Public cloud hosting in e-commerce: when is Amazon Web Services worthwhile – and when not?

Public clouds have long been standard in large online companies. For small to medium-sized e-commerce retailers, the question often arises when providers such as Amazon Web Services represent an alternative.

What does Amazon Web Services offer?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides more than 50 infrastructure services, including computing power, storage, networking, and databases, to global data centers. These services are available on demand in a few seconds at pay-as-you-go prices. They can be flexibly interconnected like building blocks via API interfaces and the website (AWS Console). Thus everyone can start their own servers within a short time at AWS. In addition to the usage-based model, AWS also offers classic runtime models of one to three years or the somewhat unusual model of “spot instances”. Similar to an auction, this can “bid” for unused computing power, which allows skillful use of AWS resources at a fraction of their list price for a limited time.

What sets AWS apart from the conventional hoster?

Conventional hosters offer computing power in the form of physical or virtual servers, pre-assembled with operating systems and often equipped with additional software. In conjunction with value-added services, such as configuration tools, management, support, agency features or domain management, these servers or webspaces can be used “out of the box”. The management takes place by the hoster and can go depending on the supplier of hardware with root servers, over operating system with the Managed server up to the application. Often – though not always – conventional hosters work with a runtime model, so the servers are rented for a certain period of time.

In contrast, Amazon Web Services works on the principle of “shared responsibility”. This simply means that AWS provides the infrastructure such as servers, databases or security mechanisms, but the implementation and management of which are entirely the sole responsibility of the user: from setup and management of the operating system to monitoring the application or the entire system.

What are the reasons for using AWS?

1) Flexible adaptation to your own needs

As a result of the computing power available at any time, the usage-based billing and the large number of integrated services, AWS increases its technical range of action enormously as an online retailer. This makes it quickly irrelevant, whether a Black Friday, Christmas or a season start is pending. It does not have to be complicated server changed, or haggled with the provider over a temporary expansion of capacity. Adjustments of the hard disk sizes, RAM or network throughput are possible at any time, even without failure. Capacity limits thus lose their terror.

2) Use of multi-server environments

The decision to switch from a single server to a multi-server system (cluster) can have many different reasons, be it the computing power that reaches its limits or the need for greater reliability. While these requirements require many hosters to either decline, offer simple failover solutions or scalable cloud-wrapped virtual servers, vendors like Amazon Web Services are now at their best. Individual services such as servers, databases, caches or load balancers can be elegantly linked to architectures using program code (Infrastructure as Code). This means that the most varied scenarios for e-commerce, CMS or SaaS can be flexibly displayed and adapted without necessitating a further change of the technical platform.

3) Hosting around the world

AWS operates data centers around the world – from Germany and Ireland to the Americas, Asia and Australia – that can be used technically through identical interfaces. This makes it easy for a German online retailer to become active worldwide without having to search for individual hosting partners on site, for example. Even a commitment in China is possible. AWS is one of the few international hosters to operate a data center in Beijing.

What are the reasons for not using AWS?

Amazon Web Services are by no means without alternative and their benefits make a change to the public cloud imperative: For e-commerce retailers with low requirements for flexibility, scalability and redundancy, for example, the “sufficient” single server or web space, is a move to a similar dimensioned AWS server initially no improvement. Even the pure hardware costs are by no means automatically cheaper – as you can quickly see by a comparative look at the AWS price lists. Only with a clever combination of services and pricing models, the benefits of Amazon Web Services actually come into play. Finally, it should be stated


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