European availability zone opens for Amazon EC2

In a move that will extend the Web's biggest cloud to encompass much of the globe, the company that began as an online bookstore is opening its commercial server hosting platform to the EU.

The basic Amazon EC2 cloud services platform is now open to customers in the European Union. While this will bring Amazon's managed hosting alternative closer to potentially thousands more customers, they'll be paying slightly higher fees than in the US.

Instance charges -- the flat rates for each guest operating system hosted within the EC2 cloud -- will be 10% higher for EC customers than for those in the US. Prices will range from 0.11 cents (in US currency) per hour for the smallest virtual CPU to 0.88 cents per hour for the highest capacity virtual CPU, compared to 0.10 cents and 0.80 cents, respectively, in the US. Data transfer rates, however, will be identical, with input rates at 0.10 cents per GB, and declining output rates starting at 0.17 cents per GB for the first 10 TB, down to 0.10 cents after the first 150 TB.

Under the EC2 system, a customer either builds a virtual machine instance (what Amazon calls an AMI) or copies one from a library of AMIs custom-built to perform certain tasks. For now, European customers will have the Linux- and Unix-based AMIs available to them, which were the basic types Amazon offered while EC2 was still in beta. EC2 emerged from beta late last October, with the intention of adding Windows Server 2003-based AMIs soon thereafter.

Those WS2K3 AMIs are now available, but only to US-based customers. Instance charges carry about a 25% premium over Linux AMIs, though transfer fees stay the same. Amazon said this morning it intends to add Windows AMIs to the European slate soon.

Amazon joins a handful of other companies offering cloud services based in Europe (as opposed to the US or Asia) to European customers. But one distinctive difference is that EC2 is capable of hosting everyday operating systems, which can feasibly run the gamut of server applications that run outside the cloud every day. Last March, IBM opened its Idea Factory for Cloud Computing; but its blue sky approach thus far has focused that group's efforts largely upon the fostering of new cloud-specific applications that may eventually serve customers, through business models yet to be determined.

Last September, cloud computing provider 3Tera partnered with a leading UK-based outsourcing service, DNS Europe, to offer businesses a platform for both the development and the deployment of custom outsourced applications. But that business model relies on the outsourcing element -- the idea that someone else will design, execute, and manage a new way of working, on business' behalf, on a continental computing grid. Amazon, meanwhile, is offering a way for businesses to deploy the applications they already have, using business logic that has already been devised, on a utility scale that seems unquestionably manageable.

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