Amazon Opens Up ‘Cloud’ Computing Beta

Amazon Web Services (AWS) broadened the beta of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) hosted computing environment this week to include all developers who want to try the service out.

At the same time, the e-tail giant’s Web hosting subsidiary also expanded the number and power of the types of virtual machines that customers are now able to choose from.

The EC2 service aims to let businesses of all sizes quickly deploy and manage Web 2.0 sites via computing resources in the “cloud” provided by AWS. This computing fabric was an outgrowth of’s build-out of its data centers to support its commercial ventures and those of its partners.

“[The] ‘elastic’ nature of Amazon EC2 allows any developer to reach the scale of major Internet players like, but without the significant cost of building out and maintaining a massive back-end infrastructure,” the company said in a statement. “Amazon EC2 changes the economics of computing by allowing developers to pay only for the capacity they actually use.”

With the broadened and expanded beta, customers can now choose among small, large, and extra large instance types – virtual machines or VMs—for their services. Each instance type provides a set configuration of memory, CPU and storage. The small size is the original EC2 instance type and remains the default, while the new instance types provide more memory, CPU and storage.

AWS debuted the first beta of EC2 a little over a year ago.

EC2’s virtual computing environment lets developers use Web service interfaces to requisition VMs, load them with custom application environments, manage access permissions and run applications using as many or as few systems as needed.

To use EC2, developers create an Amazon Machine Image that contains applications, libraries, data and configuration settings. Then they upload the image into Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), a cloud-based service that AWS began offering last year. Amazon claims 265,000 developers have already signed up to use S3.

Developers pay for the EC2 hours and bandwidth, as well as the S3 storage, based on how much—or how little—they use.

The small VM offering constitutes “1.7 GB of memory, 1 EC2 compute unit (1 virtual core with 1 EC2 compute unit), 160 GB of instance storage [on a] 32-bit platform [for] $0.10 per instance-hour consumed or partial hour consumed,” according to an AWS FAQ. An EC2 “compute unit” is equivalent to the “CPU capacity of a 1.0-1.2 GHz 2007 Opteron or 2007 Xeon processor.”

That ranges up to the extra large VM, which provides “15 GB of memory, 8 EC2 compute units (4 virtual cores with 2 EC2 compute units each), 1690 GB of instance storage [running on a] 64-bit platform [for] $0.80 per instance-hour consumed or partial hour consumed.” Pricing for S3 storage in the cloud ranges from 10 cents per hour to 80 cents per hour, the FAQ stated.

Amazon’s charismatic CEO Jeff Bezos has promoted EC2 as a way to give even small startups the levels of technological infrastructure that Web giants like Amazon enjoy.

Last spring,
during a keynote
at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, he told the audience that a typical Web startup spends as much as 70 percent of its energy on back-end considerations, such as buying servers and negotiating Internet service contracts.

“None of which helps you with new ideas or get your products to market,” Bezos said at the time.

At least one analyst applauds the expanded options for VMs that are now available to Web 2.0 developers.

“Some applications like databases require a lot of compute power and others need minimal power, so it’s good that they’re offering different sizes of VMs,” Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at researcher Illuminata, told

Ultimately, if so-called “cloud computing” catches on, this new venture could conceivably surpass Amazon’s core business – online retailing.

“Could it outstrip their income from selling things themselves? Absolutely,” Haff said, although he was careful to include third-party e-tailers that sell products under the Amazon banner as a component of that projection.

An Amazon spokesperson wouldn’t go that far, however.

“We feel that we can provide tremendous value to developers in this space given the experience, expertise and assets Amazon has acquired over the past 12 years while building out our own Web-scale business,” Adam Selipsky, vice president of product management and developer relations for AWS, told in an e-mailed statement. “Not only do we feel that we can provide a lot of value, we think we can create a meaningful business for with this new group of customers.”

More information on the expanded EC2 beta can be found here.

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