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March 27, 2008 10:32 AM

Amazon offering more reassurance, tools to developers

Posted by Brier Dudley

Amazon Web Services introduced two new tools today, including one offering more assurance to its users. The new "Availability Zones" feature lets developers assign applications to Amazon's different regional processing centers, giving them more specific benefits from's redundancy.

I wonder if it will also shed light on the super secretive company's infrastructure. It's like pulling teeth to get Amazon to say anything at all about where its operations are located, particularly data centers.

Did the February S3 hiccup lead Amazon to decide that more transparency, as well as flexibility, is needed to reassure companies considering running key services on its network?

Only marginally, it turns out. The Availability Zones documentation suggests the company will let developers choose broad regions, like time zones. Here's the sample command:

$ ec2-describe-availability-zones
AVAILABILITYZONE us-east-1a available
AVAILABILITYZONE us-east-1b available
AVAILABILITYZONE us-east-1c available

That may help some developers, although I wonder if most will just let Amazon continue choosing the best place for their stuff.

It's also slim pickings for snoopy Amazon watchers. I'm not a developer and didn't go deep enough to find a master list of zones, but I'd love to see one. If new zones become available (in addition to the one Amazon is building here, down the street from The Seattle Times), they might hint at how global the network is becoming and if and where Amazon's building it up in new geographies like Europe and Asia.

The other new feature, "Elastic IP Addresses," also adds more resiliency to sites running on Amazon Web Services.

Here's how Amazon Web Services describes the additions:

Multiple Locations
Amazon EC2 now provides the ability to place instances in multiple locations. Amazon EC2 locations are composed of regions and Availability Zones. Regions are geographically dispersed and will be in separate geographic areas or countries. Currently, Amazon EC2 exposes only a single region. Availability Zones are distinct locations that are engineered to be insulated from failures in other Availability Zones and provide inexpensive, low latency network connectivity to other Availability Zones in the same region. Regions consist of one or more Availability Zones. By launching instances in separate Availability Zones, you can protect your applications from failure of a single location.

Elastic IP Addresses
Elastic IP addresses are static IP addresses designed for dynamic cloud computing. An Elastic IP address is associated with your account not a particular instance, and you control that address until you choose to explicitly release it. Unlike traditional static IP addresses, however, Elastic IP addresses allow you to mask instance or Availability Zone failures by programmatically remapping your public IP addresses to any instance in your account. Rather than waiting on a data technician to reconfigure or replace your host, or waiting for DNS to propagate to all of your customers, Amazon EC2 enables you to engineer around problems with your instance or software by quickly remapping your Elastic IP address to a replacement instance.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.