10 things: Using Amazon Web Services in the enterprise

Amazon Web Services recently held a powwow for potential enterprise customers. Here are 10 things you may not know about deploying AWS in your company.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Amazon Web Services recently held a powwow for potential enterprise customers and a bevy of details emerged ranging from contracts to security to procedures to ensure employees don't procure a cloud servers en masse for giggles.

Here's a reporter's notebook from Amazon Web Services' enterprise powwow and 10 things you may not have known:

    • AWS customers mentioned that there were frequently three cloud platforms they evaluated leading up to a move to the cloud. Those players included AWS, Rackspace and Microsoft's Azure. Marc Dispensa, chief enterprise architect at MediaBrands World Wide, offered a few details about his bakeoff. Microsoft's Azure was an easy fit for MediaBrands' developers, but had limited SQL storage. Rackspace had a grid option, but APIs were limited and its on-demand server business was less than a year old. AWS won the deal based on features and experience with other similar customers. Here's Dispensa's comparison slide:

    • Watch your budget when you move to AWS. A handful of AWS customers said that cloud computing is less expensive, but can be too easy to use and blow your budget. Simply put, any developer with a credit card can get provision a machine. If too many people use AWS you have cloud sprawl quickly and blow your computing budget. "It's too easy and that can hurt your cost controls," said Dispensa. "It's cheaper, but can get unwieldy." Dispensa said he put in a process where managers have to approve a developer's request to use an AWS server and there are financial thresholds. That process is why it takes 15 minutes for an AWS server instead of 2 seconds. Pfizer's Michael Miller, senior director of research, high performance computing, had a similar beef. "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."
    • The linchpin of Amazon's reliability case revolves around "availability zones. When you get an AWS computing resource it's assigned by region. Regions include U.S. (east and west), EU (Ireland) and Asia Pacific (Singapore). These regions include at least three availability zones---a data center hub roughly speaking. AWS is architected so two availability zones can fail concurrently and data is still protected. Amazon's aim is to eliminate any single point of failure, because IT fails all the time. AWS recommends that customers spread their assets around multiple availability zones in a region.
    • 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, is moving the company's internal systems---financial, email and calendar, HR applications and knowledge management tools---to AWS, but the projects are phased. "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, says Amazon has to spend a lot of time talking security. The common concern is that "inside four walls is somehow more secure," says Selipsky. Usually, AWS talks certifications, assessments and access points and the concerns go away after about an hour. Nevertheless, Steve Riley, AWS' technology evangelist, had some animated banter back and forth with the enterprise-focused audience. Simply put, security is still a hang-up for enterprise customers, but the conversations are getting much easier. 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.
    • amznvpc.jpg
      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 (right). Customers use their own IP addresses and AWS appears as an extension to current computing assets. VPC is the conversation starter for many enterprises. Pfizer's Miller said AWS wouldn't even be a consideration 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. Pfizer's Miller said that one move is to 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 hangups.
    • There's a difference between hybrid cloud and private cloud approaches. IT executives and AWS were working to put 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. AWS executives panned the private cloud approach since you're still buying servers, allocating labor to maintenance and still struggle to get full utilization. The theme at AWS' powwow: Hybrid cloud is reality. Private cloud is a sales pitch. Also: Who is pushing the private cloud: Users or vendors?
    • 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. However, Lawson is using AWS for its on-demand strategy and SAP has an increasingly tight partnership with Amazon's infrastructure as a service unit. Both Lawson and SAP are likely to bring more enterprises into the AWS party.
    • AWS is still getting used to enterprise agreements. It's one thing to charge a credit card for cloud computing. It's quite another to put 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. He anticipates there will be one in the next month. Pfizer's Miller also said he doesn't have an enterprise agreement from AWS and put 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.


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