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Benchmarking Amazon EC2: The wacky world of cloud performance

Peter Wayner | May 2, 2013
Before turning to the world of cloud computing, let's pause to remember the crazy days of the 1970s when the science of the assembly line wasn't well-understood and consumers discovered that each purchase was something of a gamble. This was perhaps most true at the car dealer, where the quality of new cars was so random that buyers began to demand to know the day a car rolled off the assembly line.

Such expectations make it harder for the companies to roll out newer hardware. If new chips that are 10 percent faster appear, those racks will run 10 percent faster. Everyone will be happy until they get stuck with an instance on the older racks.

Cloud users need to adjust their expectations or at least relax the error bars around the expectations. The cloud doesn't deliver performance with the same precision as the dedicated hardware sitting on your desk. It's not necessarily a good idea to demand it either, because the cloud company's only solution to a demand for precision is to eliminate any kind of bursting altogether. They would need to limit performance to the lowest common denominator.

In other words, the '70s may not have been the best years for Detroit's consistency, but they still turned out some great cars. The Camaros, Mustangs, Trans-Ams, and Corvettes often ran quite well. The assembly lines weren't perfect, but they were good most of the time -- until they produced a lemon. Like owners of those old muscle cars, drivers of cloud machines should keep a close watch on performance.


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