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AWS users get more options for buying and sizing instances

The latest AWS updates hit on some common themes to  provide customers with more options around compute power and discounted purchasing.

Amazon’s new P2 instance type offers up to 16 graphic processing units (GPUs)  and up to eight NVIDIA Tesla K80 Accelerators. GPUs provide massive amounts of compute power and throughput; they were first popular with gaming companies, and are particularly well-suited for cutting-edge workloads in finance and scientific research, according to Amazon.

This latest instance type, however, and the general trend among cloud vendors to offer larger virtual machines, is as much about targeting legacy workloads and the evolving demands from customers, said Carl Brooks, an analyst with 451 Research.

“It reflects the mainstreaming of cloud computing for the bastions of traditional IT where the major reason [to release this instance type is]is big gnarly, hairy systems,” he said.

Customers must use Amazon’s Virtual Private Cloud to use the P2 instances. The instances provide up to 64 vCPUs, 732 gigabytes of memory, 192 gigabytes of GPU memory, nearly 40,000 cores and 20 gigabit network performance when grouped within a single availability zone. They are available in the US East, US West and Europe region as on-demand instances, reserved instances or dedicated hosts.

Amazon isn’t the only company to offer GPU instances. Microsoft’s N-series GPU instance, added in preview in early August, offers up to 24 cores, four NVIDIA Tesla K80 Accelerators, 224 gigabytes of memory and a 1.44 terabyte solid-state drive. Its targeted applications are high-performance computing and visualization workloads.

More ways to reserve Reserved Instances

Amazon also updated its polices around its Reserved Instances, which provide a large discount for customers that reserve EC2 instances in a given availability zone up to three years in advance. It’s been a popular service since its introduction eight years ago and has expanded to include the ability to schedule and modify instances, and to buy and sell these instances on a marketplace.

The pricing model is closer to traditional enterprise IT buying, where a customer can amortize over the life of the contract and treat it more like an investment, compared with the pay-as-you-go philosophy that helped popularize cloud computing.

“The dirty little secret is most customers are not using cloud for elastic workloads but are instead pushing it as a replacement for their data center,” Brooks said.

The latest change targets customers more concerned with price than capacity, by waiving the standard capacity associated with Reserved Instances in exchange for running that instance in any availability zone within a region and automatically applying the discount.

Also new, Convertible Reserved Instances don’t come with the greatest discount on instances but instead allow customers to change the instance type to use a newer iteration or take advantage of different specs, or factor in overall pricing drops on the platform after an instance is initially reserved.

The updates are available across the platform network, with the exception of Convertible Reserved Instances which are unavailable in GovCloud and the China region, though those two are expected to be added soon.

The new regional option will help with automation and flexibility, but Amazon  risks making its Reserved Instances too confusing, said Meaghan McGrath, an analyst with Technology Business Research in Hampton, N.H. She pointed to how Google customers appreciate how the vendor automatically calculates sustained usage discounts and applies them to customer instances.

“My feeling is that those customers who understand the system and know how to trade or convert Reserved Instances are the same people who are good at negotiating time-share trades and vacation swaps into nice resorts,” McGrath said. “But the majority of people would really rather just go book a hotel on a discount site that’s going to give them a good deal on the place to stay.”

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget’s data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].