AWS “High I/O” EC2 instances

A while back I commented on Amazon’s DynamoDB and disagreed with the viewpoint from that using SSD for storage was a “radical step.” In my comments, I predicted that

We will see SSD replace mag disk as a mainstream storage technology, sooner than most of us think.


Amazon will just fold [SSD] into its generic store.

Now, Amazon has announced the availability of “high I/O” instances of EC2. They offer 2 TB of local SSD-backed storage, visible to the OS as a pair of 1 TB volumes.
The SSD storage is local to the instance.

Was that sooner than you thought?

Next question:  which compute tasks are not well-suited to deployment on “high I/O” instances of EC2?

The only reason Amazon describes these instances as “high I/O” is that they have a ton of existing magnetic disk already deployed.  We should all begin to think of  SSD-backed storage as “standard”, and magnetic platters as “low I/O”. People will rapidly refuse to pay the magnetic disk tax. It’s silly to pay for CPU that is spent waiting for heads to meet up with the appropriate location on a magnetic platter.

Going forward, the “High I/O” moniker will disappear, as it will be cheaper for Amazon to deploy and operate SSD. There may be a price premium today for “High I/O” but that is driven by temporary scarcity, not by actual operational costs.

What Amazon will do with all its magnetic drives is an open question, but be assured it will turn them off. The savings in A/C costs alone, associated to dissipating the heat generated by mechanical drives, will compel Amazon to transition rapidly to full SSD.



Google’s Compute Engine: do you believe it?

Google has become the latest company to offer VM hosting, joining Microsoft (Azure) and Amazon (AWS), along with all the other “traditional” hosters.

Bloomberg is expressing skepticism that Google will stick with this plan.  Who can blame them? If I were a startup, or another company considering a VM hoster decision, I’d wonder: Does Google really want to make money in this space, or is it just trying to take mindshare away from Amazon and Microsoft?

Google still makes 97% of its revenue and a similar proportion of its profit from advertising. Does cloud computing even matter to them? You might say that Amazon is similar: the company gets most of its revenue from retail operations. On the other hand, Jeff Bezos has repeatedly said he is investing in cloud compute infrastructure for the long haul, and his actions speak much louder than those words. Clearly Amazon is driving the disruption. Microsoft for its part is serious about cloud because competing IaaS threatens its existing core business. Microsoft needs to do well in cloud.

As for Google – Do they even care whether they do well with their IaaS offering?

Bloomberg’s analysis resonates with me. Google has sprinkled its magic pixie dust on many vanity projects: phone OS, tablets, blogging, Picasa, web browsers, social networking, Go (the programming language). How about Sketchup? But it really doesn’t matter if any of those projects succeed. All of them added up together are still irrelevant in the shadow of Google’s Ad revenue. The executive management at Google know this, and act accordingly.

Would you bet on a horse no-one cares about?


Enderle on Microsoft’s New Tack

Rob Enderle demonstrates his fondness for dramatic headlines with his piece, The Death and Rebirth of Microsoft.  A more conservative editor might headline the same piece, “Microsoft Steadily Shifts its Strategy.”

Last week, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) effectively ended the model that created it. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, as the model hasn’t been working well for years and, as a result, Microsoft has been getting its butt kicked all over the market by Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL).

Well Microsoft apparently has had enough, and it decided to make a fundamental change and go into hardware.

Aside from the hyperbole, Mr Enderle’s core insight is correct: Microsoft is breaking free of the constraints of its original, tried-and-true model, the basis of the company for years. Under than plan, Microsoft provided the software, someone else provided the hardware. Surface is different: it’s Microsoft hardware, and it signifies a major step toward the company’s ability to deliver a more integrated Microsoft experience on thin and mobile devices. This aspect of the Surface announcement was widely analyzed.

This is what you may not have noticed: Azure is the analogous step on servers. With Azure, Microsoft can deliver IT infrastructure to mid-market and enterprise companies, without the  dependence on OEM partners, nor on the ecosystem that surrounds the phenomenon of OEM hardware installation – the networking and cabling companies, the storage vendors, the management software vendors and so on.

Just as Surface means Microsoft is no longer relying upon HP or Acer to manufacture and market cool personal hardware, and the rumored Microsoft handset would mean that Microsoft won’t be beholden to Nokia and HTC, Azure means Microsoft will not need to rely on Dell or HP or IBM to produce and install server hardware.

That is a big change for a company that was built on a strategy of partnering with hardware vendors. But times are different now. Microsoft is no longer purely software. In fact it is outgrowing its name, just as “International Business Machines” as a name has lost its meaning for a company that brings in 57% of its revenue through services. But while this is a big step, it’s not an a black-and-white thing. Microsoft maintains relationships with OEMs, for PCs, laptops, mobile devices and servers, and that will continue.  Surface and Azure are just one step away from purity of that model.

Microsoft’s Azure,  and Amazon’s AWS too, presents the opportunity for companies to completely avoid huge chunks of capital cost associated to IT projects; companies can  pay a reasonable monthly fee for service, rather than undertaking a big investment and contracting with 4 or 5 different vendors for installation. That’s a big change.

Very enticing for a startup, or a small SaaS company.