Amazon is trumpeting the launch of its AWS Marketplace, but what does the storefront really offer that Amazon Web Services customers didn’t have before? While the Marketplace is another boost for AWS, it’s a lot less exciting than some folks are making it out to be.

If you’ve missed the hoopla over the marketplace, here’s the skinny: Amazon is putting all the Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) from vendors in a one-stop shop with pricing, reviews and a simple interface for finding the software you want. Basically, Amazon has taken a virtual application marketplace to a slightly higher level to let users pick virtual appliances and launch them on EC2.

The Good

Amazon is making it much easier for users to find AMIs that they might want to use. It’s very convenient to be able to search for, say, a AMI with Node.js pre-configured and be able to launch it right away. So if you’re in need of a single server instance of a specific application, the AWS Marketplace is pretty nifty. But it’s really more of a convenience store than a full-blown marketplace, at least right now.

You get a full description of the AMI, its customer rating (if it’s been rated, few have been so far), base OS and so forth. You see what level of support is included with the image (if any), and in some cases you also see the estimated monthly cost.

This puts Amazon a little bit ahead of other cloud providers, which don’t have a big “marketplace” of supported applications. It’s a good move for Amazon and companies like BitNami that want to provide support for applications, or that want to offer software at a premium above the EC2 instance cost. Billing is simplified, so customers just pay through Amazon and the partners get their money from Amazon.

Why It’s Underwhelming

This is all good, as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go very far yet. Virtual appliances are nothing new. This makes it simpler to consume single-server applications, but still leaves a lot of configuration to the end users.

Consider, for instance, deploying Sharepoint with Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). If you look at the whitepaper that Amazon published on this (PDF), the architecture is much less simple than a single EC2 image. If your needs go further than a single EC2 image, the marketplace (at least right now) has nothing for you.

What would be really impressive is to see CloudFormation templates that provide highly available applications or more complex applications using Amazon RDS, and so on. We suspect that will come down the pike eventually, but the marketplace as it stands right now doesn’t really tap the potential of AWS.

But it does plant a flag for Amazon, and gives the company yet another feature over the competition. While its competitors are still working on catching up to Amazon on features, Amazon is rallying partners to deliver services on its infrastructure.

Does Amazon have a big leg up with the AWS Marketplace? Are you more likely to use the AWS cloud thanks to the market? We would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments.

(Image courtesy of Jonas M Luster via Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)