Amazon Web Services re:Invent 2018

Last week, Amazon made the most significant announcements at its flagship event re: Invent 2018 and making itself an unstoppable juggernaut.AWS re:Invent 2018 – A Game ChangerWith the announcements highlighted here, Amazon is taking a multi-front battle with the biggest names in the IT equipment industry. Given its technical and financial resources, aggressiveness and cloud market dominance, AWS represents an acute threat to each of them. For the IT vendors/leaders, and cloud users, Amazon re: Invent was an annual firehose of new announcements, product releases, feature updates and cross spectrum of developer platforms, applications, and infrastructure. A conference with a portfolio, so vast several key areas stand out:

  1. Hybrid on-premise cloud infrastructure and services.

  2. Enterprise IT management and governance services – making the cloud safe and cost-effective for the enterprise.

  3. Machine Learning Services and Performance Optimization.

  4. Bridging Edge and IoT services with Cloud services.

Amazon’s open embrace of Hybrid IT operating model and use of AWS’s custom components are simultaneously independent and complementary. Amazon re: Invent 2018 marked a major milestone as it announced significant investments and commitments in each of the above growth areas by openly challenging its competitors on several fronts with a breadth of products and technology that is phenomenal and astonishing.

1. ARM-based chips make debut for cheaper cloud workloads replacing the semiconductor giant Intel:

The New Arm based Amazon Graviton now powers AWS new cloud compute EC2 A1 instances acting as the first EC2 instance, featuring 64 bit Arm Neoverse cores and custom silicon by Amazon. Amazon EC2 will now be offering VMs running on ARM-based processors through the new A1 instances. The Graviton processors are custom designed by Amazon using its deep expertise in developing solutions for scalable computing applications. The chips are designed to deliver performance, optimisation of cost and reduction in power usage. Until recently, these machines were running on Intel-powered Xeon Processors. Graviton puts the AWS imprimatur on ARM servers, which the release of AMD EPYC instances does the same for Intel’s rejuvenated competitor in the x86 market. Combined with Intel’s festering semiconductor process miscues and the ongoing search for a CEO, AWS makes 2019 a very rough year for the chip giant.

2. Amazon Hybrid Architecture – VMware and AWS are building one Cloud for both the Platform:

Applications in virtual machines and in containers will be free to mingle on and off-premises in this new, semi-hybridised version of Amazon’s walled garden cloud. As a next-gen MSP, one of the core challenges for which we solve is the intelligent integration of different modalities, platforms and vendors. This year, attendees were looking forward to the integration of public and private cloud deployments. Meeting this challenge is VMware Cloud on AWS, an integrated cloud offering jointly developed by AWS and VMware, delivering a highly scalable, secure and innovative service that allows organisations to seamlessly migrate and extend their on-premises VMware vSphere-based environments to the AWS Cloud. Of course these multi-cloud and hybrid deployments are complex and present even cloud-mature organisations with pain points. This is where Rackspace’s unbiased guidance, cost optimisation services, migration and cloud transformation strategies help maximise the benefits of VMware Cloud on AWS. VMware partnership is the direct competition to Microsoft Azure and Azure Stack in the market for tightly-integrated hybrid infrastructure and services. While IBM-Red Hat might prove another worthy competitor, they have sufficient integration hurdles to overcome that the risk to Microsoft and VMware-AWS is more potential than real.

3. Amazon accelerates Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning:

To address the high cost of inference, AWS at re: Invent introduced Amazon Elastic Inference and a new processor called AWS Inferentia. 150+ machine learning algorithms being made available in the AWS Marketplace. This will continue to grow. SageMaker RL – a remarkable step forward, allowing reinforcement learning (RL) and training of models through rewards over time. AWS is leveraging its investment in Annapurna; a chip design company acquired in 2015. The custom chips made by Annapurna are exploited by AWS to deliver cheaper inferencing of ML models. AWS Inferentia is a machine learning inference chip designed to provide inferencing for models developed in Apache MXNet, TensorFlow, and PyTorch deep learning framework.

The CEO said AWS SageMaker Ground Truth is a highly accurate training dataset that will reduce data labelling costs by 70 per cent. Typically, “you have to label objects to train the model you need to know what a stop sign or pedestrian is,” he explained. “It requires thousands of hours of footage, and you have to label everything.” This process is generally slow, expensive, and hard to achieve. “Most companies just don’t bother, and that makes it harder to build these computer vision models,” Jassy said. Amazon SageMaker, the ML PaaS, got many enhancements to make ML development faster and cheaper. The service has become the focal point for training, serving, and deploying machine learning models. Amazon has taken the lead in offering industry’s most comprehensive suite of AI and ML services. SageMaker Neo, SageMaker Ground Truth, Elastic Inference, Inferentia are some of the indicators of the AI innovation at AWS.

4. Database Galore:

Amazon’s move from Oracle – Werner Vogels does a show-and-tell. Amazon CTO dismisses databases built on “90’s” technology, arguing that cloud-native database services form a foundation for innovation. Werner Vogels gave an extensive history lesson of Amazon database services. Ultimately, the in-the-weeds talk illustrated why Amazon turned off its Oracle data warehouse and moved to Redshift. Vogels said, it was his “best day” at Amazon. In an apparent jab at Oracle, Vogels wrote off the 90’s technology behind most relational databases. Cloud native databases, he said, are the basis of innovation. Vogels explained how cell-based architectures minimise the impact of failures, stressing, “Everything fails all the time.” He walked through the scaled, distributed nature of Aurora, explaining its failure recovery features. He called DynamoDB “the foundation for internet scale performance.” Redshift, meanwhile, has become 3.5X faster in just the last six months, thanks to optimisations that came from Amazon’s “deep look under the cover,” Vogels said. Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec, GM of S3, joined Vogels on stage to tout the design resiliency of S3. “We’ve never seen the loss of a data center, but we build our systems knowing it can happen,” she said.

5. Amazon Enters the Blockchain Market:

Entering the growing global blockchain market, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced Managed Blockchain service and a Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) to help companies manage business transactions that require full auditability. Amazon Managed Blockchain makes it cost-effective for customers to create and manage secure blockchain networks that can scale to support thousands of applications running millions of transactions. It supports two popular open source blockchain frameworks – Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric. In addition to a new managed blockchain service for those looking to build applications based on distributed trust, the Quantum Ledger database (QLDB) was announced (serverless, of course) for those looking for centralised trust-based solutions. QLDB democratises something pretty complex and provides a solution for businesses needing a 100 per cent proven audit trail as it’s append-only/immutable and cryptographically authenticated. The other big news in database-land was TimeStream, a new time series-based database that should prove a godsend to anyone working with large streaming data volumes (think IoT data collection for ML purposes).

6. Amazon announces new capabilities to build IoT Applications and to act on the data at the Edge:

AWS unveiled a suite of newly designed tools for making it easier to develop and run IoT applications.

  1. IoT SiteWise:

    Available in preview, AWS IoT SiteWise is a managed service that will make collection and organisation of data from industrial equipment easier. It can be used to identify industrial waste, a breakdown of equipment and processes, defects in products etc.

  2. IoT Events:

    IoT Events is a yet another managed service by AWS that makes it easier to detect and respond to events coming from IoT Sensors and applications. It can identify operational issues, trigger alerts, slowdowns etc. and can notify support teams quickly. The service is available in preview.

  3. IoT Greengrass connectors:

    AWS IoT Greengrass allows users to bring their local compute, data caching, messaging, sync and ML inference features and capabilities to the edge devices. The new features in IoT Greengrass will now include connectors to third-party applications and other AWS services. This service has been made available.

  4. AWS IoT Things Graph:

    Available in preview, AWS IoT Things Graph provides a simple way for developers to let them connect devices and web services to build new IoT applications. The service is available in preview in US West (Oregon), EU (Ireland), US East (Northern VA) regions.

To summarize, I have highlighted some of the major announcements made by Amazon at re: Invent has caught the Industry and its ecosystem by surprise with its entry into new and niche domains while significantly enhancing its existing services. The gap between Amazon and its competitors has become much wider, a fierce battle to fight and keep them awake at the leviathan they are up against.

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