queue Service are web services that have been used by Amazon for its own internal development now made available to outside developers. Mechanical Turk, is an interesting addition to the AWS suite, provides people in the cloud that can get pretty much any tasks completed for you from research restaurants in your area, to development (coding). According to Andy Jassy (VP, Web Services), there are about four hundred thousand developers using AWS today and the presentation included customer evidence from two companies leveraging AWS and on-premises deployment. I don’t recall the break-down of the figure though and I wonder if Mechanical Turks coders are part of this number.

Also interesting is a comment by Andy that only about 20% of computing resources deployed by companies is utilized, not sure where this number came from but I can understand the low utilization figures considering the fact that most capacity planning exercise basically consider the maximum load expected plus a growth rate factor in determining what resource needs to be provided to accomplish the desired performance metric. This maximum load however may only ever be reached a few times during the day but the resources have to be available throughout the day since computing resource could not be acquired on-demand for this peak period. Hence the value of cloud computing, pay for only what you use.

With the ability to pay per use (this is the gem on cloud computing) AWS offers potential huge saving when compared to the on-premises model. In addition, it offers the ability to scale as necessary by simply requesting more resource as your application’s user base grows. In addition, a number of vendors e.g. IBM now allow customer to take existing license and use it in the cloud or purchase per usage licenses for their products in the cloud. EC2 now offers Windows on a pay per use basis.

Tood Fasullo of SmartSheet (S3/CloudFront/MT) and Mike Harrington of Picnik (EC2) both discussed their use of AWS. They both combine AWS with on-premises/hosted deployments.

There were no real surprises at this event mainly because I’ve followed AWS development since Wall Street dogged Jeff Bezos for spending too much money on it.