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Breadth of AWS features acts as a double-edged sword for IT

AWS offers a wide variety of cloud tools but, in some cases, still lacks the core IT management and ops features that enterprises crave.

While AWS continues to grow as a dominant public cloud provider, it doesn't meet every enterprise need. In fact, some AWS features for IT operations and management come with usability pain points that might prompt some teams to evaluate other IaaS providers.

Experts have differing opinions on AWS' ecosystem and how much of a problem these usability challenges are. Some believe the abundance of AWS' features and services also poses a drawback.

"One of the biggest benefits of AWS also doubles as one of its biggest downfalls," said Mark Runyon, AWS-certified developer and senior consultant for Innovative Architects in Atlanta. The breadth of AWS product offerings is incredible, he said, and some users are tempted to tap into every service they can.

But while a business could feasibly operate entirely within the AWS ecosystem, that's not always realistic. "I think the biggest downfall is the lack of depth within some of those offerings," he said. "When you are trying to fit all the pieces together within AWS, sometimes, you'll be missing a critical feature that will inevitably lead you to a third-party provider that is doing it better."

In Runyon's view, you simply can't be the best at every product when they span hundreds of categories. Monitoring is one example of that, he said, which is why his company chose New Relic over Amazon CloudWatch -- a tool that doesn't seem as detailed or robust.

His company also strayed away from AWS deployment tools in favor of other options, such as Octopus Deploy, for release management. Still, AWS meets many of Runyon's needs. "It is just pockets here and there, and since AWS is always releasing new things, they could be ahead again tomorrow," he said.

Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks, a DevOps consultancy, said it's important to choose the best available tools and not simply default to AWS features. Companies such as HashiCorp and Datadog, for example, provide quality software that can help you maintain an AWS-agnostic approach, as well as reduce complexity and boost efficiency, he said.

According to IDC analyst Larry Carvalho, AWS billing capabilities also fall short for some enterprises.

"Many customers do not like [the lack of] visibility into billing that AWS is constantly trying to fix," he said.

Keep security in focus

Security basics might be another subpar operational aspect of AWS, according to Mike Baker, founder and managing director at Mosaic451, a managed cybersecurity service provider.

For example, he explained the default privacy setting for Amazon S3 buckets is owner-only, and most breaches involve organizations that choose the "all authorized users" setting, which -- often unwittingly -- expands access to all AWS users. "This means that anyone with an AWS account can access that bucket with whatever permissions are granted to that level of access," he said. "It's a free-for-all."

That means AWS users must carefully consider what level of access they choose for their data and to whom they grant it. "A good rule of thumb is: If you're not sure, don't do it," he said. "Get help before you end up exposing your data to the world."

Can Google swoop in?

In general, the problem of weak native tools isn't limited to AWS, Ciborowski said. "The same applies to all of the cloud providers, including Google and Azure."

And the lack of depth in some AWS features isn't necessarily enough to push enterprises to another IaaS provider, such as Google Cloud Platform (GCP), said Manoj Nair, chief product officer at HyperGrid, a third-party cloud management vendor whose tools support both AWS and GCP. In fact, some enterprises use both.

"[GCP] has been most relevant to users who are looking for basic IaaS, container services, analytics and machine learning services," he said. Therefore, customers will typically use GCP for these services and otherwise use AWS features.

GCP provides proactive cost and instance recommendations based on usage, which, Nair said, leads some IT professionals to perceive it as more cost-friendly than AWS, among other potential advantages. "GCP may have fewer services, but among users, it is perceived as having a good focus on container services, analytics and machine learning services," Nair said.

Meanwhile, Runyon's organization recently shifted to AWS from Azure and related a largely positive experience with both providers. "I like both Azure and AWS," he said. "They both have a lot to offer; it is more a question of what is best for the client."

This was last published in June 2018

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