Known as "elastic block storage," the upgrade has been available since April in a private, limited beta and has been described at length in Amazon blog posts. Now, the company says it's on the verge of releasing the new capability widely.
"In the coming weeks, Amazon EC2 will be launching a new persistent storage offering," the online retail giant said in an e-mail to EC2 users. The e-mail was posted on the Elastic Vapor blog, among others.
Elastic block storage allows you to attach persistent, unformatted or "raw" data storage to "instances" of applications or services that reside on EC2. Previously, users could allocate up 1.7 terabytes of attached storage to the EC2 applications they were running, but as soon as the instance was shut down, the storage went away also.
Now you can create non-temporary data storage volumes of up to 1 terabyte, available through the EC2 application but not directly associated with it. It's like "having a really big SAN [storage-area network] in the cloud," writes Thorsten von Eicken, CTO and founder of RightScale, on his blog.
The upgrade also allows developers to create a "snapshot" of the data that then resides on Amazon's S3 cloud storage system, eliminating the risk of losing data when an EC2 instance disappears. That should help remove enterprise IT pros' reservations about porting critical apps to the cloud.
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Along with a clutch of startups, Amazon is adding new tools and capabilities to its cloud offerings to make them more palatable to CIOs with high requirements for security and reliability. That effort was not helped by an eight-hour outage of S3 last month that had users complaining on blogs and forums.
"I was under the apparently false impression that S3 was a high-availability service," wrote a commenter on the Amazon Web Services S3 forum, posting under the name "iehiapk." "We may have to evaluate other services now."
Betting that businesses will move workloads to the cloud if they have IT tools that are sophisticated enough to manage the process, startup Elastra introduced its Cloud Server in March. Available for Amazon's EC2 service, the software bundle comprises a server-based design and run-time application.
Along with the new storage upgrade from Amazon, such tools should make cloud-based applications far more powerful and reliable, addressing some of the concerns of CIOs still viewing the Web-based computing movement warily.
"It gives them more flexibility to run more apps, particularly database applications, up in the cloud," said Jonathan Buckley, chief marketing office of cloud startup Nirvanix.
Von Eicken put it more forcefully: the addition of persistent storage to Amazon's EC2 adds enterprise-grade features that equal any conventional, in-house data storage in capabilities and flexibility.
"It's now a fait accompli: the cloud adopters will have much more computing horsepower and flexibility at their fingertips than those who are still racking their own machines."