How is AWS different from NeCTAR?

The National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) project aims to enhance research collaboration and research outcomes by providing a "private cloud" service operated by participating universities to Australian researchers. NeCTAR is federally funded by the Australian Government as a Super Science project co-financed by the Education Investment Fund and the Australian Research Sector. The University of Melbourne (UoM) is the lead agent appointed by the Commonwealth Government. 

There are some key differences between NeCTAR and AWS:

NeCTARAWS
Access to Services

NeCTAR is a private cloud service, where any user with an AAF login can access NeCTAR services.  Users are free to use as much or as little of the resources of NeCTAR based on a project quota.

Initially, each user is given a private project quota of 2 cores. Users can apply through a merit allocation process to create a project with a larger quota of cores, volume storage and object storage.

 

AWS is a public cloud service where any user with a valid email address and credit card can apply for an account.

AWS services are billed monthly and the cost of AWS services is calculated based on the amount of AWS resources used over a period of time.  For example, if a user uses an m1.small instance for 2 hours, they will be charged for 2 hours of use at the end of the month.

AWS offers a range of pricing models, including:

  • On Demand instances which are paid using a fixed price by the hour
  • Spot pricing, which are paid for by bidding for instances on the spot market
  • Reserved instances, which have a lower fixed price and a 1 year or 3 year agreement
AWS charging depends on the service.
QCIF is able to offer access to grants to use AWS (see here).
Compute

Users of NeCTAR can create virtual machines of a range of different sizes, between 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16 virtual CPUs.  General purpose vCPUs are currently available.
Custom flavours (e.g. 32 core flavours, flavours with large boot disks, etc) are also possible (with approval).

Some nodes are able to offer more specialised compute services, such as high memory flavours, high I/O flavours and GPU flavours.

Users at the moment are limited to Linux based instances using freely available versions of Linux (i.e. Centos, Ubuntu, Scientific Linux, SUSE and Fedora). 

Users of AWS can create virtual machines of a range of different sizes, between 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32 core virtual CPUs.

Users can choose between para- virtualised and hardware virtualised instances.

A range of flavours are available including T2 smaller instances, general purpose instance, high core count instances, high memory instance, high storage instances and GPU instances.

Users can choose between a wide variety of operating systems, including commercial (Windows, Redhat, SLES) and open source operating systems (e.g. Ubuntu).

Storage

NeCTAR offers a range of services for storing data, including:

  • Volume Storage based either on magnetic storage or SSDs (SSDs are only available on the NCI NeCTAR Node)
  • Object storage based on openStack Swift (Swift is only available on the Brisbane and Melbourne NeCTAR nodes)
  • Access to RDSI storage (including disk and tape) is available at some NeCTAR nodes
  • If a user wants a database, then they have to install it themselves.

AWS offers a wider range of services for storing data, including:

  • Volume Storage based either on magnetic storage, SSDs or SSDs with a guaranteed rate of IOPS
  • Object storage based on S3
  • Archival storage based on Glacier
  • AWS storage gateway for linking on premises storage to AWS storage
  • Relational Database Services (RDS) for MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle and Postgress
  • DynamoDB based NoSQL database service
  • RedShift based data warehouse service
  • Elasticache based in memory database 
Networking

NeCTAR issues every VM instance with a public IP address.

If users want access to other services, such as load balancing or a VPN, they need to install and manage the software themselves.

AWS offers:

  • Elastic IP (EIP) addresses and Elastic Network Interfaces (ENI) that can be re-assigned to different services as required
  • Route 53 DNS management service
  • Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) with private address spaces
  • AWS Direct Connect service for ensuring a guaranteed level of bandwidth
  • Elastic Load Balancing
  • VPN support via AWS Direct Connect 
Other Services

NeCTAR offers other services, including:

  • HEAT based template deployment of services (in beta)
  • Ceilometer based service metric collection (in beta)

AWS offers a broad range of other services including:

  • Cloudfront based content distribution network
  • Deployment management services such as Elastic Bean Stalk, CloudFormation and Ops Works
  • Monitoring services, such as Cloud Watch and Cloud Trail
  • Data processing services, such as Data pipeline, Elastic Map Reduce,  Kinesis, Elastic Transcoder
  • Messaging and Orchestration Services, such as SNS, SES, SQS and SWF
  • Mobile services, such as Cognito and Mobile Analytics 
  • Desktop services, such as App Stream and Work Spaces
  • File sharing services, such as Zocalo
Security

NeCTAR uses a shared responsibility model.  NeCTAR nodes are responsible for physical security of the facilities it operates and securing the virtualisation infrastructure.  The customer is responsible securing any applications they install and any operating systems they operate on NeCTAR.

AWS uses a shared responsibility model.  AWS is responsible for physical security of the facilities it operates and securing the virtualisation infrastructure.  The customer is responsible securing any applications they install and any operating systems they operate on AWS.

AWS offers a range of services to help users secure their system, including:

  • Identity and Access Management (IAM) service for securing access to AWS accounts
  • 2 factor authentication for AWS accounts
  • Hardware Security Modules (HSM) for physically securing cryptographic keys
  • Encrypted Volume Storage and Encrypted Object Storage

 

Support Support to users is provided on a best effort basis. AWS provides a range of tiers of support, including developer support, business level support and enterprise level support.  The higher tiers of support have much short response times.


When would you use AWS instead of NeCTAR?

There are a number of use cases we can presently see:

  • Cloud Bursting: If your research project is unable to access sufficient resources on NeCTAR on in-house HPC, then AWS may be a useful complement to existing resources to support additional workloads on a temporary basis.
  • Diversity of Services:  AWS offers a broader range of services out of the box compared to NeCTAR.  Some researchers may find these services useful.  Please see the differences listed above.
  • Improved Availability: By using a combination of availability zones and services such as elastic load balancing and auto scale groups, researchers can construct highly available and elastic services.