What Amazon won't say about AWS enterprise cloud

Amazon is renowned for remaining off the record when it comes to telling its side of the cloud story. How does this evasiveness translate to the enterprise?

What's it like for an enterprise to do business with Amazon Web Services? For journalists, it's pretty weird.

I was working on a cloud computing story recently and turned to my AWS public relations contact to request a briefing with an executive who could explain its relevant offerings, and generally, tell Amazon's side of the story. This is the kind of request that most PR people usually love to get, and it tends to kick off a frantic search for the right media-trained executive to get on the phone, a raft of case studies and white papers for me to review, a list of pre-approved analysts to talk to for further comments and, in most cases, a customer reference or two.

Do you worry that playing by Amazon's rules will come back to haunt you?

Not so with Amazon. The most it was willing to offer me was a conversation with a representative from their PR agency "on background," i.e., such that I could report the gist of the information, but without using any direct quotes or attribution.

Colleagues that cover AWS extensively tell me this is standard practice. "When they do talk, it's always off the record," said Beth Pariseau, senior news writer on SearchAWS.

Conversations with AWS customers suggest journalists aren't alone in this stonewalling. My sources described harrowing attempts at trying to get explanations about the technical makeup of its services -- to say nothing of in-writing guarantees or assurances about performance or availability. What's that old saying? Never put in writing what you wouldn't tell your mother or wouldn't want to read on the front page of the New York Times, err, Washington Post.

I'm not saying I blame Amazon, but I do wonder how that evasiveness plays into business dealings with the company. For now, is using AWS so cheap and easy that it overrides any compunction that businesses may have about its lack of transparency? Do you worry that playing by Amazon's rules will come back to haunt you? (See the recent well-publicized spat between Amazon and Hachette.)

Or am I just thinking about AWS enterprise cloud all wrong? Is my mistake thinking about Amazon as an enterprise technology vendor, when it's really just a wholesaler of compute, network and disk resources? I'd love to hear your thoughts because, chances are, Amazon wouldn't tell me if I asked.

Alex Barrett is editor in chief of Modern Infrastructure. Write to her atabarrett@techtarget.com.

This was last published in June 2014

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Alex, I believe we should think of AWS as a utility company, like water or electricity, or maybe telephony. If you want to use it, fine and you pay, but not much.

In our case we run some non-critical websites for sizeable companies on AWS servers for almost nothing because the traffic is so low.

But don't expect answers about the internal workings, or technology strategy, or service guarantees beyond best-efforts. If you need these, go to a private cloud vendor and pay the price for a guaranteed service.
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Well - if you want to know about the "technical makeup of its services" - this is easy for their EC2 service. To find the CPU specs of that hypervisor software virtualizing your CPU instances, type: "cat /proc/cpuinfo". Amazon is cagey about it's storage platforms (S3, Glacial, etc.) - but for large enterprises worried about whether or not AWS provides an industrial strength IaaS - just combine your platform with a private cloud or architect your cloud services to be redundant across Availability Zones and regions. I would not say that AWS is like a utility company - which is what IBM promotes itself as. It is so much more. Just like a computer program can be programmed thousands of ways - AWS provides building blocks that can be pieced together in a unique manner to solve specific enterprise needs.
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I've actually found the opposite. People that work on AWS are very well-educated on the architecture and any shortcomings. The difference is that they are learning by being hands-on, and engaging their engineering teams and evangelists in the trenches. Their product managers and PR teams are much more on-message in open conversations, but the information is available if you dig into the technology. 
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