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Microsoft, Amazon Poised for Cloud Battle

Amazon on Tuesday said it will let customers host relational data in its EC2 cloud service using the MySQL database. The company also said that it plans to slash the costs of its EC2 service by as much as 15 percent.

The news comes just weeks before Microsoft is expected to make available its Azure cloud service at the annual Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next month. Microsoft initially did not plan to offer a relational database service with Azure, but reversed course after early testers largely rejected the non-relational offering. Microsoft's SQL Azure Database will be part of the Azure offering.

Amazon's new Relational Database Service (RDS) is based on a complete version of the MySQL database, the company said, adding that all code and apps that run on the premises-based version of MySQL will work with the new cloud-based version. RDS handles such functions as setup, provisioning, patch management and backup. Users can add compute and storage capacity using a basic API call, Amazon said.

Amazon RDS complements the company's existing database service, called SimpleDB. Though SimpleDB lacked relational functionality, Amazon has targeted it for less complex operations, such as basic index and querying. RDS is intended for customers that require a relational database that may already have existing code and prefer native access to the RDMBS, yet want to turn over database administration and infrastructure management to Amazon.

Amazon is also rolling out a new line of high-memory instances of its EC2 service that can be used on its Elastic Block Store service (EBS). The new instances will support workloads that require higher memory instances than the company previously provided, notably its new RDMS offering as well as applications that require caching.

EBS offers block-level storage volumes that are used with EC2 instances. Amazon is now letting EBS customers provision their own database instances of IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, PostgreSQL, Sybase and Vertica databases. All of these will be available as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs). Through Amazon's EBS service, customers can take administrative control of their AMI-based database or application server, according to the company.

Pricing Play
As for the price cuts, Amazon is slashing usage costs across the board, though it appears the most pronounced savings will be for those hosting their apps on Linux and UNIX servers. For those with extra-large demand, for example, usage will drop from 80 cents per hour to 68 cents on Linux and UNIX. Windows Server usage costs will also drop from $1.00 per hour to 96 cents per hour, Amazon said. A more detailed price list is available on Amazon's Web site.

Microsoft released its Azure pricing back in July. Microsoft's pricing starts at 12 cents per hour for standard compute, while SQL Azure starts at $9.99 per gigabyte for its Web edition.

Amazon's pricing move establishes a price ceiling for Windows hosting, said Jeffrey McManus, CEO of consultancy Platform Associates, in an e-mail. "Very few hosting providers are going to price their offerings higher than that of EC2," McManus said. "One of our hosting providers actually gave us a price break when we began investigating moving a Web application we run onto EC2. That's good news for developers."

Nevertheless, McManus said he doesn't see Microsoft poised to compete with Amazon for the same customers. "I'd actually be surprised if Azure is even on Amazon's radar," he said.

EC2 and Azure are targeting different types of developers, he said. "When Microsoft extended per-minute pricing to Amazon EC2 a year ago, we were taken aback by the difference in price between EC2 for Windows and comparable Linux offerings," he noted. "Microsoft has been extremely slow on the draw when it comes to virtualization and the cloud. It's pretty embarrassing that the online bookstore across town has been able to best them in this area."

Microsoft's slow start, McManus noted, has prompted many of his clients to opt for EC2 on Linux rather than Windows server instances. In addition to the cost advantage of Linux, McManus said it is much faster to set up a production Linux server on EC2 or Slicehost than it is to set up a Windows Server on virtual hosting.

Roger Jennings, principal analyst at OakLeaf Systems and author of "Cloud Computing with the Windows Azure Platform," said Amazon clearly has taken a swipe at Microsoft.

The offering from Amazon includes support for larger databases of up to 1TB, compared to just 10GB for SQL Azure, Jennings also pointed out. "Larger SQL Azure databases must be sharded, but distributed queries and transaction aren't supported yet," he said in an e-mail.

Jennings also noted that Amazon MySQL instances scale up resources with an hourly surcharge and scale out by sharding, if desired. "SQL Azure scales out by sharding but not up," he said. "SQL Azure instances have a fixed set of resources not disclosed publicly."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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