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AWS users get new Windows AMIs

New Windows AMIs from AWS keep it ahead of the curve -- and ahead of its cloud competitors.

Amazon Web Services launched Windows Server 2012-based Amazon Machine Images this week in anticipation of customers' future needs.

While not a game-changer, this move beats IBM, Google Compute Engine (GCE) and other Amazon Web Services (AWS) competitors to the punch in supporting Windows Server 2012 R2 in the cloud.

Google Compute Engine, along with Microsoft Azure, nips at AWS' heels, but GCE does not currently support Windows virtual machine images; it only supports Windows Server 2008 R2 in limited preview.

Transition times between operating system versions tend to be very long.

John Treadway,
senior vice president with Cloud Technology Partners

Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) provide the information required to launch an instance, which is a virtual server in the cloud, according to AWS documentation. Customers can create custom AMIs or use pre-packaged AMIs for Linux and Windows workloads in a variety of flavors, including various distributions of Linux, Windows 2003, Windows 2008, and now Windows Server 2012 R2 and SQL Server 2014.

Community-generated AMIs also provide support for applications through the AWS Marketplace.

It's unclear whether there will be an immediate rush to use the new Windows AMIs, according to cloud consultants, who said Windows shops are often slow to upgrade if there are no pressing problems with a certain operating system version.

"Transition times between operating system versions tend to be very long," said John Treadway, senior vice president with Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud consulting firm based in Boston.  "Later Windows server versions may be better or more capable, but if there are no performance or stability issues, users tend not to move."

This goes double for database servers such as SQL Server, Treadway added.

There is a learning curve going from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2012 in particular, some enterprise AWS customers said.

"Microsoft has changed some key features we use, i.e. [Remote Desktop Protocol]," said Phil Jones, vice president at BlueBird Auto Rental Systems based in Dover, New Jersey, which makes software for vehicle rental companies and uses both AWS and Windows extensively. "Eventually, I'm sure we'll be pressured into it, but for now, I don't see the benefit to us or our users."

Many Windows shops still run older versions of the OS, according to a TechTarget Windows Purchasing Intentions survey conducted in the third quarter of 2013. For example, 59% of the 751 respondents use Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1; Windows Server 2003, which will reach end-of-life in 2015, runs in 10.7% of IT shops. Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2 versions made up 15.8% of respondents' deployments, with Windows Server 2012 R2 deployed by 6.5% of respondents.

There is a growing appetite in the market for Windows Server 2012 R2, however. The same survey found that 61% plan to deploy Windows Server 2012 R2 this year.

When they do, AWS customers will be able to take advantage of the capabilities Windows Server 2012 R2 offers, especially its native integrations with AWS' Enhanced Networking, i.e., Single-Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV). SR-IOV boosts virtual machine performance by making hardware network interface cards look like multiple separate -- and separately "owned" -- interfaces.

Other new features in Windows Server 2012 R2 include storage tiering, write-back cache and a PowerShell command-line interface feature called "desired state configuration" that establishes a desired state for Windows servers and then monitors the infrastructure for changes away from the desired configuration.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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What other operating system versions should AWS support with AMIs?