Amazon Web Services adds workflow support for cloud applications

AWS’s new Simple Workflow Service makes life easier for cloud app developers, but Microsoft got there first with a similar feature for Azure.

Amazon Web Services customers now have the ability to script workflows inside public cloud applications -- a feature delivered in Microsoft Azure last year. Which product is better depends on who you ask.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) trotted out a beta version of its Simple Workflow Service (SWF) on Wednesday, which lets developers automate business processes within an AWS cloud application, allowing them to focus on building business logic instead of writing infrastructure code.

Amazon SWF appears to be AWS’ answer to Microsoft’s Workflow Foundation Activity Pack for Windows Azure Community Technology Preview 1, which released on September 1, 2011, said Roger Jennings, a Windows Azure MVP and developer, in his OakLeaf Systems blog.

Both Microsoft and AWS help developers deal with business processes and workflows in a cloud environment without having to write code to handle it on their own.

"Often an application consists of several different tasks to be performed in a particular sequence driven by a set of dynamic conditions,” said Werner Vogels, CTO of, in his All Things Distributed blog. “Amazon SWF makes it very easy for developers to architect and implement these tasks, run them in the cloud or [on-premises] and coordinate their flow."

The ability to create workflows on the fly is key not only to design [cloud applications] but also to handle problem management later on.
Robert Mahowaldresearch vice president at IDC Corp.

In fact, other cloud vendors, including BMC Software Inc. and Hewlett Packard (HP), already support workflow design and execution, according to one analyst.

"The ability to create workflows on the fly is key not only to design [cloud applications] but also to handle problem management later on," said Robert Mahowald, research vice president at IDC Corp., an IT market research firm.

An Amazon official declined to comment on competitors' offerings, but said the company is continuously working to provide customers with "choice and flexibility." One benefit of Amazon SWF is that developers can use familiar programming languages to coordinate their workflow applications, said Reto Kramer, general manager of application connection services at AWS.

SWF differs from existing technologies, according to one long-time AWS user.

"SWF separates cleanly between the data being processed and the metadata about the status of the processing, so it can be used to orchestrate workflows even of highly secure data and services,” said Shlomo Swidler, CEO of Orchestratus Inc., a cloud computing consultancy with extensive experience with AWS. “And it is hosted by AWS and therefore offers better reliability than most organizations can deliver themselves."

Customers who have experience with AWS will likely be attracted to Amazon's offerings, while large Microsoft shops might favor Windows Azure, said Bill Kleyman, a virtualization solutions architect at MTM Technologies.

"[Microsoft and Amazon] are going to compete against each other, but many times it's going to be 'What am I more familiar with?'" Kleyman added.

Nonetheless, Amazon's introduction of SWF portends an environment that is beginning to mature.

"It's recognition that IT is using more sophisticated designs and workflows in the cloud," IDC's Mahowald said.

Amazon officials said that even though SWF is only in beta, it is ready for developers to use.

About the author:
Stuart J. Johnston is Senior News Writer for Contact him at

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