Can anyone catch up on Amazon’s cloud?

Cloud computing is the second buzz-word after social network these days. It’s all about storing or running your stuff “in the cloud”, remotely. If we all really used the cloud, a lot of storage and a lot of CPU power would be needed. Google has certainly created it’s own elastic cloud of computers and search and e-mail and other services proved how fast and reliable it is. But what about “the rest of us”? Amazon has been running storage (S3) and CPU (EC2) in the cloud for a long time now and even it is not known to the masses they are in fact providing the horse power to many start-ups. In their own words, “After two years in beta, Amazon EC2 has entered General Availability (GA)”.

I’ve had a chance to use S3 quite a bit and also EC2, a little bit. Both services are mostly for programmers, they are not really for the masses, but the solidity and the wide range of options is incredible. It was a surprise to see how well it works and how many things you can do very easily. Amazon provides a number of tools and the the community has also done its part and in fact there are some very interesting tools such as the Firefox plug-in elasticfox that make it super-easy to manage your servers.

From the beginning Amazon has been running Linux servers providing images that you could start with a click. Earlier this year they announced an agreement with Redhat that lets developers run Enterprise versions of Redhat linux.

A few days ago I was listening to the great podcast by the Guardian, Tech Weekly, it was the recording of Oct 28th. They spoke about the recently announced Microsoft Windows Azure and how this is a reply to Google’s and Amazon’s cloud computing solutions. Last week Amazon officially announced not only of being out of beta, but that Windows servers will now be available. It costs a slight bit more than running Linux, but of course you get the full Windows environment, including C# and you even have an option for Authentication services and SQL Server. This is AMAZING, you can get a Windows server up and running in seconds, do your development or tests and shut it down (very good if you need to test a specific version of Windows or combination of OS, Service Packs, etc). All this will cost less than a dollar.

Amazon EC2 is great both if you need to test something temporarily (start a server, test, shutdown) or if you want to run a service full time, in fact, EC2 you might easily run a limited number of servers normally, but when you have a peak start as many extra servers as you need.

Google has App Engine and while it is another approach to elastic computing it is quite different. Yes, it has some advantages such as that you just upload your code and it runs, but of course it does not give you the power and flexibility or a complete server at your fingertip.

I think it will be very hard for the other players to catch up and surely it will not be enough to throw in some money because Amazon already has a very good and most likely profitable business in place and they are not lacking the money themselves. It will be very interesting to see how this evolves and it will certainly be a a great opportunity to save on costs for small companies and start-ups.

EDIT: Did I mention that Amazon now guarantees 99.95% uptime? Can you think of any small to medium company that can seriously commit to such uptime?

UPDATE: Amazon has announced CloudFront a new file distribution system that reminds me a lot of Akamai.

Attacking Google where the money is

Google is undisputed leader of search. It’s useless for me to describe how Google changed the world about it, but let’s talk about everything else Google is doing such as documents, e-mail and mobile OS’s, of course. All this is funded by ads, while they have some other incomes such as former-Postini customers and other Google applications customers, ads are what fund anything Google do.

A few other companies tried to beat them starting from scratch such as cuil, but I would say that so far none of them has been able to be a serious competitor. Now what if the money on the ads was taken away from Google? If Google had to focus on ads more, would they be able to continue spinning off new applications and services? Would they still be able to create great apps and give them away as open-source just to kill the competition (think of Google docs and Android)? (OT: doesn’t this remind you of Microsoft and Netscape and other products they gave away embedded for free to kill the competition?)

It seems to me like recently the competition and innovation in ads have grown a lot. In mobile, Google is a follower and while they do have HUGE power and have been able to sign great contracts with operators and big players, the leader in mobile seems to be AdMob (even though I don’t have exact numbers handy). Now, also in web ads there is more and more competition. I was watching a video today about Dapper that is bringing some innovation with a product called Mashup ads. I am not a publisher, so I can hardly tell if this is a killer for Google, but surely it is something new and interesting.

Unexpected questions

My English has improved a lot in the last two years and in most cases I can manage a normal conversation. Speaking to people with slightly different accents can be a problem sometimes, but it seems like after a few minutes I get used to it, and handle it OK.

There is something funny that is still happening to me, from time to time. The other day I went to my bank for a money transfer. I was thinking about the amount of money, the recipient full name and so on. The cashier, who has now seen me a few times in the last month or so, started the conversation with something like “Hello Andrea, how has it been in Ireland so far?”. This was not exactly the type of question I expected. Not the type of conversation you normally have in a bank with a cashier. Well, even if the question was quite simple and was very nice of her to ask me, she caught me by surprised with an unexpected question about an unrelated topic. I was baffled and for a moment had to “rewind the tape”, think and then prepare a reply.

Nothing bad happened and a few other times I simply asked to repeat the question, still it’s funny that if a topic that is not normally discussed in a certain context it appears that I can be caught by surprise and not understand it, even if the vocabulary is simple enough for me to understand every single word of the sentence.

Anyway, life in Ireland has been OK so far, everyone I met have always been very nice and helpful. +1 to the Irish.

Blog layout update

I have not been able to change the layout of my blogger site for quite a long time. All I could do was download the template, manually edit, re-upload. All the nice AJAXy interface did not work at all.

Today I had a few spare minutes, I went in edit mode and when clicking on preview blogger told me it could not show me the new page because of a (blogger) widget in the head portion of the page. I cut it and magically everything is working! I can now edit the layout again!! woohoo!

I’m glad they added this new error message.

I now replaced the old widget with a cleaner code so that I can get the page titles as I like them. Slightly changed the widgets on the right-hand side of the page (if you are not reading from RSS, of course). Minor link updates.

Now on to work on a couple of posts I’ve been thinking about in the last few days.

I am still here

I have been quite for more than 2 months and I have to admit I wanted to write this post for a few days now, but never got to do it. You would think that when a lot of incredible and great things happen in your life you’d have a lot to blog about. The reality is, in my case, that blogging went way down in the list. This is unfortunate, on one hand my blog did not get any consistent and interesting updates in quite a while, on the other hand it makes me wonder how important it is. In May, for example, I’ve been using Twitter regularly, then went on holiday and did not use it and when I came back I did not miss it at all. Now it’s been closed for weeks and still don’t miss it. Should I restart using? Yes? No?

I liked blogging so far, so I definitely plan on picking up again. It is hard sometimes to find interesting stuff to blog about and I certainly do not want to start simply re-blogging or writing about things I don’t think are worth. Also, it’s hard to keep up two blogs at the same time, especially since I wanted this one to be a technical one and now I’m also writing more or less regularly on dev.mobi.

So, don’t give up on reading this blog, I’ll write more! :)