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AWS tools that turned heads in 2014

AWS delivered about 450 feature releases this year -- here's the cream of the crop.

It seems like AWS tools get released every day, and that pace can be difficult to keep up with -- thus it's worth a look back at what industry experts say were 2014's hottest new additions to the Amazon cloud platform.

This year saw AWS tools released that took a shot across the bow of competitors, the opening of a new data center region, the launch of a new file sync-and-share service, and much more. The list is numbered from 10 to 1 in order of importance.

10. C4 instances (previewed Nov. 13) -- These compute-optimized instances sport custom Haswell chips from Intel, which allow for clock speeds beyond what's generally commercially available, and will offer significantly boosted performance for customers. They are also attached to the Elastic Block Store's solid-state storage (see item #3 on our list) at no additional charge.

9. CodeDeploy / CodeCommit / CodePipeline (Nov. 12) -- Amazon continued to reach out to developers with this package of code development tools launched at re:Invent. CodeDeploy deploys application code to a fleet of Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) servers for testing; CodeCommit, a managed code repository; and CodePipeline creates software release automation workflows. Developers already have mainstream tools such as GitHub to rely on, but this is Amazon showing off the potential value of an integrated platform and infrastructure, according to John Treadway, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, based in Boston.

"It's a good thing for the market, but it also shows it's a risky proposition for the ecosystem to be in the business of just building services on top of Amazon," Treadway said.

8. Amazon Zocalo (July 10) -- Speaking of the ecosystem, Zocalo marked Amazon's attempt to horn in on a hot market for enterprise file sync-and-share, going up against big names to do it, including Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive for Business. Some experts also look at Zocalo as a possible opportunity to replace SharePoint in some environments.

"Cloud storage and file sharing is wildly popular with consumers and individual business users, but the enterprise market has lagged behind, and Amazon senses an opportunity," wrote one TechTarget contributor in October.

7. EC2 Container Service (previewed Nov. 13) -- Docker was all the rage this year, and Amazon found a way to add value with a new service that automatically distributes containers among EC2 instances to optimize provisioning and performance. With this service, containers more efficiently share hardware and virtual machine resources while maintaining logical separation between application components. The Docker integration, hinted at before the re:Invent show in November, was high on attendees' wishlists.

6. AWS Key Management Service (Nov. 12) -- Encryption is often emphasized by Amazon as the best way to safeguard data from the prying eyes of hackers and governments brandishing subpoenas. With the launch of Zocalo and other storage services such as encrypted Elastic Block Store volumes, however, the management of encryption keys was still in the hands of Amazon rather than users -- the AWS Key Management Service allows customers to supply their own encryption keys and control much more of their management than was possible previously. 

5. AWS Config (previewed Nov. 12) -- Another service that strengthened Amazon's compliance game this year came at re:Invent in the form of AWS Config, a service that allows IT to track resources on a much more granular level than was previously offered with tools such as CloudTrail.

"It allows you to correlate multiple events which was really hard to do prior to the public cloud, when you had to integrate with 20 different on-premises software vendors," said Kris Bliesner, CTO of 2nd Watch, an Amazon partner and cloud consultancy based in Liberty Lake, Wash., which has beta tested the AWS Config service.

4. A new region in Germany (Oct. 23) -- A new, second region in Europe offers customers on that continent better DR options, and was a significant milestone in data localization, an issue that was a hot topic all year, particularly in Germany, where regulations around data localization are strictest.

"It's very important because the market in Europe is skittish around data security and privacy," Treadway said. "I suspect the new German data center has opened quite a few doors to cloud computing in the largest economy in Europe."

3. EBS SSDs (June 17) -- When Amazon delivered General Purpose SSD volumes as the default storage type for use with its Elastic Block Store, it offered a huge boost in performance for a huge swath of customers.

"If you'd asked me even six months ago, I would've said it would be really nice to have a few more options in EBS, but they've patched that by giving us SSD options and SSD with provisioned IOPS," said Derek Slager, director of engineering for IMS Health, a healthcare software company based in Danbury, Conn. which became an exclusive customer and partner with AWS this year based in part on this boosted performance from Amazon.

Amazon's EBS SSDs also turned out to be the better deal over Google's similar offerings in benchmark tests last month.

2. AWS Lambda (previewed Nov. 13) -- AWS Lambda, which will make its generally available debut in 2015, will do nothing short of reinventing cloud provisioning, according to observers who learned about it at re:Invent. While it requires some Node.js coding skill, users will no longer have to be senior developers or software architects to institute infrastructure as code, according to Jared Reimer, founder and CTO of Cascadeo Corp., a cloud consultancy based in Mercer Island, Wash.

"It's enabling the commoditization of what previously were specialties," Reimer said.

1. Amazon Aurora (previews Nov. 12) -- Amazon shocked the world when it revealed at re:Invent that it will launch and develop its own relational database platform -- and with what AWS claims is proprietary database performance at an open source price, it's already being hailed as a potential Oracle killer.

"Database is one of the hardest parts of scaling things in the cloud," Reimer said. "For small but scaling companies, Aurora takes a major pain point and pushes it way down the road."

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

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That’s a difficult list to rank, but the EC2 container service should have been ranked a bit higher, at least in the top 5 ahead of the key management service and AWS config.