by Nancy Gohring

Cloud Computing: Will Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk Platform Appeal to Enterprise CIOs?

Mar 25, 2011

With Elastic Beanstalk, enters the platform-as-a-service market with a product designed to lure more enterprise CIOs as customers.

The company

Headquarters: Seattle

Employees: 33,700

2010 Revenue: $34 billion

CEO: Jeff Bezos

What They Do: The company’s Web Services business offers ­infrastructure services that let ­companies offload computing, ­storage, database and other functions to the cloud. Users pay as they go for what they use, rather than having to invest up front in hardware.

The Pitch

Amazon Web Services (AWS) wants to save you money. “Instead of spending millions on a data center and servers, you can simply pay as you go,” says Adam Selipsky, vice president at AWS. Companies can use the service to run applications and store data in the cloud, paying only for what they use and scaling up or down as needed.

Most early AWS users were small companies, but Selipsky says enterprise adoption has accelerated during the past two years as Amazon added features and services. For instance, Elastic Beanstalk, released in January, lets customers upload a Java application and have AWS automatically handle deployment details such as computing-capacity provisioning, load balancing and autoscaling. Without Elastic Beanstalk, users must interact with each related service individually. In many cases that means writing code to control them—work many companies don’t have either the skills or the desire to do.

The catch

AWS has a reputation for offering bare-bones service without the support and management that many companies want. “Amazon tends to favor a more lean approach to functionality than others who take a luxurious, feature-full approach,” says Michael Coté, an analyst with RedMonk.

He says it’s too early to tell if Elastic Beanstalk, AWS’s entrée into the platform-as-a-service market, will have the same reputation.

Elastic Beanstalk is up against competitors who tend to target a niche with added features and services tailored to their customers’ specific needs. For instance, VMforce, a joint offering that and VMWare announced last year (but have not yet launched), will be aimed at developers of Java mobile applications. CumuLogic helps companies bring legacy Java applications to the cloud. Elastic Beanstalk also competes with Windows Azure, which is Microsoft’s cloud platform, and Google App Engine, both of which support multiple programming languages.

For now, Elastic Beanstalk is limited to Java Web apps written for the Apache Tomcat software stack. That means the service is oriented toward Web applications. Amazon has said it would add support for languages other than Java, although it hasn’t said which. Amazon also says it will let third-party developers build on top of Elastic Beanstalk. They could then offer a version for Ruby or PHP applications, for example.

The score

Elastic Beanstalk can help enterprises easily shift applications to the cloud, says Coté. “The thing to like about Beanstalk is the speed at which they could, in theory, move Java-based Web applications to the cloud, [which would] hopefully mean cheaper hosting, plenty of uptime robustness, and freeing up internal IT resources and time to do more important things.”

Elastic Beanstalk has one capability that most competitors don’t: Users can fine-tune components if they want. An enterprise can choose a virtual server with more processing power, for example, or deploy one with greater availability. In trying to make the services easy to use, the competition typically limits the flexibility users have to alter individual components of their services.

Meanwhile, once support for other languages arrives—either from AWS or third parties—companies will be able to more easily off-load a wider variety of applications.

Nancy Gohring is a senior correspondent with IDG News Service