Introduction to Amazon Web Services

By: Clay Loveless, Chief Architect, Mashery  

While Amazon Web Services (AWS) may seem like an unusual service for an online retailer, AWS is actually a natural progression for a company as seasoned at providing rock-solid internet applications as Amazon. Over the years, Amazon has cultivated a tremendous amount of knowledge around what it takes to build and maintain a successful, highly scalable web application. Fortunately for the rest of us, they've made this knowledge available to all developers via AWS.

Since the first services were launched in 2004, AWS has expanded to offer most (if not all) of the tools necessary for building "web-scale" applications -- applications uninhibited by concerns over growth and demand. The core components for any highly scalable web offering are here, including:

  • Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances: AWS Reserved Instances enable you to maintain the benefits of elastic computing while lowering costs and reserving capacity. With Reserved Instances you pay a low, one-time fee and in turn receive a significant discount on the hourly charge for that instance. Reserved Instances can provide substantial savings over owning your own hardware or running only On-Demand instances as well as help assure that the capacity you need is available to you when required.
  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3):Amazon S3 offers unlimited storage capacity for just pennies per gigabyte per month. Files may be uploaded and downloaded directly by your end-users, or you may access data stored on Amazon S3 via your application alone. Bandwidth rates are inexpensive, so files with high volume access can be served from Amazon S3 without breaking the bank.
  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2):On-demand servers, available in three sizes, seven configurations, with the operating system of your choice. Need an extra box to handle a load spike? New EC2 boxes typically spin up within a few minutes, and you can bring up multiple servers in parallel. If you need 20 new serversright now(really), EC2 is for you.
  • Amazon Simple DB (SDB):Are you sure you need all the bells and whistles a traditional relational database management system (RDBMS) like MySQL? If you're building your application from scratch, simple, highly-available key-value pair lookups may be all you need. Think outside the box and consider SDB -- designed to withstand significant system failure without missing a beat. If your datamustbe accessible even if the power is out in your data center, SDB was built with you in mind.
  • Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS):A reliable message queue designed to act as the neural hub for a group of servers cranking away on intensive tasks, or just as a central bucket for stuff that needs to get done by someone, sometime soon.

And that's just the Infrastructure Services collection of AWS. The AWS offerings also cover billing and payment APIs (Amazon Flexible Payments Service), an on-demand workforce (Amazon Mechanical Turk), web search and information (Alexa), and even an ecommerce fulfillment service (Amazon Fulfillment Web Service). Entire commerce-based services can be built on top of Amazon's original web service, Amazon Associates Web Service(formerly known as Amazon E-Commerce Service, or ECS).

Clearly the AWS infrastructure is a robust solution to build a business on top of. Services continue to roll out of AWS at a steady clip. Amazon isn't just dabbling in web services "on the side" -- in fact, Amazon Web Servicesrecently surpassedthe global retail operation in terms of bandwidth use. The root of Amazon Web Services was actually based on the idea of internal development groups within Amazon leveraging the capabilities of these services to be more efficient in continuing the growth of the Amazon retail operation. As such, AWS is here to stay.

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