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AWS plays host to Amazon SES alternatives

A company whose products share a market with Amazon SES talks about what it's like to base its operations on AWS, and shares what items are on its wish list, such as EC2 IPv6 support.

The popularity of Amazon's cloud can make for strange bedfellows, as AWS hosts SaaS providers that also compete with its services, from Netflix to an Amazon Simple Email Service competitor called SparkPost.

Columbia, Md.-based SparkPost, formerly Message Systems Inc., offers two services:, an email Software as a Service (SaaS) site, and SparkPost Elite, which offers a higher level of service to enterprise customers. The company's software can also be used on-premises, but all of its operations are hosted in AWS.

"Amazon, when they say simple ... they mean simple," said Alec Peterson, CTO at SparkPost. "Higher-level features like engagement tracking ... don't exist there. It is literally for taking a message in or getting it out, and any sort of deliverability reporting is not really a part of it, and they know that."

SparkPost can offer email sending from dedicated IP addresses, whereas Amazon SES uses shared IPs, said SparkPost SVP and GM David Rowley. Dedicated IPs are easier to monitor for reputation and less prone to ending up on blacklists, he said.

"That resonates with the folks that we've talked to within Amazon, and they're glad to have that kind of option for their customers," Rowley added.

For those added features SparkPost charges a premium over Amazon SES. For 100,000 emails a month, its rate is $79.95, which works out to a price of $0.69 per one thousand emails. Amazon SES is priced at $0.10 per 1,000 emails, plus transfer costs for data sent out from Amazon over the Internet starting at $0.09 for up to 10 terabytes per month.

Weighing AWS products in the changing cloud market

In the meantime, SparkPost avoids AWS value-add services beyond the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Elastic Block Store, with the exception of the AWS Route 53 DNS service. It's looking into implementing Auto-Scaling Groups next year as the company's services grow.

"We're not being obstinate in terms of not wanting to use [more] services, but we definitely want to make sure ... that we do have, for lack of a better term, an exit strategy if we determine for business reasons that we need to look elsewhere," Peterson said.

That hasn't been necessary so far, though SparkPost looked at Microsoft, Rackspace and Google cloud services when it was founded two years ago. However, that investigation concluded that AWS was, at the time, the only viable option, according to Peterson.

"It provided the fewest variables at a time when we were building a lot of the infrastructure ourselves," Peterson said.

That could change as the cloud market evolves.

"We are happy with AWS at this point ...  but in terms of pricing pressure and all the other typical reasons you want to avoid lock-in, we are cognizant of the fact that the cloud market is rapidly changing," Peterson said.

Third-party options and the SES wish list

SparkPost also has implemented a number of third-party options to underpin its Momentum messaging platform, such as the Cassandra NoSQL database and Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Vertica data warehouse platform, though Vertica has presented some redundancy issues in its integration with AWS.

"The challenge is that right now, [the third-party options] don't currently support deploying Vertica software across multiple availability zones, because that introduces a bunch of extra network infrastructure on the AWS side," Peterson said. "We're working closely with them on that."

The Vertica product is not mission-critical to the SparkPost service, as it's mainly used for reporting. The collection of data and email delivery are done separately and in a highly available manner, so if there's an AWS outage, only the ability to generate internal reports would be affected, and only temporarily.

There are also items on the wish list for SparkPost as it looks ahead to the future of its partnership with AWS, chief among them EC2 IPv6 support.

"In EC2, IPv6 support does not exist," Peterson said. "You cannot assign an IPv6 address to an EC2 instance and have it actually reachable on the Internet."

Given that a sender's reputation can be tied to an IP address, and with the IPv4 address space getting congested, being able to use IPv6 for new IP addresses is important to the email industry expanding, Rowley said.

In the meantime, the similarities between SparkPost and Amazon SES mean more patience in waiting for this feature.

"I run a software development organization, so I understand there are only so many man-hours in the day," Peterson said.

Amazon declined to comment for this story.

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

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