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Is Amazon Getting Ready for PaaS with Simple Workflow Service?


Amazon has announced Simple Workflow Service (SWF), a service for orchestrating distributed and fault-tolerant tasks that are part of a workflow implementing a business process. Are the recently announced DynamoDB and SWF pieces of a bigger puzzle suggesting Amazon’s entering into PaaS cloud computing?

Amazon has announced the availability of a new service for building and running coordinated, distributed and fault-tolerant applications called Simple Workflow Service (SWF). The idea is to coordinate synchronous or asynchronous tasks constituting a workflow and running them in the cloud or on premises. SWF helps with executing various activities that may reflect a business process or are related in some way.

Amazon SWF makes use of several concepts:

  • Workflow – an automated business process
  • Actions – the individual tasks constituting a workflow
  • Workers – the actual code implementing actions; can be executable code, scripts, web service calls, human actions
  • Decider – coordinating the entire execution of the workflow

The user has the possibility to write the worker and the decider code in any language. The decider can run anywhere, including a desktop computer, instructing the SWF to execute the actions in a specific sequence and under certain conditions in order to carry out a workflow. SWF keeps tracks of workers’ progress and saves their state, providing the possibility to know what every worker is doing, how it completed its job, and what the results are.

There can be many uses for SWF. For example, NASA is using Amazon SWF for processing images received from Mars Rovers. Processing orders could be another example.

Many companies -Google, VMware, IBM, Microsoft, RedHat, Engine Yard, and others - are investing heavily in Platform-as-a-Service, the PaaS model being considered the future of cloud computing. Amazon, the largest cloud player is still a IaaS provider, but seems to be making steps into the PaaS direction. Firstly, it was Beanstalk, a development and application container for AWS, then it was DynamoDB, a NoSQL database running in the cloud. Krishnan Subramanian, a cloud computing analyst, wondered if DynamoDB was a step towards PaaS when Amazon announced the service in January:

I am completely clueless on where Amazon is going but if Amazon has a plan for PaaS (which I am sure they have because PaaS is the future of Cloud Services), DynamoDB is the first step for them to enter the game in the next iteration of PaaS.

The introduction of Amazon SWF made Subramanian express his conviction that indeed Amazon is preparing to enter into the PaaS game:

If DynamoDB was the first step to building next gen platform service, today’s release of Simple Workflow Service is the next critical piece to the puzzle. This powerful orchestration tool could turn out to be the most powerful part of Amazon next-gen platform toolkit.

If anyone thinks after today’s announcement that Amazon has no clue for the future dominated by PaaS, I think they are fooling themselves. By now, it is pretty obvious how Amazon is approaching the platform game and with this announcement, they are clearly showing their cards. Game on!!

It remains to see if Amazon is indeed getting up to speed for a full-blown PaaS offering, but chances they are. They are known for releasing features one by one as they are ready, so DynamoDB and SWF seem to be intermediary steps preparing Amazon’s entry into the PaaS market.

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