Most companies that have adopted Amazon's EC2 or other cloud offerings have merely ported their VM practices to the new system. If they were using automation before, then they're going with Puppet or whatever they previously worked with in the cloud. If they aren't, then it's bearskins and bone knives and step-by-step instructions.
For internal IT departments, this looks like efficiency, mainly because the procurement of software and hardware by itself is so political and time-consuming. In truth, there's really no reason for a human to touch repetitive system installation tasks -- in other words, pretty much all of them. While automating an installation stack with Puppet is a step in the right direction, if that stack is, say, Tomcat, then you're just reinventing your own PaaS.
Kick it up a notch with PaaS or SaaS
PaaS is a fully provisioned application development and deployment environment riding on top of a scalable IaaS your internal IT doesn't need to maintain. One indication of the value of PaaS is that most SaaS providers build their apps on one -- it's rare that the underlying structure isn't best off being PaaS at least on the application server layer.
The variety of PaaS offerings is stunning. We took a close look at six of them last year, but more have emerged since and they add to their functionality continuously.
Not that PaaS is a panacea, either. If you're throwing up a WAR file on a server that contains a packaged piece of software provided by an external vendor, it begs the question as to why they shouldn't just go ahead and maintain it for you SaaS style. With economies of scale, they should be able to get better at incorporating upgrades and migrations as part of their regular release cycle.
My main point: Let's all bark at least one more level up the stack in the name of efficiency! If you're hand-installing VMs on Amazon, at least start using Puppet. If you've reached some level of devops maturity, then take a good look at PaaS.
And for crying out loud, did you just write your own CMS? The world really needed another one of those. For commodity applications, turn to SaaS. As long as a SaaS app delivers the functionality you need, you'll raise yourself to the highest level of cloud efficiency of all.
This article, "The bare-bones cloud: Why bother?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in application development, and read more of Andrew Oliver's Strategic Developer blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.