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.

Is Apple too rigid once again?

Apple’s iTunes has been massively successful for two reasons, I think. First of all it got popular thanks to the iPod, of course, but also it did sell well because of a very simple pricing model that Apple could enforce on the content providers. I think most customers loved this (except for linux users that did not like the idea of being locked into a proprietary solution, of course).

On the other hand, according to rumors, the TV shows and movie side of iTunes never took off and I believe the reason was that Apple wanted to enforce a certain pricing model and most likely studios were not so happy. The result of this is the NBC is out of the game, the Apple TV never took off and while I enjoy from time to time to watch video podcasts, having shows would be better. Also, did I mention that in countries other than the US most movies and shows are not available?

Now Amazon’s music download service (Amazon MP3)is not yet selling as good as iTunes, but they have been able to sign all the major labels to provide un-protected music and they are using MP3 that while less efficient than AAC it’s still a good format and is supported by all portable music players. Looks like Amazon is suddendly a few steps ahead of Apple and I can’t think why the next step should not be to sell movies and shows.
Apple still has one advantage, the iPod and the Apple TV, but they need the content. The iPod was successful prior to the iTunes store because people could load their own music, the store was a subsequence.

If Apple wants to keep up with Amazon, they need to become less rigid and think about the business they can build around iTunes and not only on selling the hardware. If they can make iPods and Apple TV’s and iTunes store complementary, they can probably stay ahead of the competition.

RSS reader and sharing

I am a bit in a middle ground these days jumping from one reader to another and also between sharing my favorite articles between two different services.

I used NetNewsWire (a Mac RSS reader) for almost 2 years now and I’m very happy with it. Joining newsgator also gave me a web (2.0) interface for free that is nicely integrated with the client. Since I really don’t go very far without my notebook, I never used it.

Recently James Pearce brought to my attention the beauties of the mobile version of Google Reader. The mobile version is very simple and effective at the same time. Like most Google products, it does it’s job efficiently. I also enjoyed sharing my favourite articles via Google (and also temporarily embedded them in this blog).

Nevertheless, I could never find myself entirely comfortable in the web interface, especially when I am on an airplane with no connection (if the feed provide the full articles, I can read them even when offline).
Anyway, the reason why I tried Google reader was to be able to access the feed on my mobile. I tried to access the website of newsgator hoping to use it with Opera Mini, but unfortunately their interface is too advanced for a small screen. Browsing around the web site (probably the first time in at least 1 year) I discovered that thanks to the iPhone-wave, they have launched a mobile version. So thank you iPhone!
Now I’m happily back to my Mac-client, have a mobile version and even found a way to share my favourite articles.

But of course there’s always something that’s missing. How do I add to my shared items pages and links that are not in my regular feeds? I still haven’t discovered this. So here’s a news item I wanted to share:
Red Hat and Amazon Team Up for Enterprise-grade Cloud Computing