One of the interesting things about the Amazon success story is that the EC2 virtual server technology is often assumed to originally have been an overspill from Amazon’s own network and that Amazon sold the extra capacity that it had available and that was not being used at peak times. I guess we’ll never know the real answer to this, but an interesting post from Benjamin Black on of the original guys to work with Chris Pinkham on what was to become Amazon EC2 seems to dispel this as an urban myth.
Why is this important ? Because I still meet people who seem to believe this, and that Amazon could “take back” capacity if they needed it and therefore leave people using EC2 (i.e. them ) high and dry. So could this ever happen ? Well, not for this reason, but I think a better question to ask is “Could Amazon pull the plug ?”
“Of course not ” I hear you say, Amazon have just announced an SLA. Well, that is true, since October 23rd 2008 Amazon have had an SLA that guarantees they will make every reasonable effort to provide a 99.9% monthly uptime. If they breach this then there are a series of financial credits which may not make up for the money you lose through trade if your site is down. To be fair though, if any SLA is breached you have the same problem wherever the site / service / application is hosted (and remember SalesForce.com don’t provide an SLA, preferring to build trust in their service instead)
One of the things that you also sign up to when you use one of Amazon’s services is the click through license agreement. Delving into this provides more details of the answer to our core question, “could Amazon really pull the plug”. In section 3.3.2 of this agreement Amazon state the following:
3.3.2. Paid Services (other than Amazon FPS and Amazon DevPay). We may suspend your right and license to use any or all Paid Services (and any associated Amazon Properties) other than Amazon FPS and Amazon DevPay, or terminate this Agreement in its entirety (and, accordingly, cease providing all Services to you), for any reason or for no reason, at our discretion at any time by providing you sixty (60) days’ advance notice in accordance with the notice provisions set forth in Section 15 below.
In essence what this says is that if Amazon want to pull the plug, other than if you make a fundamental breach of contract (which are laid out in section 3.4) then they will give you 60 days notice. Great, so you get 60 days, right ? Well, not quite. Another section in the terms of service, “Modifications to this Agreement” allow Amazon to modify the terms of the whole agreement and once posted the new terms will be applicable 15 terms of after posting. Of course this change could include the section that says Amazon has to give 60 days notice of termination. OK, so now we get to it, so Amazon have to give you 15 days before they pull the plug ? Well, not quite, if they redefine their acceptable usage policy, and the new usage policy prohibits your service or application then you in effect get no notice before you get the plug pulled.
Extreme ? Of course, but the reality is that a service like Amazon (and SalesForce) is built on trust and if people don’t trust the service they won’t use it, Amazon and SalesForce both know this and work hard on creating services that have very little downtime and that are flexible and easy to use. This is why their usage ramp is going through the roof.