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Larger AWS EC2 instance types seek to conquer enterprise demands

AWS has churned out a host of new EC2 instance types over the past year, as it responds to a shift toward more production workloads on the platform.

Higher-level services, such as Amazon Aurora or AWS Lambda, generate much of the buzz around AWS these days, though the continued expansion of its core compute and storage services continues to attract more enterprise IT.

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), one of AWS' oldest services and a bedrock of the platform, has seen a steady expansion of instance options for cloud customers since it was first introduced in 2009. And that pace has quickened as the cloud giant tries to fill gaps in its lineup. In the past 12 months, AWS has added nearly 30 new EC2 instance types -- a third of its total EC2 portfolio.

Most of those VMs are slight tweaks to the amount of compute, storage, networking or memory within existing EC2 instance types, but they all follow a similar pattern: They're getting bigger.

"The larger you can allocate a virtual device, the more enterprise apps you can capture, because a lot of these advanced applications end up on higher-end proprietary compute because they need it," said Jeff Kato, an analyst at Taneja Group Inc. in Hopkinton, Mass.

Of all these beefed-up EC2 instance types that AWS added over the last year, few aim to win the hearts and minds of enterprises more than those targeting SAP applications. AWS users can now build scale-out SAP HANA clusters with up to 17 nodes and 34 TB of memory. SAP caps users at 16 nodes without a special certification, so the additional node acts as a standby. The newest EC2 instance type, the VPC-only x1e.32xlarge, will be available later this year, with 4 TB of memory for scale-up SAP workloads.

Until recently, the vast majority of public cloud deployments were focused on preproduction types of systems, but that is shifting as companies put low-risk production systems on AWS and other public clouds, said Charlie Li, chief cloud officer at Capgemini, a global business management consulting firm with U.S. headquarters in New York.

"The next battle is true enterprise workloads, something that's really critical to a business," Li said. "There's no better example from a sizing perspective and using big critical systems than SAP."

Any customer that has run SAP for years will have more than the 2 TB of storage allowed by the largest single instance currently certified for SAP on AWS, Li said. Those customers either had to go with HANA Enterprise Cloud on private cloud or colocation, rather than put those applications on AWS.

Big only gets bigger with EC2 instance types

In an uncharacteristic move from the normally tight-lipped AWS, the cloud provider discussed some roadmap items, sharing plans to offer single-node instances with up to 16 TB of memory by 2018. Those volumes won't affect too many companies today, but it could give comfort to enterprises that know their SAP workloads will continue to grow with time.

Of course, AWS isn't alone in this fight. Google and Microsoft also have invested heavily to lure SAP customers to their clouds.

If you can get SAP, which is a pretty big part of the IT landscape, then the rest of the systems will follow, and then the argument [against public cloud] becomes fairly moot.
Charlie Lichief cloud officer, Capgemini

"The thought is, if you can get SAP, which is a pretty big part of the IT landscape, then the rest of the systems will follow, and then the argument [against public cloud] becomes fairly moot," Li said.

In addition to going bigger, AWS will also diversify its EC2 instance types. The multipurpose F1 offers field programmable gate arrays, which are a good fit for next-gen applications and high-performance computing. It also will move into the bare-metal world later this year -- a first for AWS -- with a new instance to house VMware workloads, as part of a deal to bridge on-premises workloads and the world's largest public cloud.

"Amazon is all about breaking down any barriers to get an enterprise to their workshop," Kato said. "It's going to be really easy for someone in a VMware shop to vMotion in a workload when they want to go over to Amazon; [it's] the same thing with HANA."

The proliferation of EC2 instance types is also ironic, in a way. Public cloud rose to prominence under the guise of commoditized data centers. But, over time, AWS and a handful of others have moved toward offering tailored infrastructure that makes its resources exponentially more complex to divvy up.

"It's an evolution of return on investment from AWS," Kato said. "My guess is it's really where customers are driving them."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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