Although Amazon Web Services (AWS) comes with lots of "standard features" and a substantial number of extra tools and gadgets, it can be exceedingly complex to operate. Fortunately, a wide range of third-party tools and services have emerged to make using AWS easier. Indeed, experts say without those add-ons, companies with complex AWS implementations may be in trouble.
"In general, AWS will help you manage your AWS resources as such, but not at higher levels of abstraction closer to your business domain," said Shlomo Swidler, CEO of Orchestratus. You can get detailed performance monitoring for infrastructure-level metrics, such as CPU utilization, network traffic and load balancer latency. But you can't get a view of how your application is performing and how infrastructure issues influence application performance, he said.
Expectation versus reality
The biggest issue when it comes to managing AWS is knowing the load you are running at any given point, agreed Rick Sizemore, the director of the cloud computing practice at Dallas-based consultancy Alsbridge. "Managing your load, especially using something like IBM CloudBurst, is actually fairly complex," he said.
Sizemore said a fundamental problem is that people look at AWS as just a replacement for VMware virtualization, where applications have already been built or have evolved to take full advantage of the platform. There is an expectation that AWS will be able to deliver the same functionality. "To really take advantage of any extension within AWS, there are about 20 tools under AWS related to storage and computing that you might need to use. If you don't, AWS is just a dumb box," he said.
It is also crucial to have a tool that illuminates demand management as well as capacity management on an application, Sizemore said. So when you create an instance on Amazon, "whether for full production or for application development, if it needs to scale out or up, and the application isn't smart enough to ask for resources. You really need a management layer to do that," he said. Among the tools available, the most established is probably RightScale. "Once you get everything in a process through a tool like RightScale, then you end up getting the benefits you thought you were going to get from Amazon in the first place," Sizemore said.
"The nice thing is that with most of the tools you would use with AWS is that they are fairly open, so you can use them to manage beyond just AWS and they will usually integrate into your overall environment," Sizemore said.
Room to grow
Raj Bhargava, CEO of JumpCloud, credited AWS for offering some great tools and services, but he said the company needs to improve its instance management and monitoring. Generally, AWS has stayed at the cloud layer, but it has been reluctant to really go into a customer's private instance, he said.
"There is a great deal of opportunity to help manage individual server instances and monitor them from the inside. AWS has done a great job of monitoring through APIs, but you can understand more about what is going on with a server from the inside out," Bhargava said.
Automation is another area of opportunity. "AWS helps you automate the spin-up of a new server, and even through its native OpsWorks, will let you configure it. Automating the management of those servers is a critical task that AWS has not focused on to date."
A final area of need is server security. "AWS has spent a great deal of time securing [its] infrastructure and cloud, but has largely left it up to each individual customer to secure [its] instances," Bhargava said. "That's a huge challenge for most customers. Strong products and services that help lock down instances are a major opportunity."