Cloud Computing Infrastructure — Compute on AWS

Neal Davis
4 min readApr 15, 2024

In the realm of cloud computing, understanding the foundational components is crucial for those beginning their journey in this vast and dynamic environment. Among the core pillars of cloud infrastructure — storage, networking, and compute.

This article focuses on compute, aiming to shed light on the basic concepts of compute as it is implemented on Amazon Web Services (AWS). For novices in cloud computing, this exploration into compute will serve as your guidepost.

The Essence of Compute

At its core, “compute” encompasses the hardware resources necessary for running applications. These include:

  • Processor or Central Processing Unit (CPU): Often referred to as the “brains” of a computer, the CPU executes instructions from software applications, performing calculations and tasks that drive processes.
  • Memory or Random Access Memory (RAM): Serving as high-speed storage on an integrated circuit chip, RAM temporarily stores data for quick access by the CPU, facilitating efficient processing.
  • Storage: This component houses the operating system files and, optionally, data. It can be a local disk within the computer or a network-attached storage using protocols like iSCSI.
  • Network: The hardware interface — such as physical network interface cards (NICs) — that enables connectivity with other servers, facilitating data exchange and communication.

These components, when assembled, form a compute server capable of hosting an operating system (OS) like Microsoft Windows or Linux, complete with virtualized networking capabilities.

Virtualization and Hypervisors: The Heart of Cloud Compute

A pivotal advancement in computing, particularly within cloud environments, is virtualization, enabled by a piece of software known as the hypervisor. This technology abstracts the physical hardware, allowing for the creation of virtual machines (VMs) or “instances,” each with virtualized CPU (vCPU), memory, and storage resources. These VMs can run different OSs, isolated from one another, on the same physical hardware, maximizing efficiency and flexibility.

Hypervisors: The Two Main Types

  • Type 1 Hypervisors: Installed directly on the physical hardware, these are known as “bare-metal” hypervisors, offering enhanced performance and security. Examples include VMware ESXi and Microsoft Hyper-V.
  • Type 2 Hypervisors: These run on top of a host operating system, introducing an additional layer between the virtualized environment and the physical hardware. VMware Workstation and Oracle Virtual Box are common examples.

AWS’s transition from the Xen hypervisor to an internally developed solution based on Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) technology — a Type 1 hypervisor — highlights the platform’s commitment to leveraging advanced virtualization technologies for optimal performance and security.

Compute on AWS: The Role of Amazon EC2

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is AWS’s flagship service for providing resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It allows users to launch VMs with various configurations of vCPU, memory, and storage, tailored to specific workload requirements. These instances facilitate the flexible, on-demand provision of compute resources, embodying the essence of cloud computing’s scalability and efficiency.

Amazon EC2 Instances: A Closer Look

AWS categorizes EC2 instances into families, each optimized for particular workloads, such as compute-intensive tasks, memory-intensive applications, or general-purpose uses. This categorization ensures that users can select the most appropriate instance type for their needs, balancing performance and cost.

When deploying an instance, the selection of an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) is the first step. An AMI includes the OS, application server, and applications, forming a template for launching instances. AWS provides a variety of AMIs, enabling quick deployment of EC2 instances with the desired software stack.

Amazon EBS and Snapshots: Enhancing Data Persistence

Most EC2 instances utilize Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) for persistent storage. EBS volumes offer durable, block-level storage that can be attached to instances, supporting a range of performance characteristics to meet different application needs. Moreover, EBS snapshots enable incremental backups, facilitating efficient data recovery and duplication.

AWS Infrastructure Services: Supporting Compute

AWS offers a suite of services that complement EC2, enhancing the functionality and flexibility of compute resources:

  • Virtual Private Cloud (VPC): A VPC is a customizable virtual network that provides the networking layer for EC2 instances, allowing users to define a network space tailored to their requirements.
  • Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) and EC2 Auto Scaling: These services distribute incoming traffic across multiple instances and automatically adjust the number of instances based on demand, ensuring high availability, fault tolerance, and scalability.

Conclusion: Charting Your Path in Cloud Compute

For newcomers to cloud computing, grasping the basics of compute, understanding the role of hypervisors in virtualization, and navigating the comprehensive offerings of AWS, such as EC2, EBS, and supporting services, are fundamental steps toward harnessing the power of the cloud.

As you embark on this journey, remember that the flexibility, scalability, and efficiency of cloud compute resources are key drivers of innovation and growth in the digital landscape.



Neal Davis

Founder of Digital Cloud Training, IT instructor and Cloud Solutions Architect with 20+ year of IT industry experience. Passionate about empowering his students