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13 ways the cloud has changed (since last you looked)

Peter Wayner | Feb. 9, 2016
New services and pricing models make cloud computing more powerful, complex, and cheaper than it was a few short years ago.

Amazon avoids some of this risk by letting customers purchase “reserved” instances, an option that marries a guarantee of service with a commitment to pay.

In its simplest form, you write one check and Amazon will keep your machine running for one to three years. You’ll be billed whether or not your machine does anything. In return for the commitment, Amazon offers discounts that range from about 30 percent to 50 percent.

Buying in bulk

Google takes a different approach to rewarding long-term customers by offering similar discounts without the firm commitment. It starts offering discounts for “sustained use” that kick in once your machine has been running for at least 25 percent of the month. These increase until it offers a 60 percent discount for the last minutes of the month. When all of the discounting is averaged out, you’ll save 30 percent if your machine runs continuously throughout the month.

The key difference is that your machine doesn’t need to run continuously for the entire month. Google bills and computes the discount by the minute. You’ll save money even if you run your machine sporadically (as long as your aggregate use pushes into one of Google’s discount tiers). This reduces the chance that some instance will sit there unused.

Amazon offers another larger discount on top of its Reserved Instances. If you lock in more than $500,000 in instances in one of its regions, your discount starts at 5 percent. If you spend more than $4 million, the discount rises to 10 percent.

Data sources

Once upon a time, it was your job to get your data into the cloud. Now, cloud providers recognize that some data sources can be shared. Amazon, for instance, is storing weather data. If you need access to the NEXRAD data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Amazon has already signed a contract and loaded the information into its S3 store. It’s available in real time, and the archives go back to June 1991.

There are several dozen sources gathered from big public science projects like the Human Microbiome Project and open source efforts like Wikipedia. Access to these is free -- although you’ll probably want to rent an instance in Amazon’s cloud to run your software.


The Web’s persistent challenge is scaling. It’s one thing to do something well; it’s another to do it equally as well for everyone in the world who happens to hit your website when your awesomeness goes viral.

The newer software layers offered by cloud vendors handle scaling for you. Google was one of the pioneers. Its App Engine takes your thin layer of code and autoscales it, deciding exactly how much compute power it needs to handle the load that’s coming your way. Google’s cloud decides how much compute power you need, and you get billed by the request, not by the machine. Amazon has a more basic option, Elastic Beanstalk, which dispatches generic EC2 instances to handle the load so that you don’t have to do it yourself.


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