Amazon EC2 Cloud vs Dedicated Server Hosting

Our previous post wasn’t that kind towards amazon’s EC2 web hosting offering. To prove we’re not anti-amazon or just massaging results here, I’ve found a 10min extract of a conference presentation from another developer out of Canada that has utilised both the Amazon cloud and more traditional dedicated hosting options. The stats make for interesting reading and it’s information seldom talked about or found online.

James’ very last comment is quite telling. It gets to the core of the amazon sales benefit argument and the very need to have these complex ‘scalable systems’. In James’ real-world experience, his three physical webservers (that replaced a dozen amazon cloud servers), still had ample capacity to handle traffic load increases of over ten times their original requirement – With almost no hardware upgrades or ‘scaling’ needed.

Scaling – Really Needed or a Scam?

In amazons’ case, yes. A doubling of web traffic under the EC2 cloud host environment often requires an increase in EC2 server resources and associated costs. This is the big Amazon benefit, right? But as James said, you have to ‘scale up’ with Amazon much earlier compared with hosting the same site(s) on a fast [often less costly] dedicated physical web server at your local host company. Amazon of course sells auto scaling as an ‘amazing feature’ and not a means to overcome core system limitations. Cunning.

The bottom line business trade-offs to enjoying these wondrous ‘operational benefits’ is worrying, since the amazon service is often slower and requires more upkeep. Some of this scaling may require human intervention which itself carries a monthly cost. But as James mentioned, high speed websites get more traffic, retain more clients and make more money. Why then would anyone sign up for ‘average’ performance?

Ignorance (and fancy features) is bliss

Customer bliss – It would appear to me that many using Amazon EC2 today have not in fact looked beyond the EC2 offering and have no idea if they are really getting competitive performance or good value. They just keep purchasing more computing ‘instances’ until it works, without doing a comparative analysis to ensure they’re not being ripped off.

Cloud bliss – Many are just afraid of dedicated hardware or dealing with local hosting companies. Cloud hosting gives the appearance of more control – Larger companies especially often don’t mind the high costs. Control and convenience wins…

Geek bliss – IT people aren’t helping. All wowed with the EC2 bells and whistles instead of focusing upon core client (and site visitor) needs. i.e. A reliable host platform that runs as fast as possible, for the least cost. Amazons easy ‘click and go’ services I feel is just ensuring fewer IT people will experience what a ‘real’ dedicated host server can actually do. Without realising it are trading away high performance, for seldom-used frills and the perception of greater flexibility, reliability and security.

Sales bliss – I suspect it’s also easier for the IT company just wanting a quick EC2 sale, luring hapless clients in with a cheap entry-level configuration, knowing it will quickly escalate. Subsequent 100-400% increases of amazon and/or their own IT fees are re-phrased as ‘buying differently’, not price rises – Good for IT people, not so good for their clients that really just wanted a fast, reliable server, at a fixed monthly cost and no surprises.

How to Impress – Double your speed and halve your costs…

In James’ case study, his move off the Amazon cloud host to a dedicated, well configured physical webserver gave the following instant benefits to his company:

  • 2.5x website response improvement (significantly faster website)
  • 100x less variation in response times (same high speed, all the time)
  • 6x better performance reserve (more capacity without upgrades/scaling)
  • much reduced support effort and development overheads (labour savings)
  • 40% savings in hosting/server investment (significantly reduced cost)

These are the sorts of numbers that impress accountants, website developers, business owners and of course website visitors.

Cloud-Spectator-Website-LogoRef also: Avoid hosting nightmares and the David Strom article on EC2 and cloud review by cloudspectator The chart below more clearly indicates relative performance of EC2 vs the other vendors. It’s somewhat comforting to me that Microsoft Azure scores well, who we’ve discovered is not only a quarter of the cost, for the same performance, but have a much fairer pricing regime.


p.s. Recently discovered another great testing provider, which just re-confirms James own figures with EC2 way behind. Some cloud systems do perform well, but Amazon isn’t one of them until you get into the $2,000+ per month range.


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