Amazon recently released a new offering called the Elastic Beanstalk. At its heart, it is a simplified interface to EC2 and its ancillary services (load-balancing, auto-scaling, and monitoring integrated with alerts), along with an Amazon-maintained AMI containing Linux and Apache Tomcat (an open source Java EE application server), and a deployment mechanism for a Java app (in the form of a WAR file), which notably adds tighter integration with Eclipse, a popular IDE.
Many people are calling this Amazon’s PaaS foray. I am inclined to disgree that it is PaaS (although Amazon does have other offerings which are PaaS, such as SimpleDB and SQS). Rather, I think this is still IaaS, but with a friendlier approach to deployment and management. It is developer-friendly, although it should be noted that in its current release, there is no simplification of any form of storage persistence — no easy configuration of EBS or friendly auto-adding of RDS instances, for example. Going to the database tab in the Elastic Beanstalk portion of Amazon’s management console just directs you to documentation about storage options on AWS. Almost no one is going to be running a real app without a persistence mechanism, so the Beanstalk won’t be truly turnkey until this is simplified accordingly.
Because Elastic Beanstalk fully exposes the underlying AWS resources and lets you do whatever you want with them, the currently-missing feature capabilities aren’t a limitation; you can simply use AWS in the normal way, while still getting the slimmed-down elegance of the Beanstalk’s management interfaces. Also notably, it’s free — you’re paying only for the underlying AWS resources.
Amazon exemplifies the idea of IT services industrialization, but in order to address the widest possible range of use cases, Amazon needs to be able to simplify and automate infrastructure management that would otherwise require manual work (i.e., either the customer needs to do it himself, or he needs managed services). I view Elastic Beanstalk and its underlying technologies as an important advancement along Amazon’s path towards automated management of infrastructure. In its current incarnation, it eases developer on-boarding — but in future iterations, it could become a key building-block in Amazon’s ability to serve the more traditional IT buyer.