The Troposphere

Aug 26 2009   7:06PM GMT

Amazon VPC: moving the goal posts or playing catch-up?

CarlBrooks Carl Brooks Profile: CarlBrooks

Amazon has announced, in its inimitable bloggy style, a new service to allow users to create virtual private clouds within its data centers.

The new Amazon VPC offering is “virtual” because the networking and the machine images are opaque to the physical infrastructure. It’s “private,” because unlike standard EC2 instances, they don’t have a public IP address. And it’s “cloud,” naturally, because you pay $0.05/hour for the service and you can quit whenever you want.

The cloud computing blogosphere was abuzz with the announcement (e.g., here, here, and here). But is Amazon VPC, as these blogs say, really revolutionary, a re-definition of private cloud, and a validation in thinking about public, private and hybrid clouds?

None of the above, I believe. While it’s fun to poke holes on an announcement such as this, especially when it’s by acknowledged cloud market leader Amazon, there has to be a street-level view of this that looks at the reality of what’s in the offering and why.

Frankly, Amazon VPC is a terrible virtual private cloud. Network control and management are rudimentary, the VPN is stone-age, users can’t expose clients to the internet and can’t assign them IP addresses. Clearly it is not ready for prime-time, and clearly it is not aimed at Amazon’s existing user base, because they’d all have to uproot their current infrastructures to use it. It is for experimenters who start with requirements that preclude public cloud.

Granted, it’s early days, and changes are in the works, but the kind of technology in Amazon VPC was hashed out with hosting, complex hosting and managed hosting years ago. Compared to what is standard for secure VPN infrastructures in these areas, the Amazon VPC and VPN are decidedly small beer.

Next, arguments that this announcement validates definitions for different types of cloud computing or somehow affect the current market as it applies to private cloud are risible. Suppliers don’t define a marketplace — they react to it.

Cloud computing is essentially a consumption model: as much as, for as long as, and whenever you like. Cloud underpinnings like virtualization, security and costing models are just a means to an end. It was only natural that when large enterprises saw this new model of self-service and low-overhead management, they would want to try it out in their own data centers.

It’s also natural that those interested in private clouds wouldn’t want to use public clouds — public cloud is antithetical to controlling your IT environment. Hosting providers quickly realized that enterprises wanted fenced off reserves to noodle around with cloud stuff, not open pasture.

Indeed, VMware has been leaping to fill that need since last year, with vSphere and vCloud and hosting partnerships with Rackspace and Terremark, among others.

So Amazon isn’t defining the conversation by any means- they’re playing catch-up. As it stands, the Amazon public cloud isn’t designed to be private — just the opposite. Amazon VPC is a radical change of pace for them, not for the cloud market. The cloud market is rapidly filling up with providers who understand the enterprise cloud market and want to service it, which has never been Amazon’s goal.

In the near future (*cough* VMworld *cough*), we’ll see products and services that make the Amazon VPC look like chopped liver, and it will be abundantly clear that Amazon is just starting to react to a segment of cloud that is already well under way and they never set out to capture, but is taking off faster than many thought possible.

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