Amazon puts Windows on Elastic Compute Cloud, thrills e-commerce VARs

Microsoft-aligned e-commerce VARs may now get to deploy in Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud.

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Amazon.com may have breached protocol when it announced plans to run Windows and SQL Server on its Elastic Compute Cloud infrastructure this week, but at least some Microsoft partners were thrilled by the news.

Microsoft-aligned value-added resellers (VARs) specializing in e-commerce or e-tail applications have been chomping at the bit to use Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud. But they've been thwarted thus far, because Amazon's cloud infrastructure is Linux- and Unix-oriented, which pretty much left the Windows/.NET crowd out of the picture.

That will no longer be the case. In a short email to reporters, Amazon.com said Wednesday that both Windows and SQL Server will run on the Elastic Compute Cloud 2, or EC2, "later this fall."

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Bob Shear, president of Greystone Solutions, a Boston-based Web commerce specialist, was gratified by the news. He and others said they were previously unable to play in the large Amazon.com sandbox, which already hosts retail giants like Sears Canada.

"This will eliminate the friction for our types of applications," Shear said. "We won't have to worry about the infrastructure or the plumbing. I don't even have to worry about deployment. I can test on a perfect version of the production platform without any capital expenditure as we scale up."

The beauty of EC2 -- and theoretically Microsoft's cloud infrastructure to come -- is that they can scale and up and down with the notorious cycles of the retail business.

"If there's a pulse on Black Friday, I don't have to engineer for it," Shear said.

Amazon.com solicited customers and developers who would be interested in this development. There will no doubt be plenty of takers. While Microsoft has talked for a long time -- without much detail -- about its cloud infrastructure of the future, EC2 already has traction, and the Amazon name carries a lot of weight in retail.

Microsoft was largely silent after the Amazon.com email. Hours later, a spokeswoman emailed this statement:

"Microsoft is committed to providing a comprehensive and flexible computing platform to enterprises, developers and hosting service providers. We are excited that Amazon is using Windows Server and SQL Server within its Elastic Compute Cloud 2 (EC2) hosted infrastructure service. We believe customers want familiar technology in their cloud platforms so they can rapidly make use of cloud-based services and extend the value of existing on-premises Windows and SQL Server investments."

Microsoft will make a lot of noise around its own cloud infrastructure at its Professional Developers Conference later this month, but most partners say a full-functioning version is years away. Meanwhile, EC2 is gaining big traction and marquee vendor support.

Last week Oracle announced plans to put its middleware and database stack on EC2. Oracle execs said at the time that they will support other cloud infrastructures over time, but it made sense to go with Amazon.com first because it's already up and running with a large customer base.

Initially, Oracle will partner with Amazon.com on the Elastic Compute Cloud as well as its S3 storage-related Web services. To do that, Oracle worked with Amazon.com through the latter's virtualization layer, so Oracle's products will deploy on Amazon's services, Oracle executive vice president Chuck Rozwat said at Oracle OpenWorld last week. But Oracle's middleware, database and tools already run on Linux. It's a far bigger leap to ensure that Windows and its related technologies will run on EC2, partners said.

Why are these vendors glomming onto Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud? Because it will open doors. Several major retailers already run on EC2. And that enables them to move into a pay-as-you-go model.

"You literally move your environment into their environment and then it's charged by usage," Rozwat told reporters last week. "It's a very low entry cost, very low cost of operation."

While Microsoft has a ton of cloud infrastructure efforts going on, including Windows Live, Office Live and SQL Server Data Services, it still has to gain credibility in this world where Google and Amazon.com have made hay.

Some Microsoft partners said Amazon.com's news -- and maybe Oracle's as well -- was engineered to preempt Microsoft's PDC announcements. But they also acknowledged that EC2 is real, whereas Microsoft's cloud infrastructure is still on the horizon. They point to the past PDC, where Microsoft over-promised on Longhorn -- the codename for Windows Server 2008 -- then failed to deliver important features, even though the operating system was years late. These partners say what Amazon.com is doing could jump start their Windows-centric e-commerce work.

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