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Amazon dedicated server move aligns with Microsoft licensing

While technically comparable to bare metal cloud offerings from IBM and Rackspace, AWS has a different motivation for offering dedicated hardware.

A new Amazon dedicated server offering is a sign that Amazon looks to cultivate a growing enterprise audience, including the legacy Microsoft apps those businesses might otherwise run on Azure.

Such applications and their licensing were specifically called out as part of the reason to use an Amazon dedicated server, an offering dubbed Amazon EC2 Dedicated Hosts.

IT professionals can bring their existing server-based licenses for Windows Server, SQL Server, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and other enterprise systems and products to run on an Amazon dedicated server. This offering also provides users with visibility into the number of sockets and physical cores that are available to obtain and use software licenses that are a good match for the underlying hardware, according to Amazon's blog post.

Meanwhile, Microsoft recently disclosed plans to offer a 'Bring Your Own License' program to allow Windows Server license holders to run on the Azure public cloud. The program is not available to date.

Why use an Amazon dedicated server?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has offered Dedicated Instances for years, but the use of dedicated servers is different -- it offers users access to the host processor, while Dedicated Instances simply guarantee that a user's VM is "stuck" to a particular host without sharing it with other tenants.

"There's always been a bit of a disconnect from a legal perspective between dedicated instances and dedicated hosts," said Patrick McClory, director of automation and DevOps at Datapipe Inc., a provider of managed hosting services for AWS based in Jersey City, N.J. "It's a very strong move forward [for Amazon] in terms of supporting some of the more legacy Microsoft tools that require static IDs under the hood."

Amazon's saying, 'We know you're out there with this legacy stuff, you can bring those licenses to us, and we will fulfill those license requirements.
Carl Brooksanalyst, 451 Research

Of course, it isn't the traditional Amazon startup audience which has such apps in house -- analysts say AWS dedicated hardware is a sign the company is pursuing even larger enterprise customers.

"Amazon's saying, 'We know you're out there with this legacy stuff, you can bring those licenses to us, and we will fulfill those license requirements,'" said Carl Brooks, analyst at 451 Research based in New York.

Amazon EC2 Dedicated Hosts is technically similar to bare-metal server offerings from Rackspace Inc. and IBM, but it is not intended for use the same way, Brooks said.

"For Rackspace and [IBM] SoftLayer, it's mostly about performance and price and physical segregation, but this is really targeted at enticing legacy IT in."

Might Amazon go so far as to target mainframe applications next?

"I wouldn't be shocked," Brooks said.

Amazon dedicated hosts will also help users dealing with strict compliance requirements, according to Sekhar Puli, managing partner at REAN Solutions Inc., an IT consulting firm in Washington, D.C. 

"Compliance is a flaky thing," Puli said. "If compliance auditors want to, they can go all the way down to saying they need the serial number of the physical host." This can happen in clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry, for example.

"You could ask the question of why you need all that, but that's the historical way of doing things and it's going to take some time to change that behavior," Puli said. "[AWS dedicated hardware] does address some part of that."

Restrictions may apply

Amazon EC2 Dedicated Hosts comes with some fine print. For example, by definition it is not supported with the Relational Database Service, since users managing raw hardware defeats the purpose of the managed database service. Users can divvy up dedicated hosts among virtual machines built on Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), but some AMIs for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux, and those which include Windows licenses, can't be used with Dedicated Hosts. Auto-Scaling Groups are also not supported.

Pricing is also higher for Amazon EC2 Dedicated Hosts than On-Demand EC2 instances in some scenarios. For example, in the c3 instance family, a dedicated host costs $1.848 per hour to run, while all but the largest On-Demand instance of the c3 family, a c3.8xlarge, cost less than $1.50 per hour. But a Windows On-Demand EC2 instance of the c3.8xlarge costs $3.008 per hour.

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

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