Review: Amazon Web Services is eating the world

Amazon continues to define the cloud with an unrivaled set of services for developers, IT, and data crunchers

Is it possible to review Amazon Web Services in one article? Not a chance. What about a book? Perhaps a long one, preferably with several volumes. The reality is that Amazon’s cloud business is larger than ever and spawning new features, services, and options faster than any one person could begin to follow. The company is swallowing the Internet by delivering the simplest way to create complex, highly scalable, data-rich applications.

The scope of the project is amazing. There are, in my exploration, at least 10 different ways to store your data and four different ways to buy raw computation. If you need more than raw power, Amazon is moving up the stack by delivering cloud versions of many sophisticated tools for analyzing large data sets, like Hadoop, Spark, and Elasticsearch.

These tools are changing the game for programmers and data analysts, giving them fewer reasons to write fresh code and more reasons to link together different, high-end services from Amazon. While raw computing power is still the focus, the new tools and services are compelling value propositions that can make good financial sense. Writing your own code gives you the freedom and the power to move elsewhere, but entrusting more and more of the stack to Amazon can be dramatically cheaper and faster. It’s a complex decision.

A sea of machines

The core of the Amazon cloud remains the collection of virtual servers known as the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). If you want a machine, you can go to the AWS website, click a few buttons, and have root. More and more people, though, are using the API. Did I say “people”? I also meant bots because the cloud is more and more automated. If you’re going to do more than start up a single instance for experimentation, you’re better off writing code to spin up your machines. There are SDKs for Java, .Net, PHP, Python, and even Google’s Go language.

The range of machines that Amazon rents is growing larger and more complex. There are at least nine general classes of instances available -- and this is only when you consider the machines listed in the “current generation.” You can still rent instances from earlier hardware families, if your software seems to need it for some reason. Each of the general classes of machine is available in various models configured with various amounts of RAM and local disk storage.

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