Piston CTO: 'Giant explosion of businesses moving off AWS'

Source: gnislew, via Flickr

With the release of Piston 2.0, the company that offers software for building private OpenStack clouds is suggesting that businesses now have a real alternative to Amazon Web Services.

“This is now ready for the giant explosion of businesses moving off Amazon Web Services,” said Josh McKenty, CTO and co-founder of Piston and former cloud architect for NASA, where OpenStack originated.

“Giant explosion” might be an overstatement. McKenty obviously has reason to hope that businesses are moving away from AWS since it could mean more customers for Piston. While AWS doesn’t say how many customers it has, the general consensus is that it is far and away the market leader for public cloud services and that the takeup isn’t slowing down.

Still, McKenty said that there are good reasons that businesses are moving off AWS and cited some examples. “AWS infrastructure was built for running shopping carts,” he said. “So if you have a need that looks like ecommerce at scale, you may never leave AWS. If you have something that looks too much unlike ecommerce at scale, AWS will never be a good fit.”

The ratio between RAM and CPU, or I/O and CPU, or the total cores available to one instance on AWS, “just isn’t going to match what you need for your app,” he said.

He points to Zynga, the poster child of large operations that moved off AWS in favor of an internal cloud that meets its particular needs. However, Zynga still uses AWS for some things, like bursts of traffic.

The second reason he said businesses are moving off AWS is cost. “AWS in this sense is like a crack dealer. The first hit is free,” he said. But as you scale up and need to invest in storage particularly, “Amazon will cost you $80,000 a year for something you can buy for $3,000,” he said. In other words, a business can buy enough storage and even factoring in people and power, run it internally for far cheaper than renting it from AWS, he said.

His customers are running into this often, he said. “They start to wake up and say, ‘this is not the model I want to grow my company on’,” he said.

When companies do decide to leave AWS, it’s not usually because of dollars spent though. “It’s when investors are willing to say it’s ok to buy your own hardware,” he said. “It’s going from leasing to buying.”

The third reason that companies are leaving AWS, he said, is customer service—another oft-cited complaint with AWS. “The reality is that Amazon is a mass market company. They don’t want you to call them. I don’t care how much you pay them for support, when you finally get through to someone, they won’t tell you what’s wrong or when it will get fixed,” he said.

He’s not talking about outages necessarily, but other trouble that companies commonly run into. For instance, if one day VMs have poor I/O performance, or if for some reason of the ten new instances just launched, three aren’t working, AWS users have problems troubleshooting. “This is a fact of the public cloud. If it’s not your infrastructure, you can’t debug at a certain scale,” he said.

McKenty said he’s not suggesting that everyone will abandon AWS entirely. There are the ecommerce-like apps that will continue to run happily on AWS. Others are likely to move a portion in house but leave some apps on AWS. For instance, Zynga runs around 80 percent of its workload in house with the rest on AWS, he said.

He made some good points but there are also plenty of good points for sticking with AWS or even another public cloud offering. For startups that can’t afford to build their own and for certain apps like test and dev, public clouds are a no brainer. The same goes for medium size operations that find it’s cheaper to go with a public cloud in part because of the human costs involved with managing their own clouds. Still, it's worth noting that AWS sounded a little worried about competition from the private cloud market at its inaugural developer conference late last year.

For those that find it makes sense to build a private cloud, Piston has added some features to make their lives easier. Updates to the 2.0 release include richer API support for Amazon, making it easier for businesses to shift workloads from AWS to Piston or to run hybrid clouds. The release also includes storage pass through so that businesses can use existing storage infrastructure including RAID-based SAS or SATA equipment. It’s also compatible with more commodity hardware from the likes of IBM, Dell, Cisco, and HP, which McKenty said accommodates businesses that want to pilot OpenStack on existing, older hardware.

We’ll just have to wait and see how much of McKenty’s comments are bluster and how much actually reflect reality. In the meantime, his company plans to be waiting with open arms for those AWS defectors.

Update: I updated this story to clarify that Zynga did not move 100 percent of its workload internally.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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