Five Under-the-Radar Amazon Web Services Cloud Features

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2011-01-07

Five Under-the-Radar Amazon Web Services Cloud Features

Think you know all there is to know about Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its cloud computing strategy? Think again. AWS says there are several underrated features, or "unsung secrets," many users and observers do not necessarily know about.

Since Amazon Web Services launched in 2006, the company has worked to continuously provide customers with an evolving and diverse portfolio of Web services in the cloud. Today, AWS has customers in more than 190 countries leveraging an ever-expanding platform of technology services. Looking back over the last four years, observers can see that the AWS pace of innovation is quick. From new service launches to added features and functionality to geographic expansion of the services, the AWS goal is to rapidly innovate on behalf of its customers, Adam Selipsky, vice president of product management and developer relations at AWS, said in an interview with eWEEK 

The AWS approach to innovation is to release a service when it is useful to many developers and businesses, and then quickly add new features and services based in large part on customer feedback. 

With the rapid pace of innovation at AWS, if you blink you may miss a few of the features that make the AWS cloud unique, Selipsky said. While these attributes of AWS may not be secrets to some, to others, they are the "unsung secrets" of the AWS cloud, according to Amazon.

Five AWS features that have been flying under the radar are as follows:

1. Availability Zones-for more affordable fault tolerance 

Historically, building highly fault-tolerant applications to withstand a range of failure scenarios from fire to flood meant leveraging multiple data centers and multiple network providers and required significant investment of both capital and time. Multiple Availability Zones for AWS make it possible for customers who cannot afford to or do not want the hassle of deploying in multiple data centers to dramatically improve their fault tolerance without having to spend any capital or invest in multiple provider negotiations, Selipsky said. Availability Zones are distinct locations that are engineered to be insulated from failures in other Availability Zones. Customers who architect their applications across multiple Availability Zones can protect their applications from failure of a single location.

2. Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC)-for the warm and fuzzy feeling when making the move into the cloud 

As enterprises with existing legacy applications build migration plans to make their move to the cloud, many will operate in a hybrid mode as they gain experience in the cloud.  One of the ways that larger companies are jumping into the cloud is via the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC). Amazon VPC is a secure and seamless bridge between a company's existing IT infrastructure and the AWS cloud. The service enables enterprises to connect their existing infrastructure to a set of isolated AWS compute resources via a virtual private network (VPN) connection, and to extend their existing management capabilities such as security services, firewalls and intrusion detection systems to include their AWS resources. Amazon VPC provides end-to-end network isolation by utilizing a customer-provided IP address range, and routing all network traffic between the customer's VPC and data center through an industry-standard encrypted IPsec VPN. 

Pricing Options


3. Pricing Options-that add up to maximum flexibility and savings for AWS users 

As the AWS technology platform has become more and more robust, scale has enabled AWS to operate more efficiently and continue to lower prices a number of times, Selipsky said. In addition to passing on the benefits of scale in the form of lower pricing, AWS has a range of pricing options to choose from. 

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) pricing options include:

On-Demand Instances

On-Demand Instances let users pay for compute capacity by the hour with no long-term commitments or upfront payments. Users can increase or decrease their compute capacity depending on the demands of their application and only pay the specified hourly rate for the instances they use. On-Demand Instances are recommended for:

  • Users who want the low cost and flexibility of Amazon EC2 without any upfront payment or long-term commitment
  • Applications with short-term, spiky or unpredictable workloads that cannot be interrupted
  • Applications being developed or tested on Amazon EC2 for the first time

Reserved Instances

Reserved Instances let users make a low, one-time, upfront payment for an instance, reserve it for a one- or three-year term, and pay a lower rate for each hour they run that instance. Users are assured that their Reserved Instance will always be available for the operating system (e.g., Linux/Unix or Windows) and Availability Zone in which they purchased it. For applications that have steady state needs, Reserved Instances can provide savings of nearly 50 percent compared with using On-Demand Instances. Reserved Instances are recommended for:

  • Applications with steady state or predictable usage
  • Applications that require reserved capacity, including disaster recovery
  • Users able to make upfront payments to reduce their total computing costs even further

Spot Instances

Spot Instances provide the ability for customers to purchase compute capacity with no upfront commitment and at hourly rates usually lower than the On-Demand rate. Spot Instances allow users to specify the maximum hourly price that they are willing to pay to run a particular instance type. Amazon EC2 sets a Spot Price for each instance type in each region, which is the price all customers will pay to run a Spot Instance for that given period. The Spot Price fluctuates based on supply and demand for instances, but customers will never pay more than the maximum price they have specified. If the Spot Price moves higher than a customer's maximum price, the customer's instance will be shut down by Amazon EC2. Other than those differences, Spot Instances perform exactly the same as On-Demand or Reserved Instances.

Spot Instances are recommended for:

  • Applications that have flexible start and end times
  • Applications that are only feasible at very low compute prices
  • Users with urgent computing needs for large amounts of additional capacity

Users can go to Amazon EC2 Instance Purchasing Options for more details on all options.

Amazon S3 pricing options ...

In addition to standard storage pricing for Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), users have the option of Reduced Redundancy Storage (RRS) for Amazon S3. RRS is a storage option within Amazon S3 that enables customers to reduce their costs by storing noncritical, reproducible data at lower levels of redundancy than Amazon S3's standard storage. It provides a cost-effective, highly available solution for distributing or sharing content that is durably stored elsewhere, or for storing thumbnails, transcoded media or other processed data that can be easily reproduced, Selipsky said. The RRS option stores objects on multiple devices across multiple facilities, providing 400 times the durability of a typical disk drive, but does not replicate objects as many times as standard Amazon S3 storage, and thus is even more cost-effective. Reduced Redundancy Storage is:

  • Backed with the Amazon S3 Service Level Agreement (SLA).
  • Designed to provide 99.99 percent durability and 99.99 percent availability of objects over a given year. This durability level corresponds to an average annual expected loss of 0.01 percent of objects.
  • Designed to sustain the loss of data in a single facility.

Helping Apps Hum Along in the Cloud


4. Load Balancing, Auto Scaling and CloudWatch-to help applications hum along in the cloud 

AWS offers Amazon CloudWatch for monitoring AWS cloud resources, Auto Scaling for automatically growing and shrinking capacity based on demand, and Elastic Load Balancing for distributing incoming traffic across Amazon EC2 compute instances. Together, these capabilities provide businesses and developers with greater visibility into the health and usage of AWS compute resources, and allow them to further improve performance of their applications and operate more efficiently, Selipsky said.

5. Database solutions-because one size does not fit all 

There is an ever growing array of structured storage (database) solutions for today's application developer, AWS officials said. Relational databases are traditionally feature-rich. Many applications, however, do not need the rich programming model (and some would say complexity) of relational systems. These applications are better served by lighter-weight, easier-to-administer and easier-to-scale solutions. Both relational and nonrelational structured storage systems are important, and no single solution is appropriate for all applications. AWS takes a one-size-does-not-fit-all approach, offering Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) and Amazon SimpleDB, and enabling purpose-built database deployments on Amazon EC2.

If a user's application requires relational storage, but they want to reduce the time they spend on database management, Amazon RDS automates common administrative tasks to reduce their complexity and total cost of ownership, Selipsky said. Amazon RDS automatically backs up users' database and maintains their database software, allowing them to spend more time on application development. With the native database access Amazon RDS provides, users get the programmatic familiarity, and tooling and application compatibility, of a traditional relational database. They also benefit from the flexibility of being able to scale the compute resources or storage capacity associated with their relational database instance via a single API call.

For database implementations that do not require a relational model, and that principally demand index and query capabilities, Amazon SimpleDB eliminates the administrative overhead of running a highly available production database, and is unbound by the strict requirements of an RDBMS, Selipsky said. With Amazon SimpleDB, users store and query data items via simple Web services requests, and Amazon SimpleDB does the rest. In addition to handling infrastructure provisioning, software installation and maintenance, Amazon SimpleDB automatically indexes users' data, creates geo-redundant replicas of the data to ensure high availability and performs database tuning on customers' behalf.

Finally, with Amazon EC2 and Elastic Block Storage (EBS), customers can take a "do-it-yourself" approach to deploying and managing any number of databases, including specialized data warehouse solutions. 


Rocket Fuel