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Former Amazon cloud engineer spills to Reddit audience

Brandon Butler | May 20, 2013
Amazon is notoriously hush-hush about its internal operations

"The cloud" isn't really a new technology and is a lot of marketing hype
"The cloud, [is] an 'interesting' concept, because in a lot of ways it's still just a VPS [virtual private server]," the engineer says. "Sure it has some redundant features, but the definition of cloud is fairly dynamic and bent to fit whatever a company wants to sell as a 'cloud.'"

How Virtual Private Clouds (VPC) work
Amazon breaks up its hardware nodes into two major categories: "On-demand" and "Virtual private cloud" (VPC). The company has recently encouraged more use of the VPC option, making it the default setting when customers spin up virtual machines. VPCs have dedicated IP addresses for customers, he says, whereas on-demand instances have IP addresses slotted to those specific hardware nodes.

What to do if you're having problems with "noisy neighbors"
Because AWS is a multi-tenant cloud, some users may have problems with "noisy neighbors," or other customers eating up compute capacity on a shared server. The engineer says for $7,500 a month, Amazon will guarantee they will be on dedicated hardware, and not just have the IP addresses segmented through the VPC. Noisy neighbors are usually only a problem for larger customers though, he says. "If you spawn 20 instances, odds are, you'll be on 20 HNs, if you spawn 100 instances, odds are you'll see yourself share about 20-30% of the HNs. Though you won't actually see it."

Is AWS good for small-scale workloads?
Yes and no. AWS was designed for big workloads, but small workloads can work there as well, the engineer says in response to a question about hosting about a dozen Web servers on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). The more important question is not small or large though, it's how dynamic the workload is. AWS, and the cloud in general, thrive in being able to scale capacity to demand. "AWS is meant to scale with user load, [so] by definition you need a user load that is dynamic enough to justify putting the cost into developing a 'Cloud Architecture' for your app," he says.

On the competition for AWS from Microsoft Azure, Rackspace and Google
They're all basically on the same playing field now, in this engineer's opinion. "If it was a Venn diagram there would be major overlap. The places outside the overlap is what differentiates all the individual companies," he says. Competition in the cloud industry is good for consumers, and will continue to drive down costs and drive up quality.

He considers Google to be a serious threat to AWS, but not Azure. "Anyone who thinks there is a 'cloud war' currently and AWS is seeing any type of real challenge is just fooling themselves. Nobody can compete currently with the size of AWS, they were the first in and will be the last out. Google however will make it rain a bit, I've been using their cloud platform a little bit lately and I have to say. It's ... impressive."


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