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AWS CloudFormation complaints spark roadmap pledge

AWS has responded to user complaints over feature lag and a perceived lack of organizational support for CloudFormation, its popular native infrastructure-as-code service.

AWS users have some fresh reassurances that the popular AWS CloudFormation infrastructure-as-code service remains one of the company's top priorities.

AWS CloudFormation, which launched in 2011, enables users to create templates that map and provision AWS infrastructure for its applications. It's meant to both save time and provide a cohesive way for AWS customers to plot their environments for all regions and accounts.

In recent weeks, many users on the AWS Reddit forum expressed consternation over delays for AWS CloudFormation to support new AWS features. Many pointed to HashiCorp Terraform, an open source infrastructure-as-code offering, as more current with AWS features than AWS CloudFormation. Others speculated that the service simply isn't a priority for AWS anymore.

Jeff Barr, AWS' chief evangelist, weighed in with a promise to investigate, and he submitted his findings last week in a forum post. CloudFormation indeed remains an important part of AWS, he wrote, but its popularity creates some logistical challenges in its support for new AWS features.

AWS CloudFormation's developers have grappled with and addressed some operational problems during the past six months, Barr said. They also will tackle its feature backlog and reorganize and refactor existing code with an eye on future innovations, he said.

Barr also acknowledged one of the forum posters' top complaints: a lack of transparency with regard to AWS CloudFormation's development. To that end, AWS plans to provide a public roadmap for the service, Barr said.

This move comes a few months after AWS' quiet release of a public roadmap for its container services, a decision that stood in contrast to the company's generally secretive posture over future developments.

Additionally, while AWS CloudFormation is native to AWS, it's also dependent on it, which stands in contrast to the industry's move toward multi-cloud deployments.

Grassroots effort prompts AWS CloudFormation changes

Judging by the dozens of responses to Barr's post that ranged from supportive to skeptical, the debate over AWS CloudFormation's status within AWS is far from settled.

The [CloudFormation] attention is pretty much my biggest item on the AWS wish list.
Ryan Marshsoftware development coach and DevOps consultant, TheStack.io

AWS executives frequently cite the company's focus on customer concerns, but these conversations tend to happen behind the scenes. Barr is an exception; he's a prolific blogger on AWS company news and is a constant presence on Twitter and forums.

It's not surprising that gripes about AWS CloudFormation coalesced in this way, because individual developers and employees of smaller companies tend to convene on such forums, said Deepak Mohan, an analyst at IDC.

"Few large enterprises are huge users of CloudFormation ... they tend to go with more cross-platform standards, like Chef and Puppet," Mohan said.

One AWS user expressed positivity toward the company's response to complaints over AWS CloudFormation.

"The [CloudFormation] attention is pretty much my biggest item on the AWS wish list," said Ryan Marsh, a software development coach based in Houston and DevOps consultant at TheStack.io. The feature lag, while not egregious, is annoying, he added.

Meanwhile, AWS' gradual move toward more transparency is to be expected, given its dominant lead in the cloud computing market.

"First, they were trailblazers and answered only to their survival," Marsh said. "Now, they're town planners. There's a lot of concrete poured in this city called AWS, and every decision they make matters a great deal. They will need to naturally transition to more openness as they become the town planners of app infrastructure writ large."

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