Inside Amazon's EC2

Call it "utility computing" or "Web-scale computing" or "on-demand infrastructure." Whatever the case, Amazon is hoping that its new EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud--why not just S4?
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive

Call it "utility computing" or "Web-scale computing" or "on-demand infrastructure." Whatever the case, Amazon is hoping that its new EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud--why not just S4?) Web service (in the larger sense, as both an interface and an on demand platform) will turn into a big business. In effect, Amazon is leveraging its massive infrastructure investment, providing it as a publically facing service for a variety of applications, first with S3 and now adding the server component.

I talked to Peter Desantis, director of EC2 about the target market for the service. "EC2 is aimed at developers--everyone from the developer in a dorm room rapid prototyping and wanting access to highly scalable computing capacity to see if an algorithm scales to 1,000 node to the fledgling startup without capital to pre-buy capacity for a spike that may happen or the established company looking for a novel way to increase flexibility of using computation or storage and to reduce cost," he said.

The service is designed for real-time Web applications, providing the ability to rapidly provision large amounts of compute capacity, configuring it and paying for it as you need it, Desantis said. EC2 can also be used for traditional batch and data-intensive applications, but customers would need to provision a grid framework on on top of it. "If patterns develop for grid computing, we or anyone else could institutionalize it," Desantis said. "A primary design goal was to be flexibile. We have chosen not to provide a constrained application processing framework. We allow developers to run the software they want to run, and to take advantage of the near-instantaneous provisioning and pay-as-you-go pricing. 

The typical boot time for an instance is about 10 minute, depending on size of the image itself, Desantis said. Booting thousands of images or new images that haven't been edge cached could require additional time. "During the public beta period, we are gauging the size of the environment we want and scaling predictions," Desantis said. "We have a large amount of hardware. We are limiting the public beta to 20 images by default.  

I asked Adam Selipsky, vice president of product management and developer relations, about the pricing for the service. "We have tried to pass on benefits of Amazon's scale in purchasing and operating efficiencies to developers big and small," he said. "It is priced aggressively with the intention of allowing small companies or individuals to have the look and feel and size and reach of Amazon. We are pretty far out there on pricing for all the services we have release, and hope it will help unlock applications not possible before."

At the very least, Amazon's EC2 service will bring more attention to utility computing and "cloud" computing, and transparent, metered pricing. Sun is already there with it's $1 per CPU service, HP and IBM are in the game, but Amazon has just raised the stakes...

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