Is AWS Worth It For Small Business?
There are a lot of small businesses that need to use some amounts of computer or server resources in order to run and maintain their business. A lot of the time these small businesses will use a smaller local or regional technology company to fulfil those needs. At some point these small businesses may want to consider using a cloud service like Amazon Web Services.
Is AWS worth it for small business? Any small business should consider using the AWS cloud to host their technical needs as it can save large amounts time and money while helping bring goals into reality more quickly. The AWS cloud will be more reliable and have more technical capability than what a small business can do on their own.
Though, a lot of small businesses may consider the cloud to be to difficult to use, or out of reach for them. This is far from the truth and the benefits described in the rest of this post will show why taking the time to learn the cloud could pay off for the small business.
Amazon takes security and privacy very seriously. Because of this, their Amazon Web Services cloud is designed and built with a security focus in mind. Most services are setup to have data encrypted while in transit and while at rest automatically. This is so that if there ever was a data breach, the data would likely be meaningless unless the encryption key is known. With the Amazon Key Management service, the customer can either use a pre-configured key provided by Amazon or their own custom key for this encryption.
Amazon Web Service also employs many security experts around the globe to help make sure their systems and designs are security feature rich. They have many other engineers that are focused on patching all of their systems and servers for any of the most recent attack vectors that are discovered. A typical small business would have no where near the same level of expertise in this area compared to what the Amazon Web Services cloud would have.
Also, Amazon Web Services is put through many security audits each year to confirm they are staying within the guidelines of what is required by those certifications. This would include things like SOC2, ISO 27001, FEDRamp, FIPS and many other certifications.
Another aspect of the Amazon cloud that could peak the interest of most small businesses is the pricing that is available for the various compute nodes and other services that this cloud provides. If the small business only needs to run a compute node for a few hours a day, they are able to do so and only pay for the time that that compute node was running. Comparing this with a local server that they might have, they would have to pre-pay for the entire server cost, even if they are not using the full capacity of that server.
Amazon is also able to pass on some of the bulk pricing savings they get from buying hardware in such large quantities. A small business would never be able to compete with the buying power of Amazon Web Services. Also, the small business can dynamically choose the size of the server that they need to run for a given task with the Amazon Web Services cloud. If the small business had pre-paid for a server but then soon found out it didn’t have enough CPU or memory to adequately run the task it was purchased for, they would have to make another order for more or larger machines.
Compared with the Amazon Web Services cloud, the customer could simply provision a new larger machine in minutes. This also works for the reverse side of things where the small business purchased machine may have been over provisioned. With Amazon Web services, the cloud customer can simply spin up a virtual machine with less resources at a lower cost within minutes to replace the larger machine.
One great aspect of the Amazon Web Services cloud is the global nature of this cloud. It is designed with regions spanning the globe, each offering similar infrastructure and services to customers using the services in those regions. With this availability, a small business can run their applications and services close to their customers all around the world.
If you were to compare this with how a small business might do it in the past, they would need to find a data center or service provider in a target country that would let them co-locate, or rent servers, so that they could install and run their application or service on those machines. Finding these companies, and creating effective agreements with them can be quite time consuming. However, with Amazon Web Services, you can spin up a new server, or servers, in any of the available regions within a moments notice.
Another great feature about the AWS cloud is their networking setup. Because of the global distribution of the regions mentioned previously, they need a good network setup between those regions. Amazon Web Services has paid for and setup direct fiber links between their regional locations in order to send traffic quickly between the regions when needed. These are dedicated connections for Amazon Cloud customer traffic, that make moving data around the world extremely fast.
Even within a region, Amazon has configured interconnections between the different Availability Zones so that the latency of traffic between these Availability Zones is as little as possible. This is needed to make some of their services work as great as they do. Over and above this, Amazon has many points of presence around the world even where they don’t have an AWS Region setup. This is to help reduce the latency to customers using Amazon client services anywhere on the planet.
A small business would never be able to get these type of networking connections to all of these various locations around the world unless they are paying an incredible amount of money for access to different systems. Even to get a good internet connection to servers that they might be running on premises could cost the small business thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a month. Even then, it very likely wouldn’t be able to fail-over as well as what the AWS networking provides.
As mentioned previously, Amazon Web Service has a concept known as Availability Zones. These are effectively data centers in a given region which are far enough apart from one another that a local flood or fire wouldn’t affect the other Availability Zones. They also have independent power supplies and networking so that a failure to one does not affect the others.
With these Availability Zones, amazon is able to put together incredibly redundant systems. The usual setup is to have a service span at least three of these Availability Zones so that the service can sustain the failure of two zones and still remain up and running. The traffic that is sent to those services usually is balanced through a zone aware load balancer that will not route traffic to an Availability Zone that it has detected as being down.
These Availability Zones can also be used to make storage of data much more reliable. When a cloud customer sends data to the cloud to be written to one of the Amazon storage services, the data is usually written to three Availability Zones before letting the writer know the write was successful. This means there are multiple durable copies of the data stored in different Availability Zones once the writer is told the write was successful, so they can be guaranteed that losing that data due to zone failure would be quite rare.
For a small business to setup systems and services with this much reliability would cost them a significant amount more time and money than what it would be to use the services available from Amazon Web Services.
Another great feature provided by the Amazon Web Services team is their availability of support. The support staff is available around the clock for issues that arise with any of the different services that Amazon offers. They also have continuous monitoring of all of their systems so that they can detect issues early, and pro-actively repair them as they are detected.
Because the number of cloud customers that Amazon Web Services has had over the years, they pretty much have seen every possible scenario of failure that could happen. So if a small business is running a service that fails in a non obvious way, someone at Amazon may have seen a similar issue in the past and can quickly help identify the issue and help the small business solve the problem.
Normally, the staff of a small business would not have as much knowledge around all the different failure modes of a locally managed or hosted service. So having a large team like the engineers at Amazon cloud could be very beneficial to the small business.
From a similar vein, the Amazon engineers have worked on large amounts of different projects spanning many different technologies and software. They have seen many examples of different systems and services that companies around the world, and even Amazon themselves would have built over the years.
They are able to take this knowledge and use it to help small businesses best plan and architect a new design that they may be working on or new service that they want to provide. With their help in planning these types of systems, it can help save a lot of time and money for the small business by having it built right the first time, making the system or service more reliable, and making it easier to maintain and monitor.
Attending the developer conference that Amazon hosts every year, Re-Invent, is also probably a good idea for small businesses, as they would be able to meet and discuss things with Amazon engineers directly, as well as other AWS customers that may be working with similar technologies. The knowledge gained at one of these events can be extremely beneficial to the staff of a small business, especially when starting out with a new project.
Starting a new project on a cloud like Amazon Web Services is really a game changer when comparing it to how this type of thing used to be done. Previously the team would need to work out an estimate of the hardware and software involved to get a proof of concept up and running. They would then need to place the order, wait for the hardware and software to arrive, and then assemble and install everything before they could start testing the new proof of concept.
With the cloud, this can be done in minutes, as a virtual machine can be started on demand whenever the cloud customer wants. The sizing of the machine initially can also be done with less care, since if the machine was too big for this project, it can easily be replaced with a smaller machine. If the machine didn’t have enough capacity, it again can be replaced with a much larger and more powerful machine.
Also, once the proof of concept is finished, the virtual machines that were stood up for the testing can simply be shut off and the small business will incur no further costs for those machines. This helps increase the speed of testing for a small business, making time to market much faster than what was available before the cloud.
Another thing for a small business to consider is the breadth of services available to Amazon Cloud Service users. There are not only virtual machines and storage services available. There are managed databases which are fully maintained, configured, and patched by the Amazon engineering team. There are DNS services like Route 53 or queue based services like Simple Queue Service.
Amazon also provides several email related services like Amazon WorkMail or Amazon Simple Email Service. For something a little different, there are many machine learning related services like Amazon Polly, Amazon Lex, and Amazon SageMaker. These are all things that most small businesses would never be able to build, host and maintain themselves.
Even for the developers that a small business might have on staff, there are developer related services like Amazon CodeCommit, Amazon CodePipeline, or Cloud 9. There are services that can make almost any task easier for many users, and they are usually offered at a pretty good price.
Services like Amazon Simple Storage Service are another good reason for small businesses to use the cloud provided by Amazon Web Services. This service provides practically unlimited storage capacity at incredibly low prices. The data is replicated across at least three different availability zones in a region in order to provide eleven nines of durability. This means that even if the small business has one million objects stored in Amazon S3, they would likely only ever lose a single file once in one hundred thousand years!
This service also offers many other features to help reduce costs when data is used less frequently by having the data archived, or reducing the costs when 99.99% of availability isn’t really required under certain use cases. The objects can also be automatically set to delete themselves after a certain amount of time, saving the time from having to do the same manually.
For a small business to have something similar, they would need to have a local storage system that is likely configured in some sort of RAID configuration, as well as have many backup and spare drives available in case of drive failures. Also, the setup would need to be hosted in several different locations to prevent losing data if a single area were to have some kind of disaster. This can be quite expensive and difficult to setup for a small business compared to doing the same with Amazon Web Services.
One other huge advantage for a small business when using the Amazon Web Services cloud is the ability to take advantage of all of the innovations that Amazon is creating in their cloud. They have a staff of thousands of engineers continuously working on making their services better, faster, and cheaper. All of this benefit becomes available to their customers using the cloud.
This lets the small business focus on what they do best instead of needing to worry about innovating on their technology stack. As new services are designed, built, and tested by the cloud for their customers, a small business can take advantage of these new technologies when it makes sense for the small business to do so.
The pace of new features, and new services that the Amazon Web Services team releases things is hard to keep up with, but sometimes, there can something new that is released that can help improve a small businesses bottom line as it makes them more efficient at doing their job for their customers.