Four Years In The Cloud: Happy Birthday, Amazon Web Services EC2

The Cloud Forms

Recognized as one of the leaders in cloud computing innovation, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform just turned four years old.

A lot has happened in the cloud industry and with AWS in the past four years. Here's a look at AWS' and EC2's growth from its infancy to the cloud powerhouse it is today.

In The Year 2006 had been around for more than a decade when it launched Amazon Web Services LLC and officially began to offer developer customers access to in-the-cloud infrastructure services based on Amazon's own back-end technology platform. The company realized it had developed a core competency in operating massive-scale technology infrastructure and data centers to fuel its monstrous retail business, so it set out to serve a new type of customer (developers and businesses) with a platform of Web services they could use to build sophisticated and scalable applications. The new offering eliminated the capital investment and time spent managing data centers and co-location facilities.

Go Big Or Go Home; Seeing Red (Hat)

In October 2007, Amazon EC2 launched Large and Extra Large instance types based on 64-bit technology to deliver more memory, CPU and instance storage.

AWS and Red Hat teamed up to integrate the capabilities of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and Amazon EC2 in November 2007. The move gives developers pay-as-they-go capabilities for resizable compute capacity in the cloud while accessing the Red Hat Network management service, technical support and more than 3,000 certified applications.

Sun, Red Hat And Storage, Oh My!

In May 2008, Sun Microsystems and AWS collaborated to offer two open-source solutions on EC2: OpenSolaris and MySQL technical support.

In June the same year, Red Hat unveiled its second offering on Amazon EC2: JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, which provides developers with the most popular clustered Java EE application server and the next-generation application framework to build innovative and scalable Java applications.

Then, in August, AWS launched the Amazon Elastic Block Store to provide block level storage volumes for use with Amazon EC2 instances. Amazon EBS volumes are off-instance storage that persists independently from the life of an instance.

Oracle Comes Around; EC2 On Windows; Public Data Sets

In September 2008, AWS customers began licensing Oracle Database 11g, Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Enterprise Manager to run in AWS cloud environments. Developers can leverage the provisioning and automated software deployment in these AMIs to build applications using Oracle's development tools, such as Oracle Application Express, Oracle JDeveloper, Oracle Enterprise Pack for Eclipse and Oracle Workshop for WebLogic.

A month later, Amazon EC2 running Windows Server became available, providing an environment for deploying ASP.NET Web sites, high-performance computing clusters, media transcoding solutions and other Windows-based applications.

In December 2008, Amazon launched Public Data Sets on AWS as a central repository of public data sets that can be integrated into AWS cloud-based applications. Before this, large data sets required hours or days to locate, download, customize and analyze. Public Data Sets give any access to these data sets from their EC2 instances and compute the data within minutes.

2009 Starts With A Bang

Amazon's first big move of 2009 was the January launch of the AWS Management Console, a Web-based, point-and-click, graphical user interface to access and manage AWS Infrastructure Web Services.

In February of that year, IBM got on board and began providing several AMIs at no additional fee beyond Amazon EC2 charges for developers building commercial IBM-based applications.

And in March, Amazon added Reserved Instances, an additional pricing option for EC2 that lets users make a low, one-time payment for an instance to reserve capacity and reduce hourly usage charges.

Load Balancing; High Memory

Amazon added monitoring, auto-scaling and elastic load balancing for EC2 in May 2009. Amazon Cloud Watch was released, which allows monitoring of AWS cloud resources; Auto Scaling became available for automatically growing and shrinking capacity based on demand; and Elastic Load Balancing became available for distributing incoming traffic across EC2 compute instances. Together, these give companies and developers more visibility into the health and usage of AWS compute resources and lets them boost application performance.

Come October, Amazon announced EC2 High-Memory Instances, an instance family that has two instances designed for memory-intensive, high-throughput workloads like databases, memory caching and rendering.

A Wild December

December 2009 saw a trio of milestones for the now three-year-old AWS. First, the company launched the ability to boot instances directly from Amazon EBS snapshots, which adds flexibility in how customers can manage their instances. In the same month, Amazon started offering Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft SQL Server Standard 2008 in all Amazon EC2 regions. And, finally, AWS unveiled Amazon EC2 Spot Instances, a new way to buy and use instances in addition to On-Demand and Reserve Instances.

2010: The Year Of The Cloud

Amazon EC2 didn't rest on its laurels as it stormed into 2010, deemed by many to be the year of the cloud.

First, in February, AWS added Extra Large High Memory Instances to EC2, new instances designed for memory-intensive workloads such as databases, memory caching and rendering. In the same month, it added Reserved Instances with Windows, which have the same functionality as the Reserved Instances for Linux/Unix.

In March 2010, AWS launched the Windows Server "Bring Your Own License" Pilot Program, which lets customers with Microsoft Enterprise Agreements migrate their existing Windows Server licenses to Amazon EC2.

And in July, AWS launched compute clusters for high-performance computing applications and advanced workloads with new Cluster Compute Instances for the Amazon EC2 offering.

What A Difference Four Years Can Make

In just four years, Amazon EC2 has seen significant growth. Here are some examples of what's different now compared to 2006.

In 2006, Amazon EC2 was in one region and one availability zone; one instance type was available; there was one pricing model; EC2 offered only Ephemeral storage; it supported only Linux; and it leveraged command-line management tools.

In 2010, Amazon EC2 supports four regions and multiple availability zones; nine instance types; three pricing models; Ephemeral and Elastic Block Storage; Linux, Windows and OpenSolaris; and command-line management tools, AWS Management Console and third-party tools. The company also now offers elastic load balancing, auto scaling and Cloud Watch and offers high-performance computing options that weren't available at its launch.