Cloud versus cloud: A guided tour of Amazon, Google, AppNexus, and GoGrid
Cloud computing offerings differ in depth, breadth, style, and fine print; beneath the heady metaphor lurk familiar pitfalls, complex pricing, and many questionsFollow @infoworld
By the end of my testing, the clouds seemed like exciting options with much potential, but they were far from clear winners over traditional shared Web hosting. The clouds made some things simpler, but they still seemed like an evolving experiment.
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud
Amazon was one of the first companies to launch a product for the general public, and it continues to have one of the most sophisticated and elaborate set of options. If you need CPU cycles, you can spin up virtual machines with Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). If it's data you want to store, you can park objects of up to 5GB in the Simple Storage Service (S3). Amazon has also built a limited database on top of the S3, but I didn't test it because it's still in a closed beta. To wrap it up, your machines can talk among themselves with the Simple Queue Service (SQS), a message-passing API.
All of these services are open to the Web and accessible as Web services. There's a neat demo for the SimpleDB that is just a pile of HTML running in your browser while querying the distant cloud. The documentation is extensive, and Amazon makes it relatively easy to wade through the options.
The ease, though, is relative because almost everything you do needs a command line. Amazon built a great set of tools with sophisticated security options for sending orders to your collection of machines in the sky, but they all run from the command line. I found myself cutting and pasting commands from documentation because it was too easy to mistype some certificate file name, for example.
Unix jockeys will feel right at home in this world because the virtual machines at your disposal are all versions of Linux distros like Fedora Core 4. After you grab one off the shelf, you can install your own software and create a custom instance that can be loaded relatively quickly if there's space available in the cloud.
It's hard to go into enough detail about all of the offerings described here, but Amazon is the most difficult because it has the most extensive solutions. Amazon is thoroughly committed to the cloud paradigm, rethinking how we design these systems and producing some innovative tools. [ See the QuickTime video. ]