Amazon Web Services’ OpsWorks is a positive move

Laurent Lachal, Senior Analyst, Software – IT Solutions

In February 2013, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched the beta version of AWS OpsWorks, a configuration and deployment service for AWS public cloud-based applications and their related resources. While AWS usually creates its services from scratch, OpsWorks is based on third-party technology, namely the open source Chef-based SaaS offering, Scalarium, developed by Peritor, a small Germany-based IT service provider that AWS acquired in 2012.

OpsWorks reflects the increasingly important role of cloud computing-driven infrastructure-as-code/DevOps practices. It is a good, albeit rather limited to date, step forward that will help some AWS customers and partners to remain in control of their AWS public cloud-based solutions.

On the other hand, it is not nearly as threatening to some of AWS’s partners that many claim. In a recent report entitled Amazon Web Services’ OpsWorks: Boosting Cloud Automation, Ovum provides a detailed analysis of its impact on the AWS customer base and on the market at large. It also describes how OpsWorks relates to two other AWS services: CloudFormation and Elastic Beanstalk.

OpsWorks is needed

In the early stages of adoption, the task of managing the configuration and deployment of IaaS instances is not particularly onerous. Typically, users will be dealing with only a few instances at a time, and functionality such as automatic scaling and configuration is not likely to be in high demand. However, as usage scales, and the number of different instance types grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage the process of deploying and configuring instances.

This has led to the introduction of tools and frameworks that specifically aim to automate much of the process of deployment and configuration. This includes configuration and deployment frameworks, designed to automate the process of managing complex multiple instance application configurations.

This is where OpsWorks fits in. It enables AWS cloud users to create a logical architecture for their applications, provision resources based on that architecture, manage their configuration, and deploy applications to those resources, all based on Chef cookbooks and recipes. It also enables them to monitor their application’s health.

A mix of strengths and weaknesses

OpsWorks is an excellent first step that improves automation and helps with a consistent approach to AWS cloud-based application environments. It has plenty of strengths: it is an easy to use service that saves time and provides a flexible and extensible framework that allows the user to take an automated, consistent and more application-centric approach to the AWS cloud. On the other hand, it is a beta offering based on an old and limited version of open source Chef that can only reach out to a few AWS instances types, images, and services.

A limited impact on partners

As they expand their portfolios, platform technology providers are increasingly competing with partners that use their platforms. In response, these partners are moving up the chain or finding specific niches to differentiate themselves and keep adding value above and beyond what the platform provider supplies. This applies to AWS and its partners as much as it applies to the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware and their ecosystems.

Some commentators have been keen to over-emphasize this trend, pitching AWS as a looming threat. As a result, the phrase “to be Amazoned” shifted its focus from IT departments being replaced to IT vendors being elbowed out by AWS. The “AWS as a looming threat” camp regularly wakes up following new AWS developments.

For example, it emphasized the “AWS as a threat to open source providers” following AWS’s release of its own version of Linux (free of charge but supported) and MySQL (for a fee as RDS), then “AWS as a threat to PaaS providers” as a result of its releasing Elastic Beanstalk in early 2011. It therefore comes as no surprise that following the release of OpsWorks, the tune remains the same but the lyrics have changed to “AWS as a threat to cloud automation software providers”.

Ovum welcomes the additional competition that AWS brings to the markets it expands to. Not only does it keep its partners on their toes, forcing them to find new ways to demonstrate why and how they add value to what AWS does, but also, in the case of nascent markets such as the cloud automation software market, AWS quickly becomes a key adoption driver, helping the whole market.

OpsWorks itself provides partners with additional opportunities to sell their wares. Many them can be expected to start creating new (application server, database, monitoring, and so on) layers in the next few months and/or expand their offerings to take advantage of OpsWorks lifecycle events.

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