Mr. Jassy, Tear Down This Wall!

Andrew Jassy
SVP, Amazon Web Services

Hi Andy,

I am not going to ask you how are you doing. For everyone in the Amazon Web Services eco-system, the last 24 hours have been brutal. But I’d like to share my perspective with you, and offer a couple of suggestions:

I believe that in the long run this will be a positive day for the cloud computing movement. Naysayers seeking evidence to avoid the cloud have new ammunition, those hyping the cloud are experiencing its limitations, and the leading cloud provider, your company, is learning from the major outage the importance of being humble and cooperative.

I also believe that the way AWS behaves needs to change. You built the leading infrastructure-as-a-service provider with a level of secrecy typical of a stealth startup or a dominant enterprise software platform vendor. It works for Apple – they deliver a complete integrated value chain. But it is not your position in the cloud ecosystem. Today’s outage shows that secrecy doesn’t and won’t work for an IaaS provider. Compete on scale and enterprise readiness, and part of readiness is being open about your internal architectures, technologies and processes.

Our dev-ops people can’t read from the tea-leaves how to organize our systems for performance, scalability and most importantly disaster recovery. The difference between “reasonable” SLAs and “five-9s” is the difference between improvisation and the complete alignment of our respective operational processes. My ops people were ready at 1:00 am PT to start our own disaster recovery, but status updates completely failed to indicate the severity of the situation. We relied on AWS to fix the problem. Had we had more information, we would have made a different choice.

This brings me to my last point: communication. Your customers need a fundamentally different level of information about your platform. There are some very popular web sites that try to re-engineer the way AWS operates. These secondary sources – based on reverse engineering and conjecture – provide a higher level of communication than we get directly from the AWS pages. We live in the Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and Wikileaks days! There should not be communication walls between IaaS, PaaS, SaaS and customer layers of the cloud infrastructure.

Tear that wall of secrecy down, Mr. Jasse. Tear it down!

Respectfully,

Roman Stanek
CEO and Founder, GoodData (2009 AWS Startup Challenge winner)
@romanstanek
roman@gooddata.com

P.S. I am publishing this letter on my blog. It’s part of open communication between our companies.

Will Moore’s law find it’s way to the cloud?

Moore’s Law states that computer system performance/price ratio will double every two years. And that was very much my expectation when GoodData started using Amazon Web Services almost 2 years ago. But I had to wait until today to see Moore’s Law at work: Amazon announced 15% drop of EC2 prices. The price of the small Linux instance was constant at $0.10 per hour for the last two years – now it will be $0.085.

15% in 2 years – not exactly the exponential growth in the performance/price curve that I expected. And I started to wonder why. Here are my two explanations – I believe the second one is more likely:

  1. AWS prices were set way too low to attract developers two years ago. Moore’s Law helped the price to catch up with the real cost of running the cloud.
  2. AWS is a monopoly and Moore’s Law does not apply.

What? Cloud and monopoly? Isn’t utility computing a perfect example of fiercely competitive commodity where the price curve is shaped only by demand/supply? What would Nick Carr say? Unfortunately not. As much as we read about different cloud providers, AWS is the only real provider of “infrastructure as a service” in town. If you don’t want to be locked-in to proprietary Python or .Net libraries there is not that much choice.

Until we will see performance/price of AWS double every two years, we should still wonder about monopolistic pricing.

Please Don’t Let the Cloud Ruin SaaS

Back in the old good days of enterprise software, we did not need to worry about our customers. We delivered bits on DVDs – it was up to the customers to struggle with installation, integration, management, customization and other aspects of software operations. We collected all the cash upfront, took another 25% in annual maintenance. Throwing software over the wall … that’s how we did it. Sometimes almost literally…

I now live in the SaaS world. My customers only pay us if we deliver a service level consistent with our SLAs. We are responsible for deployment, security, upgrades and so on. We operate software for our customers and we deliver it as service.

But there now seems to be a new way how to “throw software over the wall” again. Many software companies have repackaged their software as Amazon Machine Image (AMI) and relabeled them as SaaS or Cloud Computing. It’s so simple, it’s so clever: Dear customer, here is the image of our database, server, analytical engine, ETL tool, integration bus, dashboard etc. All you need it is go to AWS, get an account and start those AMIs. Scaling, integration, upgrades is your worry again. Welcome back to the world of enterprise software…

AMI is the new DVD and this approach to cloud computing is the worst thing that could happen to SaaS. And SaaS in my vocabulary is still Software as a Service…