Can I get a price check on this AMI?

I almost titled this entry “Cloud + Tivoli = $” in reference to the previous one (“Cloud + proprietary software = ♥”). In that earlier entry, I described the opportunity for Cloud providers to benefit themselves, their customers and software vendors by drastically reducing the frictions involved in using proprietary software (rather than open source software). The example I used was Windows EC2 instances. But it’s not the best example because there is a very tight relationship between Amazon and Microsoft on this. In many ways, these Windows instances are “hard-coded” in EC2: they have a special credential retrieval mechanism, their price appears in the main EC2 price list, etc. This cannot scale as a generic Amazon-mediated payment service for many software vendors.

Rather than the special case of Windows instances, the more interesting situation to look at is the availability of vendor-provided EC2 instances at a higher price. So I went to look a bit more into this, and I came out… very confused and $20 poorer.

Earlier in the week, I had noticed an announcement of IBM Tivoli on EC2 that explained that “the hourly price for Tivoli on EC2 includes an IBM license”. This seemed like a perfect place for me to start. My first question was “how much does it cost”? The blog entry doesn’t say. It links to a Tivoli on EC2 FAQ on the IBM site, which doesn’t say either (apparently IBM’s target customers work in recession-proof industries and do not “frequently ask” about prices). I then followed the link to the overall IBM and AWS FAQ but it just states that “charges will be announced by Amazon Web Services in the coming months”. Both FAQs explain how to use your traditional IBM license on EC2, but that’s not what I am after. At this point, I feel like a third-world tourist who entered a high-end jewelry store in Paris where no price is displayed. Call me plebeian, but I am more accustomed to Target-like stores with price-check scanners in the aisles…

I hypothesized that the AWS console might show me the price when I select the Tivoli AMIs. But no such luck. Tired of searching, and since I was already in the console, I figured I’d just launch an instance and see the hourly cost in my account usage. Since it comes in three versions (depending on how many targets you want Tivoli to manage), I launched one of each. Additionally, for one of them I launched instances of two different sizes so I can verify that the price difference is equal to the base EC2 price difference between such instance sizes. Here is what I got:

ec2-tivoli-bill

Of course, by the time my account usage page was updated (it took a few hours) I had found the price list which in retrospect wasn’t that hard to find (from Amazon, not IBM).

So maybe I am not the brightest droplet in the cloud, but for 20 bucks I consider that at least I bought the right to make a point: these prices should not be just on some web page. They should be accessible at the time of launch, in the console. And also in the EC2 API, so that the various EC2 tools can retrieve them. Whether it’s just for human display or to use as part of some automation logic, this should be available in an authoritative manner, without the need to scrape a page.

The other thing that bothers me is the need to decide upfront whether I want to launch a Tivoli instance to manage 50 virtual cores, 200 virtual cores or 600 virtual cores. That feels very inelastic for an EC2 deployment. I want to be charged for the actual number of virtual cores I am managing at any point in time. I realize the difficulty in metering this way (the need for Tivoli to report this to AWS, the issue of trust…) but hopefully it will eventually get there.

While I am talking about future improvements, another limitation is that there can currently only be one vendor per AMI. What if someone wants to write an application that runs on top of Oracle Middleware and package this as a paid AMI? It would be nice if Amazon eventually allowed the price of the instance to be split three-ways (Amazon, Oracle, application vendor).

In any case, now you know why this investigation left me poorer. The confused part comes from the fact that I had earlier experimented with Amazon Paid AMIs and it was an entirely different experience. Better in some ways: you get a clear price list upfront such as this.

ec2-paid-ami-price

But not as good in other ways: you have to purchase the paid AMI in a way that it is somewhat disconnected from the launch of the instance. And for some reason you paid for this directly out of your credit card as opposed to it going to your AWS usage account along with all your other charges. I would expect that many customers will use these paid AMIs are part of a larger EC2 deployment and as such it seems awkward to have it billed separately.

But overall, it’s the disconnect between the two that the confuses me. Are there two different types of paid AMIs (three if you include the Windows EC2 instances)? What am I missing?

The next step in my investigation should probably be to create an AMI and set a price on it, so I get the vendor’s view in addition to the consumer’s view. And maybe I can earn my $20 back in the process…

7 Comments

Filed under Amazon, Application Mgmt, Business, Cloud Computing, Everything, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Utility computing

7 Responses to Can I get a price check on this AMI?

  1. Jacques Talbot

    William,
    If you want to play around with the cloud pricing scheme, try Zeus load balancer, announced 15 days ago;
    Probably you would prefer to be billed “per request balanced” but not so, you have to buy a LB-VM per hour.
    However, you can buy a cheap option limited at 100 RPS, which is nice
    I still wonder what happens to the 101th request, can they really track this on a rolling second basis? :-)

  2. Jacques: maybe it’s like paying cash for gas: if you’ve pre-paid for $30, the pump starts to slow down once it’s given you $29 worth so it can stop at exactly $30… :-)

  3. Y

    William,

    I have been readying your blogs and some other articles as well. They are very helpful and interesting.Got a question for your previous work with worldwide scale, could you shoot me a E-mail?

  4. The availability of pricing info via the API is one of the most oft-requested features for EC2. It’s somewhat odd that you can do self-provisioning vi an API but the API doesn’t provide all the info you need to make the best provisioning decisions. Like, who knew that the new US-West region is priced the same as the EU region?

    Other missing EC2 wishlist entries:
    – ELB sticky sessions
    – Windows 2008
    – Better (reverse) DNS control
    – A US west coast region^W^W^W^W^W Additional regions around the world

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  7. This shows the disconnect between the flat-static catalog, the order system, and the subscription / metering system that will need to be addressed.

    The other issue you raise, is that of units of measure. Units of measure vary today depending on where the customer sees value. This needs to be also managed in the cloud catalog/order/subcription manager trinity.