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AWS CloudFormation public roadmap released after user gripes

AWS CloudFormation users now have a public roadmap, which should help them plan use of the infrastructure-as-code tool. But AWS hasn't promised faster CloudFormation development.

AWS has delivered on a pledge of greater transparency into its development plans with the release of a public roadmap for CloudFormation, the highly popular infrastructure-as-code framework that some users complain doesn't keep close enough pace with AWS service releases.

AWS CloudFormation usage has grown at a rapid pace, but AWS has given scalability higher priority than complete coverage of AWS services, AWS "Chief Evangelist" Jeff Barr said in a blog post.

"While our goal of providing 100% coverage remains, the reality is that it will take us some time to get there," Barr said.

One AWS user offered measured praise for the company's move to provide an AWS CloudFormation roadmap, which it had signaled was in the works back in March.

"This is exactly what we've been asking for, in lieu of same-day GA of course," said Ryan Marsh, a DevOps and serverless coach at TheStack.io in Houston.

"Furthermore, we need to see more of this type of leadership with AWS' various open source endeavors, many of which still feel controlled by the company -- not the community -- and yet have no public roadmap," Marsh added.

Some users say the CloudFormation feature lag has prompted them to use Terraform, an IaC tool developed by Hashicorp, since it keeps pace with new AWS features better than the cloud provider itself.

This is exactly what we've been asking for, in lieu of same-day GA of course.
Ryan MarshDevOps and serverless coach, TheStack.io

Another AWS user said it's wise to temper expectations about the roadmap's potential impact.

"I think the increased transparency is good, although I wonder how many people actually monitor or care about it," said Scott Piper, an AWS security consultant at Summit Route in Salt Lake City. "I think most people have maybe one feature they want to have happen and so this gives them a better way of tracking the progress of that feature."

AWS allows for customer feedback through its public roadmaps, but likely carefully weighs how much influence that has, versus the risk that some users could game the system, Piper noted. "You can thumbs-up issues on GitHub and supposedly that will help them prioritize, but GitHub suffers from bots like every other social platform, and probably more so," he said.

For now, AWS customers mostly influence AWS roadmaps based on how much they spend, Piper said. "If you're a big company, spending $100 million per year on AWS, then you probably can get pretty much any features you want prioritized," he said.

Roadmap may not be a cure-all

It's not clear whether the release of a public AWS CloudFormation roadmap will in fact result in greater speed of delivery, as the company's official statements contain some hedges.

For one, AWS will not provide specific release dates on the roadmap because its main priorities are security and stability, according to an FAQ.

Also, the roadmap will feature only information on coverage updates for existing CloudFormation resource types, as well as ones that don't have any CloudFormation support. AWS services that aren't released yet won't get any attention, the FAQ states.

It is fashioned similarly to a roadmap AWS released in February for containers, broken into four categories. Shipped means the CloudFormation resource is ready for production use across all of AWS's public regions.

Coming soon means it is "a couple of weeks out, give or take," while we're working on it denotes a longer timeline than that for release. A fourth category, researching, indicates AWS hasn't determined how to implement the feature yet.

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels
Amazon CTO Werner Vogels

One factor related to CloudFormation's feature lag comes down to priorities that AWS contends users want addressed.

AWS this year launched Cloud Development Kit, which is also an infrastructure-as-code tool. CDK lets developers map AWS resources with the programming languages they're most familiar, whereas AWS CloudFormation calls for them to create bulky templates with JSON and XML.

Developers have said they prefer CDK's approach and, thus, AWS has put more emphasis on its development, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels said in a recent interview with TechTarget.

"I think overall, we're on a good path -- the right path," Vogels said. "But I love the fact that there is a long list of requests for CloudFormation. It means that customers are passionate about it and want us to do more."

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