Interview: Amazon CTO Werner Vogels on why CIOs love clouds

Chief information officers are more comfortable with the idea of cloud computing than they were six months ago.

Chief information officers are more comfortable with the idea of cloud computing than they were six months ago.

Companies are happy to use the public cloud for software projects, research and development and to run web marketing campaigns.

Amazon has been one of the pioneers of cloud computing with Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides users with a relatively low-cost way to access Amazon's vast IT infrastructure on a pay-per-use basis. Werner Vogels, vice-president worldwide architecture and chief technology officer at Amazon, has been on a European tour this week to find out from CIOs what they need from the public cloud.

He says, "CIOs are now much better informed about the different cloud computing offerings available. People are using AMS not only for software development, testing and prottyping new applications, but also to support collaboration using applications like Microsoft SharePoint hosted on AWS."

AWS is one of the earliest cloud services and has become popular with software developers looking to build, test and prototype applications without having to invest heavily in software development tools and server infrastructure. "Moving software development into the cloud is a good way for users to understand how cloud computing can be used in a production environment," says Vogels.

He says CIOs are also interested in using the cloud to facilitate global collaboration. If a collaboration platform such as Microsoft SharePoint is hosted in the internet cloud, it can be accessed from anywhere, which makes it far easier for geographically dispersed teams to work together than if internal IT was wholly responsible for connecting the users into a shared workspace.

"Eli Lilly is doing collaborative drug research using external researchers who collaborate over AWS," says Vogels.

This means that IT does not have to spend months procuring servers to support collaborative research projects. Vogels says that on AWS, Eli Lilly is able to set up servers to support the research projects in a matter of minutes.

Vogels says the cloud has other benefits for collaborative projects. "You can also tear down the collaborative environment very quickly. It is easy to restart and there is no need for up-front IT investment."

Rival drug firm Pfizer is using AWS as a computational grid to enable it to run programs which analyse the human genome to identify potential new drugs.

The UK media sector has been a big user of AWS. The Guardian, Telegraph and Channel 4 used AWS to cover the MPs' expenses scandal story. Vogels says AWS was used to provide the news sites with the scalability to support demand if millions of people tried to access the stories.

Similarly, he says, "Marketing campaigns can attract millions of customers. In fact, anything that uses social media is going to succeed." But internal IT may not be able to cope with the huge peak in website traffic, which Vogels says is where AWS can step in to provide the extra server capacity to meet demand.

In terms of applications, he says CIOs are putting Windows, open systems and Linux software on AWS. Commercial software can also be licensed to run on AWS, although each software firm sets its own licensing policies.

Oracle users can move their Fusion, eBusiness Suite or Fusion Middleware licences onto AWS, while IBM charges a small fee on top of the AWS service for access to DB/2 and WebSphere middleware. Microsoft SQL Server and Windows Server licences can also be transferred to the cloud, but users will still require a client access licence to provide end-users with access to the Microsoft server software.

Vogels believes the cloud offers businesses a big opportunity to create their own web services accessible over the internet. Software companies can provide web services that in-house applications and commercial products can use to add extra functionality. He says companies that are not in the IT sector may see an opportunity to use the cloud to commercialise some of their internal IT systems as external web services. This is already happening with the telecommunications companies, but Vogels believes there is no reason stopping other types business offering cloud-based web services.

On security, Vogels says Amazon offers the concept of a virtual private cloud, where users allocate a set of their own IP addresses to a closed off space on AWS. With a virtual private cloud, IT management tools such as BMC Patrol, which IT admin staff use to manage their datacentres and software deployments, also work across the Amazon cloud. In effect, AWS becomes an extension to the company's datacentre.

"We offer the concept of regions, which allows CIOs to specify the geographic location of the servers they use on AWS to support regulations in different countries," says Vogels.

Furthermore, Vogels says Amazon provides "availability zones", which give CIOs the option to provide multiple datacentre sites via the Amazon cloud to support failover and disaster recovery.

"CIOs spend a lot of money on traditional disaster recovery. With AWS we offer flexibility, allowing them to allocate servers up-front, which can be used to support disaster recovery. When the disaster recovery service is not invoked the servers are reallocated, so they can be used to run applications or software development."

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