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11/13/2014
09:20 AM
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Amazon Focuses On New Services, Not Price

Amazon Web Services expands its menu, while dropping references to its leading price-cutter status.

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Amazon Web Services not only has five times the compute capacity of its combined rivals, but also an expanding catalogue of services that are making AWS attractive to the enterprise -- and harder for erstwhile competitors to catch up.

In the past, AWS has attracted independent and open source developers looking for an inexpensive, temporary server cluster. Now it's attracting enterprise developers looking for a place to produce their next-generation applications that, incidentally, use open source code. And they're using AWS not only for development but also for production deployments.

In a keynote address Wednesday at Re:Invent, Amazon's third annual user group event, Andy Jassy, senior VP, announced new enterprise-oriented services, such as the Aurora relational database service, encryption key management in the cloud, a service catalogue, and automated configuration and deployment management.

Aurora, currently in preview mode, is "a fully MySQL-compatible, relational database with 5X the performance of open source MySQL," said Jassy. Furthermore, it's designed as a cloud system, so it is a resilient piece of cloud software that "is as durable, available, and fault tolerant as a proprietary database system -- at one-tenth the cost," he told about 13,000 attendees in the Sands Conference Center in Las Vegas. Enthusiastic applause broke out as he finished the description.

[Is AWS enough? See Multi-Cloud Deployments Build Resilience.]

Amazon put on display two key enterprise users, the Netherlands' Royal Philips Healthcare Informatics Solutions & Services CEO, Jeroen Tas, and Major League Baseball's executive VP and CTO, Joe Inzerillo.

MLB's CTO Joe Inzerillo at Re:Invent.
(Source: Amazon)
MLB's CTO Joe Inzerillo at Re:Invent.
(Source: Amazon)

Inzerillo showed video of a play from Oct. 29, the seventh game of the recent World Series between San Francisco and Kansas City. San Francisco second-baseman Joe Panik dove to catch a line drive by Kansas City's Eric Hosme, then flipped it from his glove to the shortstop on second base. That move saved just enough time for the shortstop to throw to first base and make a double play, ending a threat posed by Kansas City.

Inzerillo used advanced radar measurements in the ballpark to calculate statistics that highlighted the value of the play. Baseball stats are typically offense-oriented. Professional baseball is now bent on creating defensive statistics as well. Inzerillo's instrumented replay of the event showed Hosme believed he had a base hit and paused in his acceleration to first base to watch it go into the infield. When Panik caught it, he re-accelerated but dove at the last second, skidding along the ground toward first. An analysis of the replay showed he was out by 0.02 of a second, which could have been prevented through a full acceleration from home plate or possibly by avoiding his slide, in Inzerillo's review.

"We are objectively measuring the position and speed of every player" through a radar system originally designed to track rockets, he said. With the information it yields, "we can see the nuances of the game in the reaction time of the players." Panik's reaction time was impressive, he said, while Hosme threw away a chance to reach first base and keep a potential Kansas City scorer on the base path. He was clocked at 12.9 miles per hour as he watched his hit, while he accelerated to 21 mph as he approached first. Hosme could have beaten the throw by one foot, Inzerillo concluded.

Major League Baseball's StatCast service, which supplies such statistics to fans and subscribers, runs on AWS, one of the few services where Inzerillo believes the 7 TB of data that's generated per game can be stored and quickly analyzed. As the radar observation is phased in for all games, it will produce 17 petabytes of data each season. By using AWS, he said, MLB will be able to capture the data, analyze it, and share it -- which will continue to evolve its relationship with its fans, who often talk about the new stats on social media. "Amazon is the thought leader and the only technology provider we could have chosen," he told Re:Invent attendees.

Discussing a very different storage need, Royal Philips Healthcare Informatics Solutions & Services CEO Tas took the stage to explain that his firm collects patient information from healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in 100 countries at the rate of a petabyte a month and stores it on Amazon's S3 storage service. X-ray and MRI scans of a patient add up to 500 GB, while an individual genome analysis adds another 500 GB. But that information is vital to the discovery of the most effective means of discovering and combating cancers. Genomic analysis allows researchers to match successful treatments based on genome, rather than the organ affected, and yields insights on the best way to combat a cancer in people whose genomes closely match.

"We manage 15 PB of data," he said, and one result is doctors can take the information provided by the Philips platform and convince a prostate cancer patient that prostate radiation or surgery, with their undesirable side effects, may not be the only options. With good information, lifestyle changes and medication can be an alternative that gives the patient the prospect of an extended lifespan, he said.

But at the amount of data per month his firm must collect from studies and electronic health records, "there's only one company that can give us the scale that we need -- Amazon," he told the audience.

By putting such customer speakers on stage, Amazon did something different compared to its previous two Re:Invents. It featured

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
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11/17/2014 | 5:10:15 PM
Yes, but... no price rise on the foreseeable horizon
I agree, the cloud providers could be lowering prices in exchange for market share, and once that share is maxed out, they could raise prices. That's why we'll be better off than with multiple providers, more than Microsoft and its predicted Big Cloud Three of Amazon, Microsoft and Google. On the other hand, small suppliers can take advantage of the latest processor and memory gains, building them in from scratch and launching a new cloud with better price/performance. I don't think there's a big price rise on commodity services on the near-term horizon.   
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
11/14/2014 | 9:43:31 AM
1/10th of the cost - for now
Of course, the reality is that Amazon and other clouds providers are in a fierce price war right now. Sure, you can buy in and get these services on the cheap - for now. But what happens in 5 years when Amazon has starved out the competion and the stockholders start demanding returns on the millions (probably into billions by then) that they have put into this endeavor (see the CEO reversal of "services before profits" when he was called out by the shareholders)? Then, just like every other vendor out there, you are locked in and they have you hostage.

I'd say that you should enjoy the (nearly) free ride now, while you can, if you can afford the time spent to learn all this and put in the time/effort to make the move.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
11/13/2014 | 11:08:26 AM
Aurora is the nugget in the announcement
You're right, Doug. Aurora is the nugget in the announcement. A relational system designed for use in the cloud and taking advantage of the cloud's built-in software resilience is a potential competitor to Oracle and other proprietary vendors. Jassy said Amazon has been working on it for three years.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2014 | 10:10:51 AM
Trust issues?
Considering that a lot of US companies lost customers over the Edward Snowden reveals last year and Obama's continued push for surveillance, I'm quite impressed by Amazon's ability to keep drawing attention and new customers in. 

You'd think at this point everyone would be afraid of doing business with US based companies, but apparently not. 
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
11/13/2014 | 9:46:35 AM
Aurora is the MySQL-compatible chestnut within this announcement
Many cloud practitioners whould much rather run cloud services, like the new Amazon Aurora alternative to MySQL, than running software on cloud infrastructure. The apporach lets them skip lots of messy administrative crap that they can leave to the service provider. Sure, you can get MySQL as a service in the cloud (including on AWS), but this is sure to be a cheaper and easier-to-deploy option through a single relationship with Amazon.

Customers probably also feel like they have a portability factor in that they could reverse-engineer their way into an on-premises DBMS deployment or MySQL on another cloud if required or desired, but I'd be wary of many tiny ways in which this database management service might lock you in.
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