Amazon Cloud Computing Support

Amazon continues to roll out cloud computing offerings at a blistering rate.  Today, they just announced a toolkit for Eclipse, the open source IDE.  I’ve been playing around a bit with S3, their storage service, and EC2, their virtual server offering (although I wish that they would offer SLES in addition to OpenSUSE.)  They also have a database and a content distribution network.  Not bad for a bookstore.

I recently talked to a friend about building out their data center and my immediate response was, “Why on earth would you want to build a data center?”  Of course, there are still good reasons but there are fewer and fewer of them each day.

One of the advantages of rolling your own physical data center is that you get to establish relationships with lovely vendors, like Novell.  You set up support agreements and we charge you for them; if something breaks, we’ll be on the phone or in person helping you fix it.  There’s different levels of this kind of break/fix support: we can put teams of engineers full-time at your data centers around the world, or we can give you a part-time person that you share with a half-dozen other customers.  That way, they know what’s going on in your specific environment and you have a person you rely on rather than some phone bank; sharing the resource, obviously, is cheaper.  There’s also off-site (remote) options with access to a named engineer who’s only available by phone, or direct access to specialists (L2 or backline in the jargon).  And so on down the list to regular 24×7 phone support; it’s a full menu.

I think Novell has very, very good support.  But what does Amazon’s support look like?

They offer Premium Support in addition to forums, FAQs, and a dashboard.  There are two levels of premium support  Gold gives you 24×7 phone support, so it’s really the only option for serious enterprise-class customers.  (Silver gives you 12×5 access to their trouble-ticketing system.)  But Gold really only gives you what is termed in the industry “Level 1” support; the frontline help desk personnel who are charged with answering the majority of (sometimes inane) questions.  If they determine that you’ve got a real problem that is beyond their abilities, you get ‘escalated’ to Level 2, a level populated by real nerds with specialized skills in particular technologies.  Level 1 does the triage, handles the first aid, and sends hard cases to specialists.  (Level 3, then, does bug fixes to the code to solve problems that aren’t resolved in L1/L2.  There is no Level 4, and sometimes the L1/L2/L3 distinctions get blurry; our L2 teams, for example, often write code that designated “L3” teams review and approve.)

So Amazon’s support at the moment is limited to what I would consider the most basic break/fix offering, even at their Gold level.  At $4,800/yr. (and up) with no annual contract, though, it’s cheap by enterprise standards, and is available for all of their software services.

But in the world of software (and software as a service) support, there’s a distinction between response and resolution.  The Amazon Gold support is a response-time service level.  That is, they commit to responding to your request in a specified time.  They do not commit to resolving that issue in a specified time.  Their response time service levels are one hour for high severity service requests with Gold support; normal is one business day.  (At least, I think that’s right — the terms are a bit unclear; I don’t understand the difference between what they call “high severity” and “urgent.”)

More later.