AWS Lambda, Container Service to reinvent cloud provisioning

AWS Lambda could help IT replace wasted compute cycles without any compute resources needed to support it – a 'connective tissue' for AWS Services.

LAS VEGAS --  Amazon Web Services turned heads at its re:Invent conference with previews of two new ways to provision cloud computing infrastructure – including one that requires no server administration at all.

AWS Lambda, which allows IT pros to programmatically orchestrate cloud infrastructure functions through Node.js, received the most enthusiasm from attendees here this week, though it will take time to become generally available and to support all Amazon Web Services (AWS) offerings.

Still, Lambda "could easily replace many of our wasted compute cycles," said Kevin Felichko, CTO of, an online auction company based in Frederick, Md.

Lambda bears a strong resemblance to scripting, but the difference is that no compute resources need to be spun up to support it – users simply enter code into the AWS Management Console and services are executed in the background.

"Think of it as connective tissue for AWS services," said Tom Wagner, general manager for the product in a breakout session detailing Lambda’s capability. For example, a user could create a Lambda function that would automatically resize any image uploaded to the Simple Storage Service (S3) into a thumbnail. Unlike scripting, the Lambda functions start without requiring polling of resources elsewhere, though Amazon is secretive about what exactly is under the covers.

Still, the potential to simplify services deployment on AWS is intriguing to Felichko.

"I have felt for some time that AWS needed an easier way to connect pieces together,” he said. "I’m mostly interested in how this will work with [Simple Workflow Service (SWF)] and [Simple Queuing Service (SQS)]."

As with most of the products announced this week at re:Invent, however, Lambda is in limited preview and won’t be generally available until early 2015, and has some limitations, according to Wagner’s presentation. Lambda is integrated with S3, DynamoDB and Kinesis. DynamoDB Streams are also in preview, so customers must sign up for both previews to use Lambda with that particular feature.

Lambda is also limited to 25 concurrent requests per account and 60 seconds running time per request while in preview. The only programming language supported so far is node.js, but Wagner said more would follow.

"Hopefully they roll out new language support in the not-to-distant future," Felichko said.

Amazon also introduced its first sub-hour pricing for EC2. Lambda will be priced in part based on 100 millisecond increments (to the tune of $0.00001667 for every GB-second used). The first million requests to the service are free; thereafter there is also a $0.20 charge for every million requests.

Some attendees see Lambda as a loud shot across the bow of cloud competitors.

"Aurora was an attack on Oracle, and this is an attack on Google," said a VP for quality engineering from an enterprise software company headquartered on the West Coast.

EC2 Container Service crossed off IT's wish list

As publicized before the show, AWS rolled out new integration with the Docker Linux containerization service, something many customers anticipated eagerly.

AWS customers could already use Docker with the Elastic Beanstalk platform as a service as well as the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).However, the EC2 Container Service offers automated provisioning of containers without requiring users to launch instances, ensure the Docker daemon is running on those instances, and uploading a Docker image as was previously required with EC2. Elastic Beanstalk also automates Docker provisioning, but each Docker container image uploaded would be managed separately.

The EC2 Container Service automatically places Docker containers on shared hardware based on resource availability.

The EC2 Container Service is also in limited preview. There will be no additional charge for the service beyond EC2 resources consumed.

New instances and SSD volumes pump up EC2 performance

Finally, Amazon also previewed a new instance type, the C4, which features the Haswell Intel chip specially customized for AWS, which offers 2.9 GHz performance. The C4 offers up to 36 vCPUs, and is attached to the Elastic Block Store (EBS) at no additional cost.

EBS will also be updated with boosted performance specs, Amazon officials said. General purpose volumes will be provisioned up to 16 terabytes with performance of up to 10,000 IOPS and throughput of up to 160 megabytes per second. Previously, general purpose SSD volumes offered up to 3000 IOPS. Provisioned IOPS were also given a boost, with support for up to 20,000 IOPS, up from 4000 IOPS previously.

Pricing and availability for these new offerings has not yet been released.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.


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