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Adopting Amazon: Where to start with AWS private cloud

Alan Earls explains how one AWS private cloud customer took advantage of Amazon's services and offers advice on how others can do the same.

Although Amazon Web Services strives to make cloud computing almost as easy to use as its global retail business, many organizations still struggle with one basic question: Where should we start?

Many AWS private cloud customers got their start by signing up for Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), said Paul Duffy, principal product manager at Amazon Web Services Inc. "That's a starting point when they want to extend what they have on-premises," he said. VPC supports creation of a logically isolated network, defined within AWS. That new network is then integrated with the customer's existing assets, accessible via the same IP address and with the same or equivalent network access controls, such as firewalls, that the company currently uses.

Customers can use the VPC to create single or multiple subnets connecting to on-premises resources or using a server-based virtual private network (VPN) managed by AWS, Duffy said. "They just have to describe their VPN gateway, and at that point it [the new AWS subnet] appears as an extension of their regular network," he said. They can also deploy Windows servers or almost any flavor of Linux server within a VPC, he added, saying, "The integration is essentially the same as if it were on their premises."

Customers need to consider what happens if their cloud vendor fails.
Rick Sizemoredirector of the cloud computing practice, Alsbridge Inc.

Customers can also use the same tools they use in their own data centers -- such as Microsoft System Center -- to manage the AWS assets. "The new machines simply join their Active Directory domains, so in that sense, they don't really have to change how they manage their end points at all," Duffy said.

However, customers do need to pay attention to the kind of instances they deploy for their cloud workflows and make sure their selections match those needs. They also need to re-examine their security policies and launch their instances within AWS's security groups.

Real-life experience

Appian Corp., a Reston, Va.-based vendor of business process management (BPM) software, began using AWS as an infrastructure provider about six years ago, said Myles Weber, Appian's vice president for cloud and community services. Today, Appian relies on AWS for three key functions, he said.

First, AWS serves as the back end for Appian's Software as a Service offering. In addition, AWS provides scalable development and testing platforms for Appian's software engineering teams. Finally, AWS provides most of the infrastructure for Appian's operational IT activities. "It made sense to move almost everything to AWS, so they now have 95% of all of our IT operations," Weber said.

For Appian, AWS's appeal lies in its service-based architecture, pay-as-you-go pricing and continuing efforts to innovate. "Outsourced data centers are a dime a dozen," Weber said. "What we value is that we can consume more if necessary, but if we slow down, we don't have to worry about [the impact on] 300 employees."

In his view, AWS works best in companies with mature software-development or IT groups. "A less-mature organization might want more hand-holding than AWS provides," he said.

Companies' single biggest worry about selecting a cloud provider is that they'll commit to a platform that ultimately disappears, said Rick Sizemore, director of the cloud computing practice at Alsbridge Inc., a Dallas-based consulting firm. About a related concern, he said, is committing to a platform that slips behind the competition. "You would think that platforms like, Google Apps Engine or Microsoft Azure are long-term propositions, but in this day and age, just being maintained isn't enough," he said. "Your platform has to be continuously refreshed."

Customers need to consider what happens if their cloud vendor fails or stops investing in its products, by answering questions such as, "where does the app go, where does the data go, and is the data available in a portable format so that I can take my ball and go home if need be," Sizemore said.

Greg Ness, vice president of marketing at CloudVelocity Inc., a company that offers a solution for deploying multi-tier apps and services into the cloud, said AWS seems to be the "furthest along" of the cloud infrastructure providers. "Up until now, their challenge has been that they have mostly been adopted for dev-test and for completely new applications, so billions of dollars in IT spending has remained out of reach," Ness said. However, because AWS has been growing at a breakneck pace, getting mindshare from small, midsized and large businesses, that situation is changing.

And, in his view, the AWS private cloud offers a compelling value proposition. As an example, he cites the hypothetical case of a large business seeking to do a "dry run" disaster-recovery test with a traditional third-party data-center provider. "You would probably have a minimum cost of $20,000 or so, you would have to fill out lots of paperwork, and you would have to schedule well in advance," he said. "With AWS, you can do the same thing almost any time with very little cost."

Furthermore, AWS's capabilities don't require high-level skills on the customer's part, he said: "That amounts to organizations [using AWS] being able to achieve a new level of agility, uptime, availability and efficiency."

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Are you interested in using AWS for your private cloud?
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