Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Amazon Web Services wishlist for the U-M

I'm serving on a University of Michigan task force that is looking at ways in which we can make cloud computing easier for faculty, students, and staff to consume.  This presupposes, of course, that at least some of the university community have research or business or other needs that would be well served by a cloud-type solution.

For those of us that are already using the cloud to solve a few different problems -- off-site archival copies, disaster recovery solution for delivery systems, among others -- the problem isn't so much how to get us to use cloud computing, but how the U-M can help us get the most value for our dollar.

With this in mind I offer my Amazon Web Services (AWS) wishlist for the U-M:

  • Build Amazon Machine Images (AMI) for 64-bit Red Hat Linux (and, optionally, 64-bit Windows Server). Put any security or system or software goodies into the image that would be available to the entire university community (IT directors, grad students, casual users). This saves us from needing to build and maintain our own AMI or, worse, using one from a third-party.
  • Deploy an AWS Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) that connects our own little piece of AWS “cloud space” to the rest of campus over a secure link. Allow instances running within this VPC to access infrastructure such as Active Director. Treat this part of AWS as if it were just another network (or data center) on campus. This enables us to deploy services dependent upon campus infrastructure in AWS more easily.
  • Deploy an AWS Direct Connect between the VPC and UMnet (or Merit [the State of Michigan research and education network] or Abilene [Internet2's national network]). This grants us a fast, secure, inexpensive pipe for moving content between campus and AWS. We could start to deploy I/O-intensive resources in AWS more readily if we don’t have to pay for the bits individually.
  • Implement an agreement where AWS has one customer (the University of Michigan) rather than many. (ICPSR alone has four different identities within AWS, largely so that we can map expenses from one identity to a university account.) This one customer would have different sub-accounts, and the usage across ALL of the sub-accounts would roll up to set pricing. ICPSR stores over 1TB of content in AWS S3 for example, and so our GB/month rate is $0.11. Other uses at U-M who store content in AWS S3, but less than 1TB, are paying over $0.12/GB/month. That is only a small amount more than $0.01/GB, but it adds up over ALL accounts each month.
  • Explore the feasibility of allowing one to use U-M credentials (via Shibboleth?) to access key web applications at AWS, such as the AWS Management Console. We currently have to provision a separate email address and local (to AWS) password.
  • Explore the feasibility of using an AWS Storage Gateway as a means to deliver additional storage needs for bursty or short-lived storage needs. It would be fabulous if we could buy nearly unlimited space in the U-M storage cloud. This is more feasible if we can use AWS storage for short-lived "bursts" of temporary storage.

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