This morning I came across an AP article on Yahoo news calling out Amazon’s ‘cloud computing’ initiatives. The all-too-clever title “Amazon’s Hot New Item: its data center” caught my attention and I wanted to see the folks at AP take a crack at the topic.
The article seemed innocent enough until I ran into this quote from the CEO of Dallas-based startup Mile Meter:
During the first dot-com boom, he said, “It was a badge of strength to have as much as possible in house. “Now, unless that is your core business…it’s a liability.”
Hmmm… I think the dot-com era statement was a bit over the top. Realistically, there was no real alternative to in-house infrastructure management. The hosting business was itself developing almost simultaneously and it was a dumb idea to simply hand over management of your entire setup to a 3rd party. Of course, you also needed tons of expensive gear to run stuff too. Well, it turns out today you still need tons of gear (assuming you’re successful anyway) and while it’s cheaper, the gear itself is only part of the problem.
But it’s the second part of the statement that I have deep issues with (and I am perfectly open to the possibility of it being taken out of context). The idea that you have to be in the business of managing technology assets in order to justify not going the EC2/S3 route (and it must be stated that EC2, while tres-cool is still in beta) seems short sighted. In fact, it counters completely the idea that operational excellence delivered through a talented ops team and a good infrastructure is a competitive advantage. It certainly is for the big, established players in the business — including Amazon.com. Tim O’Reilly wrote about this a while back when discussing how operations is the new “Secret Sauce” of companies doing business over the web.
Of course, perhaps part of the value of the S3/EC2 offering is that you tap into Amazon’s ops excellence. From what I have seen from playing with it, all you get is virtualized storage and virtual machines which have some lifecycle tooling around them. In effect, hosted gear. No monitoring, no application management, no person to call to debug why your memcache setup isn’t performing, and perhaps most important… no SLA (not for EC2 yet, anyway).
EC2/S3 save you hardware and storage costs. Everything else regarding operations skill, capacity planning, scalability knowledge, and good setup techniques still hold true for any business which derives its revenue from the web.