Re:Invent 2016 – Summary and main takeaways

News and Events / December 14, 2016

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Day 1 – Tuesday was Partner Day, where AWS announced new programs, competencies, and tools to support the growing AWS Partner Network.

As part of this, AWS introduced three new partner programs providing tools, training, and benefits to support and distinguish partners in Service Delivery, Public Sector, and VMware Cloud™ on AWS. There was also the announcement of some new AWS competencies that recognise APN partners specialising in Big Data and IoT. There was a major push across the day to use the new AWS Partner Solutions Finder, which helps customers easily search for and connect with APN Partners.

DNM were proud to be one of the first partners in the new AWS Public Sector Partner Program announced at re:Invent, which recognises partners with the experience and expertise in delivering government, education, and non-profit solutions around the world.

We are one of the few Managed Service Providers that holds this recognition, meaning we are qualified to provide government agencies working with sensitive data with the highest levels of security and performance set by stringent compliance standards. 

Day 2 – Early morning rise was accompanied by DJ Jen Lasher!

The first year we attended, AWS announced that the Cloud was “the new normal”. Last year, the focus was on “taking control of your own destiny”. In 2016 and 2017, the message is clear – using AWS will make you feel like you have been given super powers. This was backed up by many of the guest speakers reiterating the message that cloud has moved past transformation to business reality. Its new focus seems to provide AI to the masses. But which super powers do AWS users possess?

  • Supersonic speed: With AWS, you can move from idea to implementation faster than ever before
  • X-ray vision: With such power, you can understand your customers and your business better through Analytics, and eventually see the meaning inside your data
  • Immortality: If you want your business to be around for the long haul, you won’t be able to do it without evolving technologies
  • Flight: The freedom to fly, to build fast, and to better understand your data
  • Shapeshifting: It’s no longer just a choice between on-premises and the Cloud; you can also go Hybrid.

Summary of the announcements over the 2 days is captured in this slide by Mr Werner Vogels:vogels-slide

 

From a DNM perspective, while it appears there were many services, most of the announcements made were about improvements to existing services that had been announced in previous years. While this didn’t come as a surprise to us –  there was still some very impressive advances. (e.g. AWS Lambda (with c#), Lambda Edge, Snowball Edge, Snowmobile.) Also, these announcements were impressive in that they made us feel that the gap is widening between AWS and other Cloud Vendors, and that AWS will quickly become the leader in areas such as IoT and Artificial Intelligence. It’s not just about IAAS Larry!

With 280 conference sessions and 32,000 attendees, it was a very busy week. While there were a number of customer stories included in the Keynote, the conference was very much about the announcement of the new AWS services accompanied by very well attended technical sessions to cover the detail behind them. From our perspective, a differentiator for AWS is that they seem to create products internally, hone them internally and then open the doors when it is ready, enabling customers to consume the products as services, with an aim to have the products even better understood so that they can grow them.

The announcements

With DNM being a Cloud and Analytics solutions provider, here is a snapshot of the announcements that we felt were relevant for us:

AWS Storage Gateway price reductions

AWS announced that the Storage Gateway service now provides support for a virtual on-premise file server and that pricing would be reduced and simplified.

There will be 3 changes to pricing:

a) Storage prices for volume and virtual tapes will be reduced (up to 28% for volume and virtual tapes, and up to 43% for archived virtual tapes)

b) The monthly gateway fee will be replaced with pricing based on the amount of data you write to AWS. (In all regions, you will pay $0.01 per GB up to a monthly maximum of no more than $125 per gateway. AWS is offering the first 100 GB free for new customers to allow them to set up and try the service)

c) Virtual tape retrieval will move from rate-based fees to per GB pricing. (In all regions, you will pay $0.01 per GB of data retrieved) Learn more.

AWS Organisations: Centrally Manage Multiple AWS Accounts

AWS launched a new feature that will allow you centrally manage all of your organisation’s AWS accounts: AWS Organisations. DNM were part of this Beta program. While you are able to arrange your AWS accounts into groups called Organisational Units (OUs) and apply policies to OUs or directly to accounts. We felt it could be a bit more granular in terms what is required when mapping usage against accounts and customer billing. We have provided the feedback we expect further announcements on this into 2017. Learn more.

AWS Storage Gateway provides a file interface to objects in your Amazon S3 buckets

Until now, customers using the AWS Storage Gateway could access data stored in their S3 buckets by connecting as a local disk or by accessing a Virtual Tape Library. AWS now provides a virtual on-premises file server that allows you to store and retrieve Amazon S3 objects through standard file storage protocols. A welcome feature for our customers to avoid high restore costs. Learn more.

Amazon Aurora and Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL are now HIPAA-eligible services

Amazon Aurora and Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL are now included in AWS HIPAA compliance program. This means that you can use them to build HIPAA-compliant applications and store healthcare-related information across the healthcare analytics pipeline. Learn more.

Revolutionizing S3 Storage Management with 4 new features

AWS announced new features that help users better manage and analyse their storage. They include:

a) S3 Object Tagging – This feature allows users to manage and control access for Amazon S3 objects. S3 Object Tags are key-value pairs applied to S3 objects that can be created, updated, or deleted at any time during the object’s lifetime. With S3 Object Tags, users can create Identity and Access Management (IAM) and S3 lifecycle policies and customize storage metrics

b) S3 Analytics, Storage Class Analysis – This feature allows users to analyse storage access patterns for an entire bucket, prefix, or object tag. S3 Analytics automatically identifies the optimal lifecycle policy to transition less frequently accessed storage to SIA. Daily visualizations of storage usage can be exported to an S3 bucket for further analysis using your business intelligence tools, including Amazon QuickSight.

c) S3 Inventory – S3 Inventory is an alternative to Amazon’s S3 synchronous List API that can help users simplify and speed up business workflows and big data jobs. Output of your objects and their metadata comes in a CSV (Comma Separated Values) flat-file on a daily or weekly basis.

d) S3 CloudWatch Metrics – View real-time operations and performance to quickly identify and act on operational issues using CloudWatch alarms. This feature offers great flexibility for defining filters for metrics in order to align them with specific business applications, workflows, or internal organisations. Learn more.

Amazon WorkSpaces introduces Windows 10 desktop experience

Amazon’s virtual desktop solution Amazon WorkSpaces now includes bundles with a Windows 10 desktop experience, powered by Windows Server 2016. The Windows 10 bundles are in addition to the Windows 7 desktop experience, and are geared toward simplifying licensing while moving users to a modern operating system. Learn more.

AI for the Masses

This is a growing area and strategically, one that DNM will focus on. Data is powerful when you understand the data itself. Using the AI, Deep Learning, MXNet and Amazon Machine Learning platforms gives a variety of options. The goal is simple: more AI for the masses without having to try to build those services themselves.

A new set of AI services are launching with the first 3 being as follows:

Amazon Recognition – object recognition in images including face recognition with sentiment and face-matching
Amazon Polly – Text-to-Speech service – Text in, MP3 out. Not just audio, but life-like audio in multiple voices
Amazon LEX – Natural language understanding powered by deep learning that drives ALEXA

Those are just three specific new products being added to the ecosystem among many other improvements, and broader addition of services and features within the existing environments.

AWS X-ray

AWS announced the launch of a new service called CodeBuild, which is meant to automatically compile developers’ code and then run unit tests on it.

AWS will charge by the minute and automatically scale it in and out based on the needs of the workload, said Amazon vice president and chief technology officer Werner Vogels. The service can also be customised.

AWS is also introducing a service called X-Ray, which is meant to help developers with debugging their code. The service will show performance bottlenecks and show which services are causing issues. It will also show the “impact of issues for users,” Vogels said. Additionally, Vogels introduced AWS OpsWorks for Chef Automate, a fully managed version of a chief server for automating the management of infrastructure.

And AWS is giving customers a new Personal Health Dashboard that compliments the existing Service Health Dashboard

X-ray is a really useful addition that we can start to use immediately with customers who have multi-tier architectures. As it’s compatible with EC2 and ECS and Lambda we have one solution that can be extended as applications change and given AWS track record on pricing should be very competitive vs the alternatives. It’s still in preview, but it will be very interesting to see the pricing when it is available. Learn more.

Amazon Pinpoint

AWS also launched Amazon Pinpoint, a mobile analytics service. Pinpoint will help developers understand the behaviours of people using mobile apps. It lets developers send push notifications and then track the impact of them, Amazon vice president and chief technology officer Werner Vogels said during his keynote speech.

It integrates with AWS’ existing Mobile Hub service, and it supports both iOS (Swift and Objective C) and Android apps, with optional campaign analytics and A/B testing. Learn more.

AWS Glue, for automated data integration

AWS launched AWS Glue, a tool for automatically running jobs for cleaning up data from multiple sources and getting it all ready for analysis in other tools, like business intelligence (BI) software. We looked at how this would work right across the stack. ETL as a service – magic! In the past we have used AWS infrastructure to do ETL work, with services like EMR (Elastic Map Reduce) and data pipe. But with AWS Glue it will be easier. And with the help of JDBC connectors, it will be able to connect with data in on-premises services. Learn more.

Several enhancements to the Lambda event-driven computing service

AWS said it has added support for the C# programming language in its Lambda event-driven computing service. It also talked about a new capability called LambdaEdge, which makes it possible to run Lambda functions at edge locations where customers store media content around the world on its CloudFront content distribution network (CDN).

Also new: AWS Step Functions, which will allow developers to build full applications in the form of functions that are hooked up together. A visual editor makes it easy to connect multiple functions, Amazon vice president and chief technology officer Werner Vogels explained onstage.

Altogether this is a big refresh to Lambda, which AWS first introduced at re:Invent two years ago. At the time, it was viewed as a revolutionary concept because it let developers do complex things without having to set up and manage the underlying computing and storage infrastructure. Learn more.

Amazon Athena

First thoughts about Athena is that this will be immediately useful when analysing incidents for web servers behind an ELB or Cloudfront. We, as standard, log to S3, but up to now analysing those logs meant pulling the data off to another solution (e.g. EMR or 3rd party apps). Now we can use Athena to query the logs directly. Secondly this may be useful for data discovery. In both cases I don’t see Athena being used a part of a fully functional solution, but for adhoc, short term data querying, where it will save a lot of time. This is already up and running in the U.S but isn’t yet available in Europe. Learn more.

AWS Shield

Many of our customers want to discuss how their AWS environment is protected from DDOS, and up to now we have talked about the best practices in place in terms of the architecture of the sites. These best practices still apply, but now we have this added protection for free. Learn more.

With all the new releases and improvements to existing products announced this year, it was a very informative and well organised event. Looking forward to using our learnings to improve on our Cloud strategy for the coming year.