Amazon steps up cloud security

A new Virtual Private Cloud offering from Amazon makes cloud computing more secure. But will it be enough for enterprise IT to take the plunge?

The long-anticipated announcement from Amazon of a new Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) offering finally came to light yesterday as a limited beta release. The idea, according to Amazon, is to provide a "secure and seamless bridge" between a customer's current IT infrastructure and AWS (Amazon Web Services).

The idea is that, via IPsec VPN, IT can use the same management tools -- for security, datacenter automation, and so on -- across both local and Amazon-hosted infrastructure. An isolated set of Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances would logically reside within the customer's firewall, although it physically sits in Amazon's datacenter.

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The notion of leveraging on-demand resources through a VPN is nothing new. At the three cloud computing companies where I've worked, we had a number of requests for this. But when Amazon makes such a move, it's big news.

Much of the pushback from those considering cloud computing solutions is related to security and privacy. Amazon's VPC offering puts some of those fears to rest because only requests from valid and secured IP addresses will be allowed to access your EC2 instances, greatly reducing the possibility that others might access your data or resources.

There are a few limitations. Not all Amazon Web Services are supported in Amazon VPC as it exists out of the gate. For example, EC2 security groups, DevPay AMIs, and Internet-facing IP addresses are not VPN ready. The pricing for Amazon VPC is based on a 5-cents-per-hour charge for VPN access. Also, the cost for moving data ranges from 10 to 17 cents per gigabyte. (Other services are billed separately, including EC2 itself.)

The benefit is that you get infrastructure-as-a-service with a bit more ownership, control, and security. For some businesses on the cloud computing fence, particularly those interested in using AWS for disaster recovery or to handle spikes in demand, the new VPC offering could make the difference. But for others, particularly large enterprises, the lack of any SLA whatsoever may be a showstopper.

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