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Original author: 
Jon Brodkin

The Linux Foundation has taken control of the open source Xen virtualization platform and enlisted a dozen industry giants in a quest to be the leading software for building cloud networks.

The 10-year-old Xen hypervisor was formerly a community project sponsored by Citrix, much as the Fedora operating system is a community project sponsored by Red Hat. Citrix was looking to place Xen into a vendor-neutral organization, however, and the Linux Foundation move was announced today. The list of companies that will "contribute to and guide the Xen Project" is impressive, including Amazon Web Services, AMD, Bromium, Calxeda, CA Technologies, Cisco, Citrix, Google, Intel, Oracle, Samsung, and Verizon.

Amazon is perhaps the most significant name on that list in regard to Xen. The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is likely the most widely used public infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud, and it is built on Xen virtualization. Rackspace's public cloud also uses Xen. Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin noted in his blog that Xen "is being deployed in public IaaS environments by some of the world's largest companies."

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Today, a large collection of Web hosting and service companies announced that they will support Railgun, a compression protocol for dynamic Web content. The list includes the content delivery network and Web security provider CloudFlare, cloud providers Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, and thirty of the world’s biggest Web hosting companies.

Railgun is said to make it possible to double the performance of websites served up through Cloudflare’s global network of data centers. The technology was largely developed in the open-source Go programming language launched by Google; it could significantly change the economics of hosting high-volume websites on Amazon Web Services and other cloud platforms because of the bandwidth savings it provides. It has already cut the bandwidth used by 4Chan and Imgur by half. “We've seen a ~50% reduction in backend transfer for our HTML pages (transfer between our servers and CloudFlare's),” said 4Chan’s Chris Poole in an e-mail exchange with Ars. “And pages definitely load a fair bit snappier when Railgun is enabled, since the roundtrip time for CloudFlare to fetch the page is dramatically reduced. We serve over half a billion pages per month (and billions of API hits), so that all adds up fairly quickly.”

Rapid cache updates

Like most CDNs, CloudFlare uses caching of static content at its data centers to help overcome the speed of light. But prepositioning content on a forward server typically hasn’t helped performance much for dynamic webpages and Web traffic such as AJAX requests and mobile app API calls, which have relatively little in the way of what’s considered static content. That has created a problem for Internet services because of the rise in traffic for mobile devices and dynamic websites.

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Not everyone wants to run their applications on the public cloud. Their reasons can vary widely. Some companies don’t want the crown jewels of their intellectual property leaving the confines of their own premises. Some just like having things run on a server they can see and touch.

But there’s no denying the attraction of services like Amazon Web Services or Joyent or Rackspace, where you can spin up and configure a new virtual machine within minutes of figuring out that you need it. So, many companies seek to approximate the experience they would get from a public cloud provider on their own internal infrastructure.

It turns out that a start-up I had never heard of before this week is the most widely deployed platform for running these “private clouds,” and it’s not a bad business. Eucalyptus Systems essentially enables the same functionality on your own servers that you would expect from a cloud provider.

Eucalyptus said today that it has raised a $30 million Series C round of venture capital funding led by Institutional Venture Partners. Steve Harrick, general partner at IVP, will join the Eucalyptus board. Existing investors, including Benchmark Capital, BV Capital and New Enterprise Associates, are also in on the round. The funding brings Eucalyptus’ total capital raised to north of $50 million.

The company has an impressive roster of customers: Sony, Intercontinental Hotels, Raytheon, and the athletic-apparel group Puma. There are also several government customers, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, NASA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Defense.

In March, Eucalyptus signed a deal with Amazon to allow customers of both to migrate their workloads between the private and public environments. The point here is to give companies the flexibility they need to run their computing workloads in a mixed environment, or move them back and forth as needed. They could also operate them in tandem.

Key to this is a provision of the deal with Amazon that gives Eucalyptus access to Amazon’s APIs. What that means is that you can run processes on your own servers that are fully compatible with Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), or its Elastic Compute cloud, known as EC2. “We’ve removed all the hurdles that might have been in the way of moving workloads,” Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos told me. The company has similar deals in place with Wipro Infotech in India and CETC32 in China.

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Maybe you're a Dropbox devotee. Or perhaps you really like streaming Sherlock on Netflix. For that, you can thank the cloud.

In fact, it's safe to say that Amazon Web Services (AWS) has become synonymous with cloud computing; it's the platform on which some of the Internet's most popular sites and services are built. But just as cloud computing is used as a simplistic catchall term for a variety of online services, the same can be said for AWS—there's a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might think.

If you've ever wanted to drop terms like EC2 and S3 into casual conversation (and really, who doesn't?) we're going to demystify the most important parts of AWS and show you how Amazon's cloud really works.

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