A Simple Introduction to Amazon AWS Part One - EC2

Everyone knows Amazon.com for their online book sales and ecommerce offerings. But not everyone knows that Amazon also offers IT infrastructure for companies needing servers, cloud-based services and offsite storage. Its called Amazon AWS (Amazon Web Services) and it's a fantastic deal.

The next three posts are written for the small to mid-sized organization who may have limited IT staff and resources. Larger organizations most likely already know about Amazon AWS since the service has been around for sometime. In the next three posts I'll focus on the three AWS services I see as most attractive to small business - EC2 virtual servers, S3 storage and SES email services.

Need a Server? Think EC2

It wasn't so long ago that when a business needed to install a new piece of software it was installed on a specialized computer called a server. The server was a piece of equipment businesses had to invest in. Either you installed that software on the server you already had, or the company bought a new server. It would reside and be maintained right there in their facility. The cost of the server depends on its size - from around $3000 up to tens or thousands of dollars. Then there is all the additional equipment - backup power supplies, external storage, switches, hubs, and cabling. A very considerable investment in what is inevitably a diminishing asset. Servers always seem to get better and less expensive as time moves on, while you're locked into an "old" piece of hardware until you decide to upgrade again.

Instead, wouldn't it be nice to "rent" server instead of outlaying all that cash and without all that peripheral hardware? Imagine being able to select the size, operating system, and amount of memory from a menu and instantly "spinning" up the server with immediate access. Then, imagine that once you had it set up exactly the way you want it - with all the apps and software you need to use all in place - you could simply click a button and "clone" the whole thing so you have a spare? With Amazon AWS, that's reality. The service is called EC2.

With an Amazon account, you simply sign up for EC2 and have access to building a server suited for your task at hand. Through there very friendly Web console, everything is at your finger tips to set up the size, kind, security and installed applications you need. Don't get me wrong - this isn't something that just anyone can do and you'll probably want an experienced IT person to do it for you. But you, as the owner or manager of your business should be aware this option for provisioning a server exists.

An EC2 instance (a virtual server in the AWS cloud) costs from just over $.01 (that's 1 cent) per hour for the smallest "micro" server, to $4.60 per hour for a huge server. Most people reading this blog probably only need a "small" to "medium" server which costs $0.02 to $0.05 per hour.

There are additional hourly costs when you add special operating systems (Microsoft Server) or databases (Oracle). In our business, we pay somewhere around $60 per month for each EC2 Windows server we use and around $30 for each Linux server we use.

While you'll still need to bear the costs of experienced IT people to help you get up and running, EC2 gives you an option to say goodbye to those larger cash outlays spent on your own equipment.