Amazon holds off Google's cloud charge -- for now

Amazon keeps its pricing competitive, but Google aims to attract the developers who do the actual building and deploying

After Google's price-chopping and cloud-service-revving announcements this week, all eyes turned to Amazon to see how it would respond. Lo and behold, it too unveiled price cuts and new features for AWS. But how strongly do each of Amazon's announcements stack up against not only Google, but other cloud vendors as well?

1. The price cuts

Prices for EC2, S3, RDS, ElastiCache, and Elastic MapReduce have all been cut. The deepest cuts have come for Linux systems, since there's only so much of a price reduction that can be offered for Windows due to licensing restrictions. The biggest cuts on machine types have come at the higher end of the scale: 38 percent for M3 machine types (what Amazon calls "general purpose, current generation" machines) and 30 percent for C3 instances ("compute optimized, current generation"). The other instance types -- including M1, M2, C1 and CC2 -- have all been slashed 10 to 40 percent, with the cheapest machines, the "M1 small," down to 4.4 cents per hour.

Amazon's history shows it has no hesitance about keeping prices competitive. This is the 42nd time it has reduced prices on AWS offerings, so it's not as if Amazon price drops are an aberrance. On the other hand, Google's incrementally discounted instance offerings provide a slightly better deal at around the same pricing tiers for on-demand instances. For example, an n1-standard-1 instance, with one virtual CPU and 3.75GB of RAM, would run about $30 a month with the discounts applied. (Storage is extra, but it's still cheap -- as low as 4 cents per gigabyte per month). While Amazon's Free Usage Tier is also available and handy to have, it only works for machine types too puny to do much more than get one's sea legs with AWS.

CITEWorld crunched some numbers of its own and found Google's edge was best for on-demand prices, while Amazon still kept its vanguard when dealing with reserved instances.

Verdict: Good move, but the heat is clearly on Amazon across the board.

2. Amazon WorkSpaces

Amazon's desktop as a service that delivers Windows desktops from the cloud went into general availability yesterday. WorkSpaces, along with Amazon's intriguing "graphics-as-a-service" instance type, hinted at how Amazon wanted to make AWS into a provider of all manner of desktop functionality as a service, and not just server-level offerings. Google has no direct parallel for this offering, which comes off as a fairly big feather in Amazon's cap.

But WorkSpaces as a few limitations. Most notably, as VMware has pointed out, it doesn't deliver actual Windows 7 desktop systems, which may cause application compatibility issues. Rather, it uses a recent edition of Windows Server that's been reskinned to resemble Windows 7. VMware's competing Horizon DaaS product, by contrast, offers true Windows 7 and Windows 8 desktops at a cost competitive to Amazon's offerings.

To that end, the real competition here isn't from Google anyway, but from other folks who've already made it their business to deliver desktops economically. (It's also unclear if Google would ever choose to get into that space, since its idea of a remote desktop is Chrome OS.)

Verdict: WorkSpaces needs work.

3. DoD provisional authorization

No IT outfit worth its salt, big or small, isn't going to crow about achieving government compliance of one kind or another. Amazon already had some notches in its belt there, courtesy of having achieved FedRAMP security standards for its GovCloud-branded services. Now it's added further certification courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Google's already winning over a number of public-sector contracts with Google Apps, with appropriate certifications for it. Some of the success stories from that project have been notable -- such as running email for the U.S. Department of the Interior, a move that provoked a nasty spat between Google and Microsoft. Amazon's edge with government certification is hard to beat in a short run as it takes time to win such contests, but Google is only one or two major announcements away from going neck-and-neck with Amazon.

Verdict: The edge is still Amazon's -- for the time being.

4. VPC peering

Last and probably least, this new AWS feature lets you create isolated virtual networks between Amazon clouds. Its appeal is likely to be limited to companies that already have a significant investment in AWS, and odds are low others will break down the doors to get in.

Verdict: Nice idea, but nothing groundbreaking.

If the differences between Amazon and Google's announcements could be boiled down to one factor, it's developers. Google's worked hard on making the Google cloud as friendly as possible to the people building and deploying stuff, while Amazon seems content to cut prices and offer features that aren't as strong a draw with the base of developers. That isn't to say those features don't add up to anything, only that they primarily appeal to the existing customer base.

Make no mistake, Amazon won't be unseated anytime soon. It'll take more than any one cloud vendor to do that, and from more than one direction. But Google's making an increasingly appealing argument for its platform to the people who do the lion's share of the work with it.

This story, "Amazon holds off Google's cloud charge -- for now," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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