A detailed look at Amazon Web Services
In recent years there’s been a noticeable change in how businesses view “the cloud” – going from an intriguing but unproven approach, to consuming infrastructure, to a key part of businesses technology strategy. At the heart of this change I believe is Amazon Web Services (AWS) and their evolution over time, building confidence and providing more and more advantages in a really consumable way for businesses.
The advantages of using Amazon Web Services (AWS) are numerous and wide ranging. At the time of writing the AWS package consists of over 90 different services, from the mundane such as cloud-based storage, networking and database systems, through to web analytics, mobile development tools, productivity applications and a variety of deployment options.
The userbase for AWS has grown rapidly since it was first launched properly in 2006, bringing new income and new ideas to the package of services offered by Amazon.
All of this is well and good but what use is AWS to you as an individual or to your business?
The Amazon Web Services approach to innovation
The AWS approach to innovation is well documented; as is the innovation of their clients utilising the tools available.
Netflix is well known to be one of, if not the largest client of AWS. Netflix are well known in the technology industry amongst other things for a ground-breaking approach to ensuring tolerance to failure.
It started with Chaos Monkey, and grew to the Simian Army, and is well worth a more detailed look – the simple overview is that Netflix unleashed a programme to test their ability to tolerate individual servers being broken.
They’ve since expanded that by adding more programmes which each do different things, like taking down networks, datacentres, the works. All within their production environment whilst being used by millions of viewers.
But we don’t notice do we?
All because of the capabilities of the services created by AWS. Services made available to everyone with no upfront investment in hardware.
Probably the simplest aspect of AWS for businesses is the Simple Storage Service (otherwise known as S3). It is often used as a quick, spacious, secure storage medium for data backups. This usage has probably made it the most obvious and well-known aspect of AWS. It’s fully scalable, and has built in features perfect for this task, be it encryption, geographical replication, or automatically moving old data into cold storage at a cheaper rate based on your rules, often at the tick of a box.
They’ve tiered the pricing model so if you don’t need your data often you can move to Infrequent Access or Glacier, for truly long term cold storage.
S3 is also commonly used as a file sharing tool. You can make files stored there accessible via a URL, as well as things like assets and download storage for your website, all the way through to content acceleration for Content Delivery Networks for high load websites.
For more basic business requirements Amazon offer several SaaS (Software as a Service) options via their various AWS packages.
With Amazon WorkMail, Amazon WorkDocs and Amazon Chime any organisation can quickly access a fully comprehensive and intuitive set of productivity software at any location.
AWS WorkMail is a fully featured e-mail and calendar service for your organisation, it fully supports integration with most existing e-mail clients, both mobile and desktop, allowing you full compatibility with your existing suite of applications and infrastructure.
The WorkMail SDK is included as part of all relevant packages allowing you to further develop the application for your own requirements, and most importantly AWS WorkMail is fully compatible with your existing Microsoft Exchange Server ensuring that deployment is rapid and data loss non-existent.
AWS WorkDocs is a premier online collaboration tool that can help you streamline the flow of information in your company, minimising data duplication and providing a single locale for updates and revisions of files.
WorkDocs supports most existing file types used in business, including proprietary formats such as .docx and .xlsx, and it can function equally well on tablet, mobile or desktop. All uploads are fully encrypted, and a full suite of easy-to-use administrative tools allows supervisors to control and restrict access to files based on users, as well as view full logs detailing the IP address, device, file activity and time of any actions that take place.
WorkDocs stands shoulder to shoulder with AWS Chime, a networking, teleconferencing and collaboration tool.
As an AWS application Chime features second-to-none security and encryption and any meetings can be restricted using a variety of host controls. Everything you require from a communications tool exists within the Chime app and the pay-per-use pricing options allows you to tailor a package to your organisations means.
The other common service is the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) which was probably the service which really defined the utility cost model for cloud services in general – providing a wealth of virtual server solutions charged by the hour (it’s now by the minute) which completely segregated customers.
You don’t need your Dev environment running overnight? Turn it off when you go home for the night, turn it back on in the morning, save some money.
EC2 isn’t just a pot of compute resources – its highly tailored for specific workloads. Where businesses often go wrong is just using cheaper instance types without knowing that perhaps there’s another instance type which will perform better with your workload, using less resource, which could save money.
It’s not just about hitting a nail with a hammer, its using the right hammer to suit your nail.
EC2’s real power comes from its unique auto-scaling tool which dynamically scales your EC2 environment based on custom thresholds and rules to make sure that as your load increases, the compute available to handle it does too. As importantly, it can scale it back down again as well!
Amazon service models
AWS EC2 primarily uses the Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) model.
This provides access to networking configuration and setup, virtual machines for your organisation and plenty of storage. IAAS gives you excellent versatility and you can manage your own resources as you see fit.
If you do not feel the need to have total control over your virtual servers you can opt for some more PAAS (Platform as a Service) oriented options that leave you to utilise your server whilst allowing AWS to deal with tricky things such as patching, security updates, runtime, maintenance and networking setup.
Migrating to Amazon Web Services
Let’s jump ahead and assume you’ve already researched and decided that AWS is where you want your technology estate to be. The great challenge is of course migrating there.
Migrations are probably the most feared part of any project for any CTO (not to mention their project managers). A demonstrable advantage to AWS as an organisation is the effort put into creating a Migration Hub. It makes tracking and planning migrations to AWS incredibly straight forward. The AWS Migration Hub provides a view into the Server and Database Migration Services, showing all details in a central location allowing you to track the status of all the moving parts of all migrations, making it easier to view progress.
AI and Machine Learning
One of the most exciting developments in the broader technology community is the availability and power of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Even here AWS have a service (or ten if we’re going to be accurate).
These services include pre-trained models for image recognition, translation, predictive analysis and more. Or if you’d rather, just the frameworks for you to train a model yourselves. They provide the ground work for developers to create their own custom AI using specific customised EC2 instances or GPU clusters. You need only consider how successful Amazon Alexa has been (itself powered by AWS technology) to comprehend how powerful the AWS Artificial Intelligence applications can be.
And there’s more…
It’s a really exciting platform to be involved in. I’ve not even touched on CloudFormation and the power of building infrastructure from code.
There’s constant innovation and reduction in costs as AWS’s scale yields even better value that will allow businesses to benefit and improve productivity and agility to their technology products and processes.
But this has to come with a warning.
With 90 services so extremely customisable and nuanced it’s incredibly easy to stumble if you don’t extensively plan and review what you need from your platform.
Rushed decisions can be costly, either in unnecessary expenditure, poor performance or just systems grinding to a halt.
AWS is a brilliant platform. A platform that is worthy of the time and effort to either research and upskill or use a specialist to support you as you take the first steps on the journey.
If you’d like to discuss how to use the power of Amazon Web Services to improve your business efficiency, and reduce lifetime ownership costs then you should drop us a line.