On April 19, the 5th International Cloud Computing Conference & Expo (Cloud Expo)opened in New York City, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) used the event as a platform to address some of what the company sees as the lingering myths about cloud computing.
AWS officials said that the company continues to grapple with questions about features of the cloud-ranging from reliability and security to cost and elasticity—despite being one of the first companies to successfully and profitably implement cloud computing solutions. Adam Selipsky, vice president of AWS, recently spoke about the persisting myths of cloud computing from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, specifically addressing five that linger in the face of increased industry adoption of the cloud and continued successful cloud deployments. “We’ve seen a lot of misperceptions about cloud computing is,” said Selipsky before debunking five common myths.
Myth 1: The Cloud Isn’t Reliable
Chief information officers (CIOs) in enterprise organizations have difficult jobs and are usually responsible for thousands of applications, explains Selipsky in his opening argument, adding that they feel like they are responsible for the performance and security of these applications. When problems with the applications arise, CIOs are used to approaching their own people for answers and take some comfort that there is a way to take control of the situation.
Selipsky says that customers need to consider a few things when adopting the cloud, one of which is that the AWS’ operational performance is good. Selipsky reminded users that they own the data, they choose which location to store the data (and it doesn’t move unless the customer decided to move it) and that regardless of whether customers choose to encrypt or not, AWS never looks at the data.
“We have very strong data durability—we’ve designed Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) for eleven 9′s of durability. We store multiple copies of each object across multiple locations,” said Selipsky. He added that AWS has a “Versioning” feature which allows customers to revert to the last version of any object they somehow lose due to application failure or an unintentional deletion. Customers can also ensure additional fault-tolerant applications by deploying their applications in various Availability zones or using AWS’ Load Balancing and Auto Scaling features.
“And, all that comes with no capex [capital expenditures] for companies, a low per unit cost where you only pay for what you consume, the ability to focus on engineers on unique incremental value for your business,” said Selipsky before adding that the origin of the reliability claims come merely from an illusion of a control, not actual control. “People think if they can control it they have more say in how things go. It’s like being in a car versus an airplane, but you’re much safer in a plane,” he explained.
Myth 2: The Cloud Provides Inadequate Security and Privacy
When it comes to security, Selipsky notes that it is an end-to-end process and thus companies need to build security at every level of the stack. Taking a look at Amazon’s cloud, it is easy to note that the same security isolations are employed as with a traditional data center—including physical data center security, separation of the network, isolation of the server hardware and isolation of storage. Data centers had already become a frequently-shared infrastructure on the physical data center side before Amazon launched its cloud services. Selipsky added that companies realized that they could benefit by renting space in a data facility as opposed to building it.
When speaking about security fundamentals, Selipsky noted that security could be maintained by providing badge-controlled access, guard stations, monitored security cameras, alarms, separate cages and strictly audited procedures and processes. Not only is Amazon’s Web Services’ data center identical to the best practices employed in private data facilities, there is an added physical security advantage in the fact that customers don’t need to access to the servers and networking gear inside. Access to the data center is thus controlled more strictly than traditional rented facilities. Selipsky also added that the Amazon cloud as equal or better isolation than could be expected from dedicated infrastructure, at the physical level.
In his argument, Selipsky pointed out that networks ceased to be isolated physical islands a long time ago because, as companies increasingly began to need to connect to other companies—and then the Internet—their networks became connected with public infrastructure. Firewalls and switch configurations and other special network functionality were used to prevent bad network traffic from getting in, or conversely from leaking out. Companies began using additional isolation techniques as their network traffic increasingly passed over public infrastructure to make sure that the security of every packet on (or leaving) their network remained secure. These techniques include Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) and encryption.
Amazon used a similar approach to networking in its cloud by maintaining packet-level isolation of network traffic and supporting industry-standard encryption. Amazon Web Services’ Virtual Private Cloud allows a customer to establish their own IP address space and because of that customers can use the same tools and software infrastructure they are familiar with to monitor and control their cloud networks. Amazon’s scale also allows for more investment in security policing and countermeasures than nearly and large corporation could afford. Maintains Selipsky, “Our security is strong and dug in at the DNA level.”
Amazon Web Services invests in testing and validating the security of its virtual server and storage environment significantly as well. When discussing the investments made on the hardware side, Selipsky lists:
After customers release these resources, the server and storage are wiped clean so no important data can be left behind.
Intrusion from other running instances is prevented because each instance has its own customer firewall.
Those in need of more network isolation can use Amazon VPC, which allows you to carry your own IP address space with you into the cloud; your instances are only accessible through those IP addresses only you know.
Those desiring to run on their own boxes—where no other instances are running—can purchase extra large instances where only that XL instance runs on that server.
According to Selipsky, Amazon’s scale allows for more investment in security policing and countermeasures: “In fact, we often find that we can improve companies’ security posture when they use AWS. Take the example lots of CIOs worry about—the rogue server under a developer’s desk running something destructive or that the CIO doesn’t want running. Today, it’s really hard (if not impossible) for CIOS to know how many orphans there are and where they might be. With AWS, CIOs can make a single API call and see every system running in their VPC [Virtual Private Cloud]. No more hidden servers under the desk or anonymously places servers in a rack and plugged into the corporate network. Finally, AWS is SAS-70 certified; ISO 27—1 and NIST are in process.”
Myth 3: Creating My Own In-House Cloud or Private Cloud Will Allow Me to Reap the Same Benefits of the Cloud
According to Selipsky, “There’s a lot of marketing going on about the concept of the ‘private cloud.’ We think there’s a bit of a misnomer here.” Selipsky continued to explain that generally, “we often see companies struggling to accurately measure the cost of infrastructure. Scale and utilization are big advantages for AWS. In our opinion, a cloud has five key characteristics: it eliminates capex; allows you to pay for what you use; provides true elastic capacity to scale up and down; allows you to move very quickly and provision servers in minutes; and allows you to offload the undifferentiated heavy lifting of infrastructure so your engineers work on differentiating problems.
Selipsky also pointed out the following drawbacks of private clouds: still own the capex (and they are expensive!); not pay for what you use; not have true elasticity; still manage the undifferentiated heavy lifting. “With a private cloud you have to manage capacity very carefully … or you or your private cloud vendor will end up over-provisioning. So you’re going to have to either get very good at capacity management or you’re going to wind up overpaying,” said Selipsky before challenging the elasticity of the private cloud: “The cloud is shapeless. But if it has a tight box around it, it no longer feels very cloud-like.”
One of AWS’ key offerings is Amazon’s ability to save customers money while also driving efficiency. “In virtually every case we’ve seen, we’ve been able to save people a significant amount of money,” said Selipsky. This is in part because AWS’ business has greatly expanded over the last four years and Amazon has achieved enough scale to secure very low costs. AWS has been able to aggregate hundreds of thousands of customers to have a high utilization of its infrastructure. Said Selipsky, “In our conversations with customers we see that really good enterprises are in the 20-30 percent range on utilization—and that’s when they’re good … many are not that strong. The cloud allows us to have several times that utilization. Finally, it’s worth looking at Amazon’s heritage and AWS’ history. We’re a company that works hard to lower its costs so that we can pass savings back to our customers. If you look at the history of AWS, that’s exactly what we’ve done (lowering price on EC2, S3, CloudFront, and AWS bandwidth multiple times already without any competitive pressure to do so).”
Myth 4: The Cloud Isn’t Ideal Because I Can’t Move Everything at Once
Selipsky debunks this myth by saying, “We believe this is nearly impossible and ill-advised. We recommend picking a few apps to gain experience and comfort then build a migration plan. This is what we most often see companies doing. Companies will be operating in hybrid environments for years to come. We see some companies putting some stuff on AWS and then keeping some stuff in-house. And I think that’s fine. It’s a perfectly prudent and legitimate way of proceeding.”
Myth 5: The Biggest Driver of Cloud Adoption is Cost
In busting the final myth, Selipsky said, “There is a big savings in capex and cost but what we find is that one of the main drivers of adoption is that time-to-market for ideas is much faster in the cloud because it lets you focus your engineering resources on what differentiates your business.”
Speaking about all of the myths surround the cloud, Selipsky concludes that “a lot of this revolves around psychology and fear of change, and human beings needing to gain comfort with new things. Years ago people swore they would never put their credit card information online. But that’s no longer the case. We’re seeing great momentum. We’re seeing, more and more, over time these barriers [to cloud adoption] are moving.” For additional debunked myths regarding Cloud Computing visit Nubifer.com.