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Amazon's EC2 model and database-intensive apps

Is the EC2 model a good option for virtualizing database-intensive applications?

I'd appreciate and accept all your advice concerning virtualizing database-intensive applications and the cost. I was interested in Amazon's EC2 model, but it appears that Amazon's offering is not a self-scaling substitute for load balancing of an application designed for individual engines. That is, it offers individual virtual Pentium PCs. If this is true, we could not expect automatic scaling unless we complete development of our load balancing project first. Can you comment on EC2 and offer advice on other options (and the cost) for virtualizing database-intensive applications?
If I understand your question correctly, you want to know if Amazon's EC2 Web service is a viable solution to scale out one or a series of database-intensive applications. I think you may be looking for a magic bullet that does not exist. A lot of people are under the misconception that virtualization somehow provides automatic scale- out capabilities. While it is true that you can easily scale out to more virtual server instances you are still responsible to ensure that those instances know how to operate in tandem with each other. As you pointed out, unless your application is designed so that it can parallelize database operations across n-1 servers it will not reap the benefits of EC2. This is because at the moment EC2 only allows you to scale out -- adding more Amazon Machine Instances (AMI) to the mix, not scale up -- increasing the resources of a single AMI. So there are of course two solutions to this problem: 1) design your applications so that they can utilize multiple database servers at once or 2) as you said, design a load balancer to abstract the multiple database servers from the application, handling the parallalization automatically.

EC2 is a very interesting offering from Amazon, and I expect to see more projects like this crop up as open source virtualization solutions such as Xen (the software EC2 uses), KVM, and OpenVZ mature. As more for-rent compute farms like EC2 become available the competition will drive prices down, but for now the competition is small, so the current sellers can dictate the dollar amount you pay for this service. However, that said, the cost of EC2 is very reasonable, only .10 for each compute hour. That is only $72 for 30 days. There are also charges for amount of bandwidth consumed external to the cloud (.20/GB) and backing storage (.15/GB on Amazon's S3 storage model). You can create and configure 100 AMIs (although the number is limited to 20 in the beta) and only pay for those that are running. This allows you to configure several hundred database servers and only boot 3 initially. You can monitor your application and if database performance starts the monitor could react by booting more of your database AMIs.

How does EC2 compare to you virtualizing all of this yourself? Well, how cheaply can you do it? And do you care of someone else is hosting your data, or would rather retain that in house? Those are really the two questions that you need to answer. If the answers are "not very" and "I do not care" then by all means, use EC2.

Database servers are not always prime candidates for virtualization because of the high disk I/O they produce. However, depending on how Amazon has its AMIs configured on the back end, a lot of this lost I/ O can be recovered. An alternative would be to actually find a service like EC2, but instead of offering blank VMs it would offer a load-balanced database that your application could take advantage of. As you pointed out, you could build this yourself with EC2, MySQL, and your own load balancer. Is it cost effective? Do you have the time? These are questions I cannot answer because I do not know your business, but hopefully I have given you enough information that you can now answer them yourself with confidence.

Hope this helps!

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