Amazon’s Cloud Services Move Out of Beta’s Shadow

Amazon announced Thursday general availability of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), part of the Internet retailer’s Web service offerings. Launched in beta 26 months ago, the service provides a resizable compute capacity to businesses with varying server needs.

“The appealing thing about EC2 is that instead of buying a server, you pay for it by the hour. That’s great if your need for servers goes up and down or is temporary. If you’re going to run servers steady all year, it is less appealing to have a different way of paying for it,” said Frank Gillett, a Forrester Research analyst.

“The idea basically is that you rent a server by the hour instead of having to set up and fiddle with it and do all that stuff,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Along with its open availability, Amazon has added support for Microsoft Windows. Currently in beta, the Windows support is in addition to support for Sun Microsystems’ OpenSolaris and Solaris Express Community Edition.

“There are an awful lot of applications out there that run on Windows that people don’t want to bother figuring out how to put on something else. Having Windows available is a big deal,” Gillett pointed out.

Open to All

Feedback from beta participants led Amazon to add a few features to its current offering. EC2 includes support for features such as Availability Zones, Elastic Block Storage, Elastic IP (Internet protocol) Addresses and multiple instance types.

Amazon has also created a Service Level Agreement (SLA). Applied at the region level — though there is only one current region, Amazon plans additional regions in the future — which are divided into availability zones, the SLA guarantees that each region will be available at least 99.95 percent of the time.

This guarantee is a confidence builder for companies interested in using EC2 for critical business data.

“For a company thinking about putting an application on [EC2] that they really rely on having available all the time, the lack of a SLA was a sign that Amazon was not really serious. It’s a statement from Amazon about the confidence it has in its ability to support its clients. If it fails to meet its service levels, it will pay penalties with the customer,” Gillett said.

Looking Ahead

Amazon also announced new functionality it expects to add to EC2 in 2009, including a management console, load balancing, automatic scaling and cloud monitoring.

These are all basic capabilities that meet initial needs, according to Gillett.

“What we’ll see is an increase in the capabilities and diversity of the things they offer,” he noted.

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