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Amazon releases OpsWorks, muscles into cloud management

'Do not be alarmed, cherished partners'

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Amazon has launched a free add-on for its fleet of cloud services that lets developers better manage and automate their application stacks – a move that stabs at the heart of many of Amazon's technology partners and some of rivals.

The 'AWS OpsWorks' control-freak tech was announced in a blog post by Amazon on Tuesday.

The tech is a boon for cloudy developers, as it wraps the Chef open source infrastructure management tool inside a package of Amazon software and integrates this into the rest of the AWS cloud, making it possible to automate the configuration, management, and shutting down of rentable compute and storage gear in fewer steps than ever before.

Major AWS customer Netflix has been producing various open source software packages to ease automation of cloud resources for the past year, and judging by the capabilities of OpsWorks, AWS took notice and decided to do its own integrated version.

OpsWorks' answer to cloud management quibbles is to get developers to assemble their application from "stacks" – sets of AWS compute resources whose geographic locations can be predefined – which are then configured by the adding of one or many "layers" which give them certain capabilities such as a PHP App Server or a MemcacheD instance.

Developers can then choose an application to run on these layers by pointing the OpsWorks "app" layer to code for a specific app. Finally, the developers select how many resources to assign to each layer within the stack.

Amazon will then handle the gluing together of all of these bits, along with scaling, management, and automation.

What does all this mean? Well, previously if developers wanted to just run their application, they could do so either by chaining together all the AWS resources themselves using various fiddly scripts and spending a lot of time spent staring at the AWS management console, or they could forsake all control and run the app on top of Amazon's "Elastic BeanStalk" platform-as-a-service.

OpsWorks gives them a middle way, in which devs can cede a bit of control but still get down and dirty with the architecture of the compute and storage resources upon which their app will run.

But while OpsWorks will save developers time, it will make it harder for other tech businesses to carve out a living servicing companies on Amazon's cloud – at least, that's the impression The Reg comes away with after reading Amazon CTO Werner Vogels's post on the new service:

"Application management has traditionally been complex and time consuming because developers have had to choose among different types of application management options that limited flexibility, reduced control, or required time to develop custom tooling. Designed to simplify processes across the entire application lifecycle, OpsWorks eliminates these challenges by providing an end-to-end flexible, automated solution that provides more operational control over applications".

In other words, where you formerly needed to use lots of bits of software in chorus to successfully manage your application, you can now do it all on Amazon via Amazon-designed software.

As of Tuesday, OpsWorks provides full control of Amazon compute servers (EC2 instances) and lets developers use Chef to integrate storage via S3 and basic databases via RDS. Over the coming months, Amazon will broaden the remit of the tech so that it can automate even more resources.

Much of the technology for OpsWorks comes from Peritor, a company that AWS acquired in 2012. Peritor produced Scalarium, a web-based management and automation console.

The rollout of the technology is likely to make life uncomfortable for existing AWS partners, such as automation specialist Puppet, platform-as-a-service AppHarbor, and application management specialist Progress Software, among others. Developers now have a choice between doing it all through Amazon, or adding in another vendor's tech – and therefore another layer of complication – to their particular cloud recipe.

It also affects Amazon competitors such as Rightscale, a company whose main business involves the management and automation of public and private clouds.

OpsWorks is free for developers to use. Beguiling it may be, but it's also another product that, if used, makes developers more reliant on AWS than ever.

The Reg advises readers to keep in mind the situation that befell a Heroku customer recently – the more you design your application around the specific bells and whistles of a platform, the harder it becomes to migrate away if the platform provider changes its system. ®

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