Amazon Web Services (AWS) has changed the way many small and medium sized businesses (SMB) operate, giving them access to infrastructure necessary to compete with bigger organisations. It is well known that large companies - Netflix and Spotify, to name just two - leverage Amazon’s cloud computing offerings to maintain competitiveness – but how can smaller companies benefit? And what are the pitfalls?
Although a mature platform, AWS is a relatively new to many companies and with so much talk about the cloud, it can be hard to separate hype from fantasy. A number of our customers have been inquiring about the possibility of moving to a ‘public cloud service’ such as AWS, so we thought we’d map out a few of the pros and cons as we see it.
Keeping it simple, and under 3 minutes to read is the goal of this blog post!
What are the benefits of AWS?
Having access to the massive computing power of AWS, and at much lower entry point and ongoing cost than run-your-own physical infrastructure, certainly has its benefits. From our perspective, these are the top five:
- Testing: With AWS, you can spin up a server and test an application immediately, paying only for the time you use. We have done this for customers looking to proof-of-concept new applications or versions.
- Performance: AWS wouldn’t be the top provider without significant computing power, and small and large businesses alike can take advantage of that power. There have been some negative comments from some sources of late, but the AWS systems we are using and testing are always surprising us with the performance that they deliver.
- Fast deployments: Once you’ve completed the initial setup, you can deploy quickly and easily, saving the costs of deploying manually. For us, this means once we have an application or system set up, there are a number backup and cloning options available.
- Diminishing costs: AWS has reduced pricing 48 times in the last six years, most recently on 03 Mar 2015. This is a function of both the economies of scale and also, more recently, competitive pressure. When most other IT expenses keep rising, AWS is going in the other direction. Good for businesses that have taken the AWS plunge!
- Less Stress (high availability): for small and medium-sized businesses, having system that are highly available, and are continually backed up and regularly snapshotted means peace of mind. No more worrying about single point of failure server rooms, UPS’s and offsite tapes!
What are the drawbacks?
AWS is widely used platform however it’s important to remember that AWS may not be right for every situation. Here are just some considerations:
- Internet access: If reliable internet access is an issue for your business location, then moving everything the cloud may not be such a great idea. However, with the NBN rollout in Australia and with the wireless broadband investments and bandwidth that is now available, this is becoming less of an issue.
- Plan B: AWS has a concept of ‘availability zones’. In short, depending on your particular circumstance, you may need to use multiple availability zones or regions (meaning duplication of servers and increased cost) for truly high availability. This is not really a drawback, as every IT solution, cloud or otherwise, should have a DR scenario or “Plan B” – so either a second availability zone, or, ideally, geographic location.
- Pricing complexity and commitment: The AWS pricing is complicated, however there is an online calculator to help. Still, it can be very easy to overlook or underestimate costs. Also, the lowest costs are available for committing to 1 or more years (via “reserved instances”) so that is not really pay-as-you-go any more.
- Scale/Cost: AWS can be highly cost-effective, up to a point. While the service gives you the computing power necessary to grow your business, there may come a point for large organisations, or organisations with huge data processing needs, when it’s more cost-effective to do it yourself.
Who can benefit from AWS?
Some of our customers have already seen the benefits of AWS. Almost any small or medium-sized business that needs to add new infrastructure is a candidate.
As an example, let’s say you have a company application(s) that need to be made available to a number of users, possibly in different locations. Those applications can be run securely in the cloud on AWS servers - you don’t need to worry about hardware upgrades, or supporting those applications on an aging infrastructure, or the myriad problems that go with those options.
AWS can also provide companies that lack a solid disaster recovery solution with a cost-effective way to avoid catastrophic data loss. Hopefully every company has a documented and tested backup and disaster-recovery plan. In many cases, this is something that SMB does not immediately think of, but without a plan in place there’s often no easy recovery from the effects of such a disaster.
These are just a couple of examples, of which there are many more, but we’ve seen first-hand just how cost-effective these models can be when architected correctly.
If you haven’t yet transitioned to any form of cloud computing, AWS offers a number of advantages, but needs to be put in context. You might want to ‘dip your toes’ in the cloud computing waters with SaaS solutions - simple, web-based software like Office 365, Google Apps, Dropbox, Xero, etc. In fact, with many software companies offering these Software as a Service options for their applications, often the best solution for small businesses is to start with these applications on a month to month basis, and then identify the gaps.
AWS is still a relatively new solution for SMB, and we’ve yet to see the full scenario play out. That said, it already delivers significant benefits in the right circumstances.