What is Amazon EC2 – Part 1: The basics

by Alexander Weiß

The short version is: Amazon EC2 is an acronym for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. It is one part of the cloud services Amazon delivers. Its main goal is to provide computing capacity as easily and flexibly as possible.

The short version is: Amazon EC2 is an acronym for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. It is one part of the cloud services Amazon delivers. Its main goal is to provide computing capacity as easily and flexibly as possible.

The promise of flexible and easy provisioning of computing power has existed almost since the first days of computing. I still remember when I was a child and the advertisement agencies promised that the next generation of CPUs would be as fast as lightning and that they would fulfill all my wishes. Two years later it turned out that the lightning-fast 486DX-66 was too slow to run my favorite game. The promise of faster and better CPUs that would fulfill every user’s dream has continued since then.

However, something changed when virtualization and multi-core CPUs were introduced. Suddenly computing power started to become abundant. Servers got so fast that they would sit idle for most of the day under the old dogma of one service per (hardware) server. Today one hardware server can host many virtualized servers and still sit idle most of the time. Even with the heavy use of virtualization, servers are still bored quite often because they are sized to deliver good performance under maximum load. But times of maximum load fill only a small part of the day.

Amazon EC2’s concept

From a business point of view the server’s quiet times are a waste of resources. If the CPU isn’t fully utilized, this is like having some of a factory’s assembly lines standing still. If this happened often, that factory would have to reduce the amount of assembly lines. But with a CPU it is not that easy to reduce the amount of computing power it delivers. It is fixed. But it’s possible to put the CPU resources you don’t need to good use: You can rent them. And that’s basically what Amazon EC2 is: You can lease computing capacity from Amazon.

What is Amazon EC2 : The management console of EC2

EC2 Management Console

Technically it’s not that easy, because if you rent raw CPU cycles you won’t be able to do much with them. You need some kind of management tool to be able to put them to good use. You also need some storage for your data. But these are not the only things you need.  There are many more: organisational like accounting and technical like network infrastructure. But once you figure out how easy it is to use Amazon EC2, you’ll start to dream about high performance storage, load balancing features, etc.

For many of these desires, Amazon has the right offerings. But before I explain the other Amazon cloud services, I want to talk about the features of Amazon EC2, because I’ve only covered the basics of what Amazon EC2 is.

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