Windows Limitation

By Doug Bartholomew Print this article Print

With its Simple Storage Service and Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon is blazing a trail to Web services and mixing it up with the likes of IBM and Sun — and maybe even Microsoft and Google. 

Windows Limitation

A significant barrier that could keep Amazon from grabbing too big a piece of the enterprise computing pie is its limited usefulness to Windows-based shops. Although Amazon’s Selipsky says the S3 data storage service is platform agnostic, the EC2 computing service is open only to Linux-based platforms. EC2’s default operating system is Red Hat Linux, which many users replace with their own preferred version of Linux.

Microsoft currently doesn’t offer a license to fit this type of computing infrastructure, Forrester’s Staton points out. And even if it did, it’s not a slam-dunk that Amazon would embrace Windows on EC2 for cost reasons, because doing so could be prohibitive to the company’s pricing strategy of offering computing power at nickels and dimes per hour.

“We do intend to support Windows on Amazon EC2,” Selipsky says, “but currently there is no licensing model that supports the hourly pay-as-you-go pricing that has sparked such interest in Amazon EC2.”

The lack of support for Windows-based applications isn’t a serious limitation for AWS, according to Selipsky. “We typically see that large organizations have a mix of technologies, and many can make full use of Amazon EC2 in these heterogeneous environments,” he says. “The rapid uptake we’ve seen for this service speaks to that fact.”

For small companies, the Windows issue may be even less of a deal-breaker. At New York-based startup Animoto, a Web-based service that puts customers’ still photos to their choice of music, getting the sheer computing chore done as quickly and cheaply as Amazon can do it is what’s most important (see “Developers, Entrepreneurs Tap Into Amazon’s Cloud,” p.31). Even so, the process is such a chip-burner that it typically takes up to 10 minutes, and sometimes longer, for the music and photos to be combined into the finished product.

“Our customers upload JPEG images and MP3 music files, and our algorithm renders the video and synchronizes the music to the images, so we replicate what real producers of TV and video would do,” says Brad Jefferson, a co-founder and CEO of Animoto. “We loved our idea … but we knew it would be storage and server intensive. With Amazon Web Services, we are able to keep our prices low.”

Animoto charges $3 to do a single video with 10 photos or $30 per year for unlimited videos. One well-known customer, Republican presidential candidate John McCain, has an Animoto video on his MySpace page.

From the get-go, Animoto found itself hampered by EC2’s inability to run Windows-based applications. “We had a Windows dependency as part of an infrastructure stack, so we had to get rid of that to use Amazon Web Services,” Jefferson says. “You can’t have Windows machines within EC2.”

Animoto uses not only EC2 and S3, but also Amazon’s Simple Queueing Service, which acts as a sort of bus stop, readying Animoto videos until they can be distributed to an available server in EC2 for rendering into a video and finally being stored on S3. “That entire process is done using Amazon Web Services,” Jefferson says. “In fact, our entire infrastructure is on AWS.”

This article was originally published on 2008-02-21
Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.