AWS Meets Critical Needs for Small Businesses and Enterprises

Posted on: November 25th, 2012 - Written by: Stephen Marshall

Reference: Larry Dignan’s 10 things: Using Amazon’s Web Services in the enterprise (ZDnet.com)

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a collection of remote computing services (better known as web services) that make up a cloud computing platform and is offered over the Internet by Amazon.com.

AWS can be used by those with minimal needs as well as those with enterprise needs. Its versatility – enabled by the vast options of cloud platforms – gives individuals, small business and large enterprises critical and highly affordable services.

What might the reasons be that customers choose AWS over other cloud platforms out there such as Microsoft’s Azure and Rackspace? A “bakeoff” was held by chief enterprise architect at MediaBrands World Wide, Marc Dispensa.

Dispensa chose AWS even though Microsoft Azure was an easy fit for MediaBrands’ developers. The hitch? Limited SQL Storage. And for MediaBrands Rackspace offered a grid option. The hitch here? APIs were limited and Rackspace’s on-demand server business was very new. AWS had the features MediaBrands needed and experience with customer that were similar.

From a three-month test of AWS, Azure and Rackspace Cloud, Dispensa compared the pros and cons of each service:

AWS:

Pros – Multiple Solutions, CDN, Clear Roadmap, VPC Availability

Cons – No Automatic “Grid”, no built in provisioning tool (chargebacks)

Azure:

Pros – Easy fit for existing developers

Cons – Limited SQL storage and reduced feature sets

Rackspace Cloud:

Pros – Offers “Grid” based option and on-demand servers

Cons – Limited APIs and immature on-demand server business

This is a pretty simple comparison, but the differences support critical points of need for MediaBrands’ IT infrastructure.

ZDnet hosted a discussion among several AWS users to surface the points of concern that those considering cloud platforms should research.

Watch your budget when you move to AWS.

A handful of AWS customers said that cloud computing is less expensive, but can – because they are so easy to use and change – somewhat “enable” blown budgets. Any developer with a credit card can provision a machine so sprawl can be quick and elevate total costs rapidly.

“It’s too easy and that can hurt your cost controls,” said Dispensa. “It’s cheaper, but can get unwieldy.”

The solution to this is to put a process in place, as Dispensa did, where managers have to approve a developer’s request to use an AWS server. In addition to the process, Dispensa also employed financial thresholds.

Pfizer’s Michael Miller, senior director of research, high performance computing, noted similar concerns. “Allocate money upfront and then run the meter to avoid big surprises,” said Miller. “There are challenges when doing AWS at scale for a large number of users. Pay as you go is nice, but a debit model would even be better so it’s not so easy to spend more than you have.”

Phased implementations make more sense.

Amazon customers across the board said they shied away from big bang projects when moving to AWS. Jennifer Boden, director of IT at Amazon, used a phased approach to move the company’s internal systems—financial, email and calendar, HR applications and knowledge management tools—to AWS. And that is what she suggests for other users. “Take a phased approach, make it easy and have no big bang projects,” said Boden.

Security remains a top concern for CIOs.

Adam Selipsky, vice president of AWS, spends lots of time talking security because most stick with the concept that “inside four walls is somehow more secure.” Certifications, assessments and access points counter the “inside four walls” comparisons. Nevertheless, security is still a hang-up for enterprise customers. Boden said her security group put AWS through its paces and recommended that any company evaluating cloud computing bring their security team into the loop early.

AWS’ virtual private cloud service may be its most valuable product.

In a nutshell, VPC sets up a virtual private network connection to a data center. Customers use their own IP addresses and AWS appears as an extension to current computing assets. VPC is the conversation starter for many enterprises. According to Pfizer’s Miller, he wouldn’t event consider AWS without VPC.

Think about the internal work you need to do to make AWS scale for the enterprise.

Multiple AWS customers said that their applications – especially the legacy ones – weren’t built for cloud computing. Everything from development to security needs to be rethought.

To follow the lead of Pfizer’s Miller, separate applications from operating systems with a provisioning layer so they can be managed independently. If applications and the OS are intertwined Amazon Machine Instances may be more difficult. Miller said Linux machines worked well with AWS, but Pfizer had some struggles with Windows. The provisioning layer is designed to take care of those OS hang-ups.

There’s a difference between hybrid cloud and private cloud approaches.

There is a definite need to place some definitions around cloud computing.

The hybrid cloud approach is one where you run your own gear – after all it is already depreciated – but focus new development in the cloud.

The private cloud approach is more of an equivalent to a data center. You build the assets and then deliver a cloud-like service internally.

If you net it out, hybrid cloud is reality, private cloud is a really just a sales pitch.

AWS may become the backbone of your friendly neighborhood software as a service provider.

Many smaller SaaS companies are relying on AWS for their infrastructure and that’s no surprise. Larger companies – such as SAP – use AWS for on-demand strategies.

AWS is still getting used to enterprise agreements.

Charging credit cards for cloud computing services is quite simple compared to putting everything an enterprise wants in a comprehensive contract.

Joseph Galarneau, CIO of Newsweek, moved Newsweek.com entirely to AWS’ cloud, but doesn’t have an enterprise agreement, but anticipates that there will be one in the next month.

Pfizer’s Miller also said he doesn’t have an enterprise agreement from AWS – he puts no timeline on getting one.

All parties involved said there’s good back and forth about enterprise nuances and scaling enterprise-friendly agreements at a later date.

Of course there are pros and cons to consider with every IT solution, whether cloud-based or not. There are risks associated with any solution and putting back-ups and redundancies in place as well as proven security measures, gives any solution its greatest potential for success.

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