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With Amazon Zocalo and Glacier, AWS held off tough competition in 2014

AWS adds Amazon Zocalo, upgrades to Amazon Glacier and EBS in 2014 as it tries to defend its No. 1 position in cloud storage.

Amazon Web Services Simple Storage Service celebrated its eighth birthday in 2014, a ripe age in the public cloud storage world. AWS is still considered the leader among public cloud players based on innovation and price, although it is feeling the heat from competitors such as Microsoft Azure.

"[Amazon Web Services] AWS has the most comprehensive array of services for large customer Web services," said Andres Rodriguez, CEO and founder of Amazon partner Nasuni. "They are the only player that has a specific protocol to deploy a large, complex cloud. They offer the best and richest functionality that can be customized. When we had to deploy a global file system [for Nasuni's cloud NAS services], we leaned heavily on Amazon."

Amazon added storage features at its AWS re:Invent conference in November. They include support for larger and faster volumes on its Elastic Block Store (EBS). The enhancements center on solid-state drive (SSD)-backed EBS, which was launched back in June in all AWS regions. Amazon calls SSD EBS the fastest-adopted service in its Amazon Web Services portfolio.

The expansion means customers will be able to create volumes via general-purpose SSDs that store up to 16 TB and provide up to 10,000 baseline IOPS compared to the previous 1 TB and 3,000 baseline IOPS. Its Provisioned IOPS SSD allows volumes to store up to 16 TB and provide up to 20,000 Provisioned IOPS, up from 1 TB and 4,000 Provisioned IOPS. Newly created volumes will be able to transfer a maximum throughput of 160 MB per second (MBps) for general-purpose SSD and 320 MBps for Provisioned IOPS SSD.

"With more room to store data and the ability to get to it even more rapidly, you can now run demanding large-scale workloads without having to stripe multiple volumes together or do a complex dance when it comes time to create and coordinate snapshots," Jeff Barr, chief evangelist at Amazon Web Services, wrote in a November blog post.

Upgrades to Glacier enhance archival cloud storage

Amazon in December added features for Amazon Glacier, its low-cost cold data storage service. Infrequently accessed data in Glacier can be accessed for 1 cent per gigabyte per month. Amazon has new data retrieval policies that can help manage data retrieval costs. It also added audit logging for Glacier with AWS CloudTrail.

Glacier allows users to retrieve up to 5% of their monthly storage, and now users have three options: Free Tier Only, Max Retrieval Rate and No Limit Retrieval.

Free Tier Only allows users to retrieve up to 5% of stored data per month on a pro-rated basis, with no retrievals accepted above that allowance.

The Max Retrieval Rate option allows users to "cap the retrieval rate by specifying a gigabyte per hour limit in the AWS management console. With this setting, retrieval requests that would exceed the specified rate will not be accepted to ensure a data retrieval cost ceiling," according to Amazon's website. Customers select the amount of GB per hour they would like to retrieve in the Glazier Console, and Amazon calculates an estimated monthly cost.

If a customer chooses No Retrieval Limit, Amazon will accept all data retrieval requests. Cost will vary based on usage.

Amazon adds partnerships in 2014

Amazon also continues to add support for third-party storage vendors. In November, it announced support for backup applications Veeam and Microsoft, and updated versions from Symantec. Those backup applications can be used with a Storage Gateway Virtual Tape Library to Amazon S3 and Glacier storage. Plus, the company announced general availability of Amazon Zocalo, its document storage and sharing for the enterprise service.

Whether or not Amazon will hold on to its lead in the cloud space still is a matter of speculation. While Google has to be taken seriously as a cloud competitor, most industry experts see Azure as Amazon's main rival now.

Lydia Leong, research vice president at Gartner's technology and service providers group, said it's not unusual for customers to choose AWS over Azure as the primary provider because AWS has a better feature set and a more mature and better ecosystem.

"Of course, many existing AWS customers are also adding Azure as a secondary provider," Leong said. "But it may well be that Microsoft's serious entry into this market has actually helped AWS in terms of absolute usage gains, more than hurt it. Overtime, Microsoft's share gains will come at AWS' expense."

Next Steps

Top news from AWS re:Invent 2014

Comparing Amazon and Microsoft cloud offerings

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IMHO, we'll look back at AWS in 2014 and realize that Q4 was their transition point from a basic IaaS service to when they started to really leverage their learning curve and architecture to offer complex services that utilize many pieces of AWS (RDS + S3 + Multi-AZ management, etc.)