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A closer look at the Amazon Web Services cloud platform

Before deploying AWS, it's crucial to understand the public cloud provider's options for cloud storage, networking and more. Here's a closer look.

Amazon Web Services is the leading cloud platform provider, offering over 250 applications and services -- including some from third parties -- to deploy, maintain, monitor and run applications in the cloud.

However, before deciding whether Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the right public cloud provider for you, it's essential to examine its capabilities for computing, networking, storage and other components of cloud.

Here's a closer look at the AWS public cloud.

AWS compute

AWS offers a variety of compute instances that allow companies to quickly scale up or scale down based on need. Two of the most commonly used AWS computing services are Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Elastic Load Balancing.

Amazon EC2 targets system admins and developers. These IT pros use EC2 to quickly acquire and "boot" computing instances in the cloud.

Like many cloud services, EC2 pricing depends on usage. EC2 has a free service that includes up to 750 hours of Linux or Windows EC2 service hours per month for one year. Amazon offers three other pricing tiers: On-Demand, Reserve Instance and Spot Instance.

On-Demand prices range from $.013 to $4.60 an hour depending on size, complexity and storage requirements, as well as location.

Reserve Instance pricing offers a discount of up to 75% for On-Demand pricing, but requires users to reserve computing instances in advance for one- or three-year terms. It offers three payment policies: All Upfront, where users reserve and pay for everything in advance; Partial Upfront, where users reserve and pay for some computing time in advance; and No Upfront.

Spot Instance pricing lets users bid on unused compute instances. AWS sets the Spot prices, which vary based on usage, time of day, week or month. Detailed pricing information is available on AWS' EC2 pricing webpage.

AWS' Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) service automatically distributes applications across AWS EC2 instances for better fault tolerance and minimal human intervention.

The ELB service includes a free tier with up to 15 GB of data processing and 750 hours of service monthly for a year. Larger loads will be charged for each hour or partial hour of use and each GB transferred.

AWS storage

AWS offers a variety of low cost storage choices, many of which have pay-as-you-go options for added flexibility. Popular storage choices include the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Elastic Block Store (EBS) and Amazon CloudFront.

Amazon S3 is a fully redundant storage offering that can handle any amount of data at any time from anywhere on the Web. It can be used for backup, archiving and disaster recovery, as well as content storage, distribution and data analysis storage.

S3 is available as part of the free EC2 tier service for 5 GB of storage, 20,000 Get Requests or 5,000 Put Requests per month. Otherwise, standard storage pricing is $.0300 per GB up to 1 TB per month.

AWS' EBS service offers persistent block level storage for EC2 instances. With available encryption and automatic replication, Amazon touts EBS as a highly available, highly secure option to scale EC2 storage. Pricing is based on geographic region, which disk technology users need -- solid-state or magnetic disk -- and per GB of provisioned storage. Users can also opt for Provisioned IOPS volumes and purchase increased performance.

Amazon CloudFront is a content delivery service aimed at developers and businesses. It works with other AWS applications, including CloudWatch, to facilitate content delivery with low latency, high data transfer speeds and no commitments.

CloudFront distributes cached content swiftly because it takes advantage of AWS' edge networks around the world, according to Amazon. CloudFront pricing is on-demand and based on geographic region. The free EC2 tier includes up to 50 GB of data transfer out and two million HTTP and HTTPS requests per year.

AWS databases

AWS has relational and NoSQL databases, as well as in-memory caching and petabyte-scale data warehousing. Users can operate their own databases on AWS using EC2 and EBS. Two popular AWS database services are the Relational Database Service (RDS) and Redshift.

Amazon RDS creates, operates and scales MySQL, Oracle, SQLServer or PostgreSQL servers on AWS. Additionally, RDS handles software installation, backups and patches, as well as routine administrative tasks. RDS pricing is based on instance hours and the amount of storage used.

Amazon Redshift is a data warehouse service that works with many common business intelligence tools. It also offers columnar storage technology for databases that store data in columns rather than rows. Pricing is based on the number of instance hours starting at $ 0.25 per hour.

AWS networking

AWS offers a range of networking services, including private network connections to the cloud, scalable DNS and tools to create logistically isolated networks. Popular networking services include the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and Amazon Direct Connect.

Amazon VPC creates a private cloud within AWS, while offering built-in security, including security groups and network access control lists. VPC is free when using Amazon EC2.

AWS' Direct Connect service allows users to bypass the Internet and connect directly to AWS' cloud. It is priced per port-hour in all Direct Connect locations.

AWS administration and security

Popular AWS administration and security products include AWS Directory Service, which links AWS clouds directly to on-premises Microsoft Active Directory; AWS CloudTrail, which records API calls for user AWS accounts that are delivered in log files for no charge; and AWS CloudWatch, which monitors AWS cloud resources including EC2.

AWS analytics

From Hadoop to data warehousing, orchestration and real-time streaming data, AWS offers services for all levels of data analytics. One of the most popular analytics services is Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR). Businesses, researchers, data analysts and developers use EMR to process large chunks of data. Pricing is based on instance hours used.

Amazon Redshift is also considered a data analytics service.

AWS application services

AWS offers a mix of managed services that work with applications on streaming, queuing, push notifications, email delivery and transcoding. Popular application services include the Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS) and the Amazon Simple Workflow Service (SWS).

Amazon SQS automates workflow between different services by using SQS to host a queue for storing messages. It's free for up to one million messages a month for a year, and $0.50 per one million above that level.

SWS is a task coordination and management service for the AWS cloud. Users receive 10,000 activity tasks, 30,000 workflow days and 1,000 initiated executions for a year. Above that, users pay $.0001 per workflow.

AWS deployment and management

Amazon has a host of applications to help with deployment and management, including application monitoring and logging. Two popular -- and free -- services are AWS Elastic Beanstalk and AWS CloudFormation.

Elastic Beanstalk deploys and scales Web applications using Java, .Net, PHP, Node.js, Python and Ruby. Users can monitor application health and access log files.

AWS CloudFormation helps developers and businesses gather and provision key AWS resources.

AWS mobile services

Two popular AWS mobile services are Amazon Cognito and Amazon Mobile Analytics.

Designed for mobile app developers, Amazon Cognito IDs users and syncs data across their mobile devices. Cognito's free tier offers up to 10 GB of cloud sync storage and up to 1,000,000 sync operations per month. Above that, users pay $0.15 per 10,000 sync operations.

Mobile Analytics delivers user usage data within 60 minutes, and tracks application usage at scale. The free tier offers up to one million events per month, and for every one million event above that, users pay $1.00.

AWS enterprise applications

Two popular AWS enterprise applications are Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon WorkDocs.

WorkSpaces lets users access any data, documents or applications in the cloud on any device, including laptops, iPads and Android tablets. The standard WorkSpaces bundle is $35 a month, but other options with more features are available.

Amazon WorkDocs is an enterprise secure storage and sharing service. Amazon WorkDocs is $5 per user per month for 200 GB of storage. There is a 30-day free trial for up to 50 users. If users already use Amazon Workspaces, WorkDocs is free.

Next Steps

How public cloud can benefit your organization

Preparing for public cloud risks and costs

What to consider when choosing a cloud provider

This was last published in May 2015

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