AWS has many very compelling features. These can be extremely attractive to small organizations because Amazon has already done much of the work for you. They have built services, such as message queues, database services, and Big Data structures, to meet many small business needs.
Unfortunately, AWS has problems when it comes to serving its small business customers. The leadership within AWS has made some decisions that make the small consumer pay a high price for using their services and disproportionately advantage the massive users with greater technological sophistication.
The Drawback of Using AWS: Noisy Neighbors
The noisy neighbor problem is a common one with AWS vs private cloud that has a few possible solutions.
What Is the Noisy Neighbor Problem?
The noisy neighbor problem stems from cloud hosting’s reliance on shared resources. The physical server upon which customer instances reside hosts multiple virtual machines. While it is generally easy to partition CPU and RAM resources between virtual machines, the disk subsystem is extremely difficult to partition.
How Does the Noisy Neighbor Problem Work?
In a noisy neighbor scenario, one or more virtual machines on the physical host consume vast amounts of disk input/output (I/O), resulting in poor performance for the remaining virtual machines.
Large, tech-savvy organizations build automation and massive deployment infrastructures that permit them the ability to have no reliance on any given individual virtual machine. This makes the noisy neighbor problem trivial for larger organizations to solve. They destroy the machines that are performing poorly and spin up new infrastructure, often without any actions needing to be taken by humans to make this occur.
Solving this AWS problem is extremely challenging for smaller organizations. Small organizations rarely have the IT resources to build the automation and deployment infrastructure necessary to abandon and replace a virtual machine automatically.
Many small organizations do not even have enough hosted computer resources to have multiple instances of a single category of machine (such as web server, database server, application server, etc.), much less the ability to spin up dozens of servers upon demand. These small organizations are left to deal with these AWS problems manually.
System admins typically turn to a data migration as the most viable solution. Unfortunately, although migrating their data is a viable solution to the problems with AWS, it can be an ordeal that consumes hours, days, or even weeks of IT time.
Noisy Neighbor Example: How Netflix Uses AWS
Netflix is a prime example of a company that has built its infrastructure exclusively on EC2/AWS. Netflix’s unique infrastructure design serves its business model in multiple ways, one of which is avoiding the common AWS problems.
To do this successfully, Netflix relies on extensive automation, fault detection and correction, and other AWS features built directly into their deployment infrastructure. Netflix is very forward about the expected performance issues on AWS.
AWS is built around a model of sharing resources; hardware, network, storage, etc. Co-tenancy can introduce variance in throughput at any level of the stack. You’ve got to either be willing to abandon any specific subtask, or manage your resources within AWS to avoid co-tenancy where you must."
While Netflix has the sophistication to detect and handle this problem, smaller firms with smaller IT budgets cannot build this complexity into their deployment. As a result, they may be dealing with a significantly underperforming node and not even realize it.
Without adequate resources, they would have a sluggish website or seemingly random application timeouts and errors and be unable to uncover the root cause. Constantly collecting, monitoring, and reacting to things like IOWait, Steal time, and other indicators of performance problems caused by co-tenants are simply overwhelming. For many, it becomes an unnecessary distraction from their core business.
To this point, the noisy neighbor problem is not unique to AWS. However, Amazon's refusal to give its customers the necessary insight to formulate intelligent, data-driven solutions only worsens the situation.
Amazon does not expose its instance count per physical node nor provide customers with guidance on which products offer single-tenant (dedicated) instances that avoid the noisy neighbor problem entirely. This is an area where small organizations can gain significant advantages by utilizing other cloud hosting providers, many of which offer single-tenant or are at the least transparent about the contention ratios customers can expect when hosting on their infrastructure.
7 Cons of Using AWS for a Small Business
Dealing with noisy neighbors is a struggle for small business owners, but there are also other cons of AWS that users should be aware of before launching a site through Amazon.
1. Using AWS Requires Technical Knowledge
Most AWS users choose the platform for its robust, feature-rich nature. However, one of the challenges with various features is the knowledge necessary to use them. Your team will need an in-depth understanding of the AWS platform to decipher the features that best fit your business and how to get the most out of those respective features.
Leveraging AWS properly isn’t impossible, but it does require a substantial investment – of both time and finances. Teams that want to use the platform would do well to hire a technician or system admin with prior AWS experience. Additionally, teams can leverage Amazon’s robust library of internal resources to help coach their team through any AWS problems or growing pains that may pop up.
2. AWS Users Pay for Support
The AWS team has more than enough agents to support its users. Users will have a certain level of support built into their monthly subscription fee. But, if you’re asking for an immediate solution to your problem, you may need to pay extra.
AWS users have 3 possible support subscription models to choose from:
- Developer: $29/month.
- Business: The greater of $100 or 10% of monthly AWS usage for the first $0–$10K.
- 7% of monthly AWS usage from $10K–$80K.
- 5% of monthly AWS usage from $80K–$250K.
- 3% of monthly AWS usage over $250K.
- Enterprise: The greater of $15,000 or 10% of monthly AWS usage for the first $0–$150K.
- 7% of monthly AWS usage from $150K–$500K.
- 5% of monthly AWS usage from $500K–$1M.
- 3% of monthly AWS usage over $1M.
If you’re looking to offset the cost of AWS support, one solution is finding an AWS consulting partner. These partners undergo certification and licensing programs to become familiar with AWS products. Businesses can use these partners to build, architect, migrate, and handle server workloads and applications on the AWS platform.
3. General Challenges with Cloud Computing
Relying on cloud computing to host your digital presence comes with its inherent issues, regardless of platform. Most users prefer a cloud platform like AWS vs private cloud for growth due to its inherent scalability.
Unfortunately, that scalability comes at a price. Things like security, downtime percentage, lack of control or customization, and limited backup and disaster recovery (BDR) resources are just a few drawbacks cloud users need to consider.
4. Amazon’s Tech Has Limits
AWS’s features are limited by the technology that’s currently available. For example, AWS’s Simple Email Service (SES) can only send one email per second. General technology hasn’t evolved to support faster email delivery at this point. Therefore, customers frustrated by the service may be without a solution for years to come.
Understanding the platform's capabilities and limitations is essential before jumping in. You don’t want to subscribe expecting AWS to do something it’s not yet capable of doing.
5. Pre-set Service Limits
Because of its customer base, Amazon has to establish pre-set service limits on its products. The reason for these limits is twofold:
- To prevent users from spending too much money before they’re familiar with the platform.
- To ensure no one customer is overusing the platform’s memory, processing, and storage resources.
AWS places hard and soft limitations on its resources to support these goals. Soft limitations can be adjusted upon request. However, hard limitations are permanent and can’t be modified by users.
Soft limitations are placed on:
- EC2 Instance: Default Limit of 20 per region.
- TiBElastic IP: Default Limit of 5 per service area.
- Elastic Load Balancer: Default Limit: 10.
- High I/O Instance: Default Limit: 2.
- Virtual Private Cloud: Default Limit: 5.
- EBS Volume: Default Limit of 5,000 volumes or overall size of 20.
Hard limitations are placed on these resources:
- EC2 Security Groups (EC2 Classic): Maximum limit of 500 per instance, and each Security Group can have a maximum of 100 rules or permissions.
- EC2 Security Groups (EC2-VPC): Up to 100 security groups per virtual private cloud (VPC).
These limitations are just a tiny sample of the complete list, giving AWS the rigidity characteristic of most cloud hosting platforms.
6. Security and Privacy Concerns
While AWS has security issues, it’s important to note that those issues are inherent in the configuration of cloud networks. However, where AWS differs is in the security of your data itself.
Amazon has agreements with several foreign organizations and may sell your data to them without your knowledge. Unfortunately, since data laws differ by organization and location, AWS is perfectly within its rights to do this.
The same is true for any intellectual property stored on AWS servers. Amazon made recent changes to its language regarding patents and copyright infringement.
Amazon’s attitude toward data and intellectual property may be a deciding factor when choosing AWS vs private cloud for app development and other proprietary software applications.
7. Geographic Limitations
The United States is Amazon’s largest market. Subsequently, AWS users outside of that geographic location may experience a sharp drop-off in product quality. Since Amazon already has some service limitations built into its offerings, it makes sense to do extensive research to see if AWS is the right fit for your target market.
The last thing you want is to spend significant amounts of time, money, and energy building your online presence only to deal with consistent AWS problems because of your location.
Is AWS Right for Your Small Business?
So, given the various AWS problems discussed here, are Amazon Web Services right for your business? Well, unless you’re a large, enterprise-level business, the answer is most likely no.
Sure, Amazon is a juggernaut in the industry and offers its users access to a veritable endless sea of server resources. But the truth is, you don’t need access to that many resources to host your digital presence. Most of the soft limitations AWS offers its customers are used to downsize the resource allocations Amazon provides. Therefore, factoring in the various AWS cons, the juice unfortunately isn’t worth the squeeze.
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