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Amazon unveils Docker-friendly container service and EC2 instance

Amazon has launched its free, Docker-friendly EC2 container management service

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has launched a free, Docker-friendly Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) container management service; released a compute-optimised EC2 instance, built on customised Intel Haswell processors; and unveiled AWS Lambda – a service to build and run applications in the cloud.

AWS chief technology officer Werner Vogels announced the container technologies and new instance types during his keynote on the second day of the firm's annual user conference re:Invent 2014.

“Developers love containers. It is because containers can be shipped easily and are simpler to manage. It is easy to maintain application components on them and they are portable,” Vogels said.

“But it is really hard to schedule containers and it requires heavy-lifting on the part of developers. So what if you could get all the benefits of containers without the overhead?”

Amazon EC2 Container Service (ECS) is a highly scalable, high-performance, Docker-friendly container management service.

Containers run as lightweight processes in a host operating system and perform similar functions as virtual machines (VMs), but they are much lighter and do not depend on a hypervisor to emulate the Intel x86 architecture. Since there is no hypervisor involved, containers are faster, more efficient and easier to manage.

While containers have been around for a while, 18-month-old company Docker popularised their use and created an ecosystem of developers to make container management easy on the cloud.

The growth of container technology for cloud workloads among developers resulted in Google launching its own container initiative– the Kubernetes open-source project. Rival Microsoft has also backed container technology, announcing in October 2014 the integration of Docker with the next version of Windows Server.

And now, AWS has released the preview of its own container management service to allow users to run any number of Docker containers across a managed cluster of Amazon EC2 instances, using powerful application programming interfaces (APIs).

Users don’t have to install cluster management software, purchase and maintain the cluster hardware, nor match hardware inventory to software needs when using the service, Vogels said.

“You simply launch some instances in a cluster, define some tasks and start them,” he added.

The service will bring resource efficiency, make applications easily portable and give users high performance, according to AWS. 

Vogels said ECS includes a set of APIs that are both simple and powerful: “You can create, describe and destroy clusters, and you can register EC2 instances, create task definitions and initiate and manage tasks.”

Gartner’s chief of research, Drue Reeves, said on Twitter: “EC2 Container Service is actually scalable Kubernetes as a service”. Fellow Gartner analyst Kyle Hilgendorf added: “The EC2 Container Service will undoubtedly work great within AWS. Let’s hope it works great outside AWS or the value proposition minimises.”

AWS Lambda – running code in the cloud

Vogels also launched a preview of AWS Lambda – a compute platform to build and run applications in the cloud, using existing programming skills. 

“With Lambda, you simply create a function, give it permission to access specific AWS resources and then connect the function to your AWS resources,” he said. The tool automatically runs code in response to modifications to objects uploaded to Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets, as well as messages arriving in Amazon Kinesis streams or in Amazon DynamoDB.

“You don't have to configure, launch or monitor EC2 instances. You don't have to install any operating systems or language environments. You don't need to think about scale or fault tolerance, and you don't need to request or reserve capacity,” Vogels said.

Compute-optimised EC2 instances

Amazon also released new compute-optimised EC2 instances, called C4. Enterprise workloads moving to cloud need powerful instance types that deliver the same performance as the on-premise servers, according to analysts. They need high input/output operations per second (IOPS) to deliver expected throughput.

Applications such as top-end website hosting, online gaming, simulation, risk analysis and rendering are voracious consumers of central processing unit (CPU) cycles and can almost always benefit from the parallelism offered by today's multi-core processors, according to AWS evangelist Jeff Barr.

The C4 instances are based on the Intel Xeon E5-2666 v3 processor, codenamed Haswell. This custom processor is designed specifically for EC2, said Intel general manager for datacentres Diane Bryant, speaking at re:Invent.

C4 will run at a base speed of 2.9GHz and can achieve speeds as high as 3.5GHz with turbo boost, according to AWS. “These instances are designed to deliver the highest level of processor performance on EC2,” Vogels said.

The C4 instance type joins the existing EC2 instance types, which include C3, R3 and I2. Amazon’s largest instance type until now was the r3.8xlarge EC2 instance type, which has 32 virtual CPUs with 244GB RAM, along with solid-state drive (SSD) storage.

In October 2014, Microsoft beefed up its VM size by launching the G-Series VMs, which offer double the RAM of Amazon EC2. But now, Amazon’s c4.8xlarge instance type offers 60 gibibyte RAM and 10Gbps network performance.

AWS also released larger and faster Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes. The general-purpose SSD allows users to create volumes that store up to 16TB and provide up to 10,000 baseline IOPS – up from 1TB and 3,000 baseline IOPS. The Provisioned IOPS SSD allows users to create volumes that store up to 16TB and provide up to 20,000 provisioned IOPS, up from 1TB and 4,000 provisioned IOPS.

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