Getting to Know Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud

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Amazon, with millions of online items, is the web's number one retailer. It is also one of the world's largest sellers of consumer electronics. With over 69,000 employees, the multinational corporation is also among the world's top employers. However, not many people know that Amazon is also one of the world's largest cloud computing providers.


Amazon's Cloud Offering: What Is It?

Amazon offers the Elastic Compute Cloud, or Amazon EC2, as a cloud service that gives developers and companies virtual computers hosted by Amazon so that they can have more computing capacity as they need it. In short, it allows third parties to have access to a host of computers where they can run their own software and applications. This means that if a user finds a need for more computing power, they would only have to use Amazon EC2 to get it. Since users only pay for the resources they use, this actually represents significant cost savings for the company because they do not have to buy all the computer equipment, operating systems and maintenance over the course of its lifecycle.

What's more, Amazon EC2 offers this service with as little configuration as possible. This means that businesses could easily deploy their applications and software at the get-go. Users would only have to choose a template and pre-configured AMI (short for Amazon Machine Image) and have it run instantaneously. If they cannot find an appropriate AMI, they can easily customize and create one with their own applications, data, configuration settings and libraries.

After getting your AMI activated, you would need to specify network access and security settings for that particular instance. You can also start, monitor or terminate any instance you want. All of these are doable using a web interface that's simple and easy to understand.


Features of Amazon EC2



  • Automated Scaling: Amazon EC2 gives you more computing capacity when you need it. This means that if your site has more traffic, you can be sure that the server will be able to meet its requirements.

  • Operating Systems Support: During its 2006 launch, you could use Amazon EC2 running on Linux, Solaris Express Community Edition and OpenSolaris. In two years, Amazon added Windows Server 2008 and 2003 to its list of supported operating systems. Amazon EC2 further added more OSs over the years. Currently Amazon EC2 also supports FreeBSD and NetBSD AMIs.

Further, Amazon also offers their own Linux flavor called the Amazon Linux AMI.



  • Elastic IPs: Amazon also offers elastic IP addresses that work similarly to static IP address, except that you can do your own dynamic IP mapping. This means that you no longer have to wait for the DNS to propagate.

  • Persistent Storage: Amazon EC2 storage used to depend on an instance. This means that storage is temporary and will be lost if you terminate an instance either by choice or through failure. With persistent storage, you basically get a unformatted virtual disk drive that you can format and use with any file system that you want to.

  • Amazon CloudWatch: Amazon CloudWatch gives EC2 customers a way to monitor their usage of Amazon's cloud resources and their applications. Basically, you can check up on your CPU usage, disk I/O and network I/O.

  • Elastic Load Balancing: Amazon EC2 can ensure less chances of failure by distributing application traffic across different instances.


Amazon EC2 Systems

Depending on your requirements, you can have the appropriate system at work for you. For example, for high input and output instances, you can get more memory, network and CPU performance with:



  • 60.5 gigabytes  memory

  • 10 gigabit Ethernet

  • 35 EC2 compute units

  • 64-bit platform

  • 2 1024 GB of local instance storage

Meanwhile, for those with lower requirements, you can rely on the following system configurations for a small instance:



  • 1.7 gigabytes of memory

  • 1 EC2 compute unit

  • 160 gigabytes of local instance storage

As far as software used to run your instances, you get veritable and reliable products from Microsoft, WordPress, and other big names in databases, application servers, content management and business intelligence. A very short list of available software includes:



  • Acunu Storage Platform

  • Amazon EC2

  • Drupal 6

  • JasperReports Server Community Edition

  • MediaWiki Wiki System (by JumpBox)

  • Microsoft SQL Server Standard

  • SAP BusinessObjects

  • Tomcat Java Web Application Deployment

  • WordPress provided by BitNami


Applications of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud

So is it any wonder why Amazon EC2 is very popular? Not only does it allow you to easily get on the cloud and reap the benefits of cloud computing for your company, it gives you a set of very useful and intuitive features.

As a testament to Amazon EC2's popularity, some of the world's biggest and most popular websites run on EC2. The enviable list includes Pinterest, Instagram, Netflix, 99Designs,, Heroku, AirBnB, The Guardian, Engine Yard, Flipboard, Hootsuite, Newsweek, Tapjoy and Urban Spoon.

But more than running websites on EC2, there are a lot of different uses for it too.

For example, ShareThis uses EC2 to crunch numbers to come up with meaningful statistics on how content is shared online. Data analysis is made easy because they have all the computing power they need to crunch more than 10 TB of data.

In fact, a lot of companies use EC2 to meet their processing requirements. Amazon reported that the bandwidth they use for both EC2 and their storage service, S3, has already exceeded their own use for any of their global Web sites.



Comparing the cloud providers

While people would like to compare and contrast Amazon, Google and Microsoft, for the very obvious reasons that these are the biggest names in the industry, it might seem like apples vs. oranges type of comparison.

For example, Amazon EC2 is strictly an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider while Windows Azure is a platform as a service (PaaS) provider. But even so, it would seem that Amazon would trump Microsoft in a comparison. It has more options for control, such as a Web-based application and control panel, API support, command line and GUI support. Azure only allows you to control via API and command lines. Amazon also has a higher guaranteed availability at 99.999% over Azure's 99.9%.

Both options offer a pay as you go pricing plan, but Amazon is way cheaper than Azure. Amazon also has more free security features, auto scaling, load balancing, monitoring, virtual private servers and root access, all of which are non-existent with Azure.

On the other hand, another PaaS offering, Google App Engine, pales further in comparison even when the first 500 megabytes of storage and around 5 million page views per month are free. For one, it only allows for API support as a control interface. Plus, it does not have all the security features one would expect a cloud service provider should offer. However, it does have auto scaling, load balancing and root access support.

Find out if the cloud's right for your business with CompTIA Cloud Computing Essentials Training.

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Michael Gabriel Sumastre

Michael Gabriel Sumastre is a skilled technical blogger and writer with more than seven years of professional experience in Web content creation, SEO and research paper writing. He has written more than a thousand articles related to tech and gadgets, cloud computing, IT management, SEO, SEM and software solutions. He ghostwrites books / e-books and has a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. Michael is also an expert in webmastering and loves to ride his sportsbike. He maintains his portfolio and personal blog at