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5 things to watch for at Amazon cloud conference

Pretty much anyone watching the cloud computing market will tell you that Amazon Web Services is its 800-pound gorilla. Which means that this is a big week for the company: On Wednesday in Las Vegas, Amazon kicks off its first user conference, called AWS re: Invent.

Given the breadth of services it offers, Amazon is expected to be a major force in the cloud for the foreseeable future. But with its market-leading position comes questions about how the company runs its cloud, who is using it and what the future holds. From outages that have brought down Amazon services, to questions around the extent to which the company is seen as a trusted enterprise partner, AWS users and cloud watchers are keeping a close eye on the company.

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Here are some story lines to watch at the show:

What will AWS and Jeff Bezos announce? (If anything)

Amazon is one of the most innovative companies in cloud computing, Gartner reports in its recent Magic Quadrant. The company announces new features almost daily on its blog. Some of these are small, such as adding a "big data" category in its marketplace for feature applications that run in its cloud, to more significant announcements like price reductions, new virtual machine instance sizes and announcing that Windows Server 2012 is now available to run in Amazon's cloud.

Does AWS have a big announcement up its sleeve for its first user conference? We should know early as Andy Jassy, Amazon's SVP for AWS, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels and Amazon czar Jeff Bezos are all slated to give keynote addresses on Wednesday and Thursday.

Who's there?

Who are AWS customers? Are they Web 2.0 startups that do not want to invest in infrastructure, so they live completely in Amazon's cloud? Are they developers and engineers who are frustrated by their internal IT shop's ability to provide virtual machines for their latest project quickly, so they use AWS in the shadow of IT? Or are Amazon's customers enterprises that have official relationships with the company that are running their production and mission-critical workloads in Amazon's cloud? The answer is likely all of the above, but with an estimated 5,000 people attending the show, one thing to watch will be just who all these people are and what they're looking to get out of the show. 

Perhaps even more important will be to watch who Amazon is targeting this show toward; that will be an indication of where Amazon wants to take its cloud. With more than 150 sessions across 16 topic areas, it appears there will be something for everyone.

What is Amazon's partner ecosystem?

AWS has a robust marketplace of applications and services that are optimized to run on its cloud. It has management and analytics tools that tell you how Amazon resources are running in its cloud, as well as enterprise applications like SAP and Windows Systems Server 2012 that are hosted software stacks in Amazon's cloud. But what's the true extent of these partnerships, and how well integrated are these applications? 

Amazon has been somewhat quiet about its partnerships with big-name companies and even quieter on the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) front. It has announced agreements with Eucalyptus to ensure API compatibility with the company's private cloud solution, and BMC as a broker and support agent for Amazon cloud services. But what other partnerships will Amazon look to expand as it continues to push into the enterprise market? Perhaps the list of the sponsors of the show could be some indication. These include platinum sponsors Intel, Citrix, RightScale, Trend Micro and Xceedium, with other sponsors listed as CA Technologies, BMC, Red Hat, F5 and SunGard Availability Services, among others.

How super will supercomputing get in Amazon's cloud?

One trend from Amazon during the past year has been to increase its supercomputing and high-performance computing (HPC) options. Earlier this year the company rolled out new virtual machine instances that support cluster computing for high input/output (I/O) workloads, which are optimized for running databases and business analytics tools in Amazon's cloud. Providers such as Cycle Computing and others specialize in HPC products based on Amazon services. Just how high-performance will Amazon's cloud get and what does that mean for customers and the use cases of its product?

And another related topic to watch is how Amazon positions itself for developers. The company has already made moves in this area, with services like Elastic Beanstalk, an application development platform. AWS seems to be one of the go-to spots for hosting applications in the cloud, but it may be trying to become a place for developers to build and host applications as well, moving it more into the platform as a service (PaaS) role compared to its traditional infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model it has focused on. Just how Amazon positions itself as an application development platform, in which it would be competing with the likes of Microsoft's Azure, Google App Engine and VMware's Cloud Foundry, is another topic to watch.

What will Amazon say about the outages?

If Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the cloud market, then the elephant in the room is the service outages. The company has suffered three major outages in the past two years, including one this summer following major storms that ripped through the East Coast, and another after a piece of hardware caused a cascading memory failure. Amazon officials have said they don't expect to address this issue directly at the show, but there are a variety of sessions by heavy AWS users such as Netflix officials talking about how they have architected their systems for high availability and fault tolerance.

RELATED: 4 tips to survive the next cloud outage

AWS recommends that customers spread workloads across multiple availability zones (AZs), which are meant to be separate data centers within Amazon's cloud that are fault-tolerant from one another. But during the most recent outage some customers who use a multi-AZ strategy still went down, raising questions about just how well that strategy works.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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