PaaS - Amazon EC2 & Force.com

I wrote a short while ago (Sep 22) about SalesForce.com (SFDC) and their Force.com PaaS service offering. I believe that this is the way that enterprise development is heading and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, in a few short years, it’s the norm rather than the exception.

SFDC are not the only players. Amazon have also entered the PaaS market with their EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) PaaS. The advantage of Amazon’s model is that they charge per CPU time. You only pay for capacity used and there are no fixed costs. Therefore, if you have a service offering where there are spikes in traffic at key points of the year and it’s relatively quiet at other times, this model would appear to well serve your interests. This allows full freedom to compete on ideas rather than resources.

EC2 appears to offer more flexibility for developers than Force.com. In the article “The Perils of Platform as a Server” Robert Warfield writes that “the beauty of Amazon’s approach is they get to tap into any ecosystem (say open source components, for example) that runs on Linux. That’s powerful!”

However, all is not perfect in paradise. If you’re putting data onto the EC2 platform, what happens to it within a particular instance of a server when it is no longer required? It’s true that you can get a new server allocated in minutes, but are the hard drives wiped every time the server is requested? I read a comment somewhere that said it’s the equivalent of “throwing away a hard drive full of data (into a dumpster) and assuming that the data will never again see the light of day.”

EC2 is also suffering some teething problems.A recent outage in the service resulted in lost data.

“We lost almost all our data due to the erroneous instance termination from Amazon, and we are in a very bad shape as a company,” wrote one unhappy EC2 user, who wanted compensation from Amazon.

Certainly not good news but then that’s a risk early adopters take and I predict that the service will get over this hiccup. It’s also a lesson that the old rules still apply: make backups for goodness sake!

Regardless, virtual data centers and flexable pay-per-CPU computing models make great business sense. Service providers must give assurances around data security. There’s a lot of experimentation going on right now and that’s not a good environment for confidential or high loss impact data. I don’t however, have any doubts that we’ll all be looking at how to take advantage of this model.

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