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Summary:

We can cross off another item from the list of features that Amazon Web Services doesn’t offer, as this morning it announced an automated template feature called CloudFormation. It might not be the be-all, end-all of cloud templates, but it might not need to be.

cookie cutter

We can cross off another item from the list of features Amazon Web Services doesn’t, but should, offer, as the cloud computing provider announced an automated template feature called CloudFormation Friday morning. That means one more hurdle to overcome for competitors already offering templates and pushing themselves as more enterprise-friendly or easier to use than AWS. CloudFormation might not be the be-all, end-all of cloud templates, but with AWS’s considerable mindshare lead, it might not need to be.

A number of other cloud providers, including RightScale, GoGrid and Skytap, already offer templates, and they position them as features to make life easier for enterprise customers. Rather than having to manually deploy each component of an application stack every time they want to launch a new instance of that app, create a new test or staging environment, or provision a new stack for an end-user, customers can just use their templates to automate the process. In his blog post on CloudFormation this morning, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels describes an AWS customer use case that exemplifies the value proposition:

Earlier this year I met with an ISV partner who transformed his on-premise ERP software into a software-as-a-service offering. They had taken the approach that they would not only be offering their software as a scalable multi-tenant product but also as a single tenant environment for customers that want to have their own isolated environment. When a new customer is onboarded, the ISV has to spin up a collection of AWS resources. … They have a centralized control environment for managing all their customers, but creating and tearing down environments is a lot of work and it is challenging to manage the different failure scenarios during these procedures. … Creating and managing these environments was a pain that AWS CloudFormation set out to relieve.

Jeff Barr’s must-read Amazon Web Services Blog describes the product and illustrates it in some detail, but the gist is that users write a text string describing the resources needed for a particular application, as well as the interdependencies and configuration parameters, and AWS takes care of deploying the stack correctly. CloudFormation enables reusable templates, essentially, which takes away another point of differentiation from AWS’s cloud competitors.

Not all templates are created equal, of course, and competitors might well point to their preconfigured templates for specific stacks or their GUI-based offerings, which certainly can simplify the task for users who don’t even want to be bothered with writing JSON commands. As I noted long ago, however, when AWS released its Virtual Private Cloud feature to a mixed chorus of cheers and jeers, sometimes all AWS needs to do is offer something (sub req’d), even if it’s not best-in-class. Already, users can use the AWS Management Console to upload a template via URL and create an application-specific stack, or create a stack from a list of sample templates.

Whatever happens, the moral of the story is that AWS today looks even better to some customers than it did yesterday, and, once again, its competitors have one less section of exposed flesh to poke at. This isn’t a crushing blow by any means — for example, there’s still that performance issue onto which some are seizing — but it’s just one more step toward AWS obviating the need for customers to look elsewhere if they’ve already bought into the AWS hype. With CloudFormation and Elastic Beanstalk, especially, AWS has removed a lot of the legwork that used to make some customers search for easier options.

Cookie cutter image courtesy of Flickr user allie bishop pasquier.

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