December 18, 2008, 4:45 PM — Large tech vendors such as Sun Microsystems and Red Hat, small ones like Elastra and RightScale, and even consultancy Capgemini are all clamoring to help big businesses get on Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud offering, or EC2.
But do they really have anything to add, or are they just part of the cloud hype? "Sure, there's some riding" on the cloud computing wave, says Frank Gillet, an analyst at Gartner, "but there's also reasonable value."
EC2 is a service under the larger Amazon Web Services (AWS) moniker that lets companies run applications at Amazon.com's datacenters and access them over the Internet. Amazon won't say how many EC2 partners are on the roster, only that "there are a lot doing all sorts of things, from custom integration with customers to offering application software on top of our services to hosting services," says Adam Selipsky, vice president of product management and developer relations for AWS at Amazon.
Yet there's no question that partners -- a few, at least -- play a critical role in helping Amazon break into the enterprise ranks. Otherwise, EC2 might end up serving mostly small companies and startups with a shaky future. Amazon.com recently reported 400,000 businesses and developers have signed on to use AWS.
For small businesses, AWS indeed has great appeal. For enterprises, not so much. "Enterprises are right to be cautious," says research firm Ovum in a recent report: "A spate of service outages on the Amazon and Google platforms has increased enterprise caution about the reliability of consumer-market-oriented cloud providers."
Amazon courts tech partners for enterprise play
Hoping to turn this tide, Amazon.com touts its enterprise-flavored "strategic relationships" -- the partners who will help AWS users, for a fee, get up and running.
These "relationships" can be misleading. In many cases, they simply refer to technologies that can run on AWS, such as OpenSolaris, Oracle Fusion Middleware, MySQL, Salesforce.com's Force.com Toolkit, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and JBoss Enterprise Application Platform. Plans to add Windows Server and SQL server to EC2 are already in the works. "Some 'partners' are simply a listing of technology that's supported and certified to run in the AWS environment," says Gillet.
Others relationships involve technologies meant to aid in AWS deployment, such as Elastra's software, which lets companies put their legacy applications on EC2. ( Amazon.com has a financial investment in Elastra.)
But Amazon.com says its partners do more than just certify or offer products to run on EC2. For example, Selipsky says that Red Hat sells a version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (REL), whose price is combined with EC2's pricing model. "For 21 cents an hour, you can have fully supported REL on top of a computing environment," he says. And RightScale provides advice and management tools to help companies create Web applications in the cloud.
Capgemini goes after big game
The most intriguing partner, though, is Capgemini. Last month, Capgemini became the first consultancy to build a practice around AWS for enterprise companies. The practice targets three areas of cloud deployment: Microsoft SharePoint, Oracle ERP, and application development and testing. The firm has a similar relationship with Google's cloud service.
Although Capgemini is currently the only major consultancy with an AWS relationship, IT can expect to see more AWS-consultancy relationships in the near future, says Selipsky.
The Capgemini-AWS relationship received positive reviews from Forrester's Gillett and Gartner analyst Ben Pring. "Capgemini will provide Amazon with enhanced credibility among Capgemini's typically cautious, conservative clients," Pring writes in a report. "Companies are interested in AWS but also skeptical and concerned," says Gillett. "They'll turn to [systems integrators] like Capgemini and ask, 'Does it pass your muster?'"
Three ways to engage the cloud
Capgemini's three-pronged approach makes a lot of sense. AWS is really designed for limited enterprise workloads that are unconventional and not core to enterprise IT, says Gillett. Thus, test-and-development scenarios, where you set it up and tear it down quickly, are ideal for the cloud.
Oracle ERP in the cloud, specifically the Oracle Transportation module, is another good application for the cloud because of the cloud's ability to scale up quickly for batch processing. "The Oracle Transportation module benefits from having many instances of software running," says Gillett. "Put it on a hundred instances for 10 minutes versus 10 instances for a hundred minutes."
Microsoft SharePoint in the cloud, on the other hand, doesn't make much sense to Gillett. "There's so many other ways to do it," he says. He suspects that Amazon.com may eventually run its own SharePoint service as a direct offering rather than going through a consultancy such as Capgemini.