Amazon beefs up EC2 with new enterprise-appealing tools

The cloud service gains integrated load-balancing, scaling and monitoring capabilities

New auto-scaling, monitoring and load-balancing tools for Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud are now in public beta, the company said Monday.

A feature called CloudWatch lets EC2 users monitor resource usage and system performance through details such as disk reads and writes, or network traffic, Amazon said.

The auto-scaling capability adds or subtracts EC2 instances in response to demand, or a lack of demand, using metrics collected by CloudWatch, according to the official AWS blog.

"Your Amazon EC2 instances will scale automatically based on actual system load and performance but you won't be spending money to keep idle instances running."

Meanwhile, the Elastic Load Balancing tool automatically spreads traffic over a number of EC2 instances for better reliability and fault tolerance.

If an instance is "unhealthy," the system can send its traffic to others until the problem is fixed, according to Amazon. Load-balancing can also be deployed across multiple EC2 availability zones.

All three services are available now to EC2 customers in the U.S., although those who want official support will have to buy a premium support contract. The capabilities will be available in Europe sometime in the next few months, Amazon said.

The offerings are priced separately from baseline AWS service, but in a similarly pay-as-you-go fashion.

Each Elastic Load Balancer costs US$0.025 per hour, along with $0.008 for each gigabyte transferred through a balancer.

CloudWatch costs $0.015 per hour for each instance monitored. The auto-scaling feature is available at no charge to CloudWatch customers.

The features, which Amazon first announced last year, should have appeal among large enterprises that may want to offload applications to Amazon's infrastructure, but desire more control and reliability, and deeper insight into performance.

In addition, by providing customers with a more complete and integrated system management kit, Amazon could cut into the business of smaller vendors that offer similar tools, such as RightScale.

In a blog post, RightScale took a measured view of Amazon's announcement.

The auto-scaling feature was "badly needed," the unsigned post states. "We've often heard from people looking at EC2 the first time "you mean Amazon doesn't automatically launch more instances when my app is overloaded?"

"However, unless we're missing something, there's nothing additional to our current offering," the post added.

"We believe that the most difficult part of auto-scaling isn't the actual launching of servers but that it's lining up all the configuration management and lifecycle management so the new servers go into production successfully, and that's what we've been focusing on."

Also, while Amazon's new features do have some overlap with RightScale's, RightScale also supports multiple cloud environments, the post said.

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