Saturday, October 04, 2008

Amazon EC2 To Support Windows OS

Great news from the folks at Amazon Web Services - their EC2 Cloud computing platform will shortly support Windows operating systems. This is a wonderful development as it will allow .NET applications to be hosted with IIS at the same level of scalability as the Linux folks now enjoy. I've signed up so when the first beta comes out, I have a fighting chance to test it.

Pricing will be higher for Windows OS than for Linux of course but with the advances in virtualization these days I doubt it will be a huge difference. Of course what you are paying for is the extra services of (presumably) professional backup, redundant servers, locked down security, onsite engineers, and all the bells and whistles a massive data centre run by one of the world's largest e-tailers will provide.

I'm a keen fan of Amazon's work - I think of all the major players they are the ones who understand the new economics of the internet the best - yes even better than Google I would argue. They are commoditizing application development in a granular and sustainable way.

Of course Google's revenue stream is huge. Of course they have made major successes by providing services such as online office apps, email, maps, analytics, adsense and adwords, but at the end of the day their revenue is entirely search-based and it isn't clear what level of support  any of these additional services are likely to receive over time. Right now it doesn't matter that all of these services are "free" and "Beta", because they are intended to fuel Google's search revenue. However, that assumes that Google will remain the #1 search destination. If it doesn't, all of these services will have to be dropped or given some kind of business model. In my opinion, anyone building on these services is therefore taking a bit of a chance.

At the bottom of any software ecosystem, the founder is essentially bullet-proof. That's because anybody using the platform faces the switching cost to another ecosystem, and also because the more services are offered, the more compelling staying on the platform becomes.

What Amazon is quietly doing is encouraging everyone to build on their platform, but charging them for this. By doing so, they are making a sort of business guarantee - they get a revenue stream for each of their services, and in turn they can support it with Service Level Agreements and dedicated teams. In other words, there is a vision and a road map because Amazon's web services each raise money.

Recent improvements to Amazon's DevPay - which provides an easy way for developers to charge for their software - and their work on the super-scalable SimpleDB are proof that they are in this for the long haul.

At the end of the day, developing on any cloud computing platform  isn't just a technical challenge. It raises a lot of thorny questions - how do you protect your data, what kind of legal issues accrue, what are the privacy issues, how do you handle service level agreements, how do you pass on your costs - just to name a few. Cloud computing is not a silver bullet and anybody committing to it needs to take a deep breath before they do, and research and plan ahead.

However, the commoditization of computing resources represents the same impact as the introduction of the telephone line or automobile factory - after awhile you forget they are there and just RELY on them. Seen this way, a future timeline of technological progress might include the names, "Thomas Edison", "Henry Ford", and..."Jeff Bezos".

What do you think?

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