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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.



10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids
10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids
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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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its enterprise-minded features. With stiff competition from highly profitable competitors Google and Microsoft, Amazon, having logged a long string of money-losing quarters, is no longer talking about being the price leader of a commodity service. It's highlighting the rich feature set that it brings to enterprise users.

In the hallways of the Amazon conference, whiz-bang cloud technology is no longer the topic of discussion. Several observers said Amazon has hired enterprise-oriented product managers to shift its internal focus toward the increasing enterprise reliance on cloud computing.

Jassy reinforced the point, intentionally or otherwise, by saying shadow IT users were less and less frequently the source of new accounts at Amazon. New orders are coming in after questions from the CIO's office are answered by Amazon staffers, with CIOs themselves signing off on them, he said.

Philips and Major League Baseball appeared on stage because they're users of such privacy- and security-minded features as Virtual Private Cloud and Direct Connect, Amazon's private-line communications coming into its cloud centers through Equinix and other communications hubs. MLB is a user of Amazon's Redshift data warehouse and Kinesis streaming data capture and analytics.

Amazon used to emphasize a computer-literate clientele capable of self-provisioning themselves with servers. Now it's emphasizing an expanded feature set that, after self-provisioning, includes follow-on services such as Elastic Map Reduce, Elastic Load Balancer, and DynamoDB. At Re:Invent, AWS significantly expanded those services. Amazon will add 500 new services to its lineup by the end of the year, Jassy predicted. Some of them are minor, but they will soon include the following:

-- AWS Key Management service enables IT managers or developers to encrypt data with a click on the management console. Once data is encrypted, encryption key storage is an operational and security concern. Enterprises often end up with several key-storage procedures. The Amazon service promises a consistent, always available place to create, store, view, and disable keys, with activity touching them feeding a constant audit trail, Jassy said. Key storage is a sensitive issue, with some security advisers urging companies to never store their keys in the cloud. Amazon is trying to switch the advice around with secure key storage and rigidly consistent practices. The service makes it possible to integrate encryption into a customer's use of other Amazon services, such as Elastic Block Store, Redshift, or Relational Database Service.

-- AWS Config service brings Amazon into the territory of some of its ambitious third-party supporters, providing a comprehensive view of all AWS resources used by a single customer. With some customers using thousands of EC2 instances and related services, it has become harder to track accounts and maintain security and predictable billing. Third parties like Cloudyn, Cloudability, CloudHealth, and Cloud Checkr have tried to provide visibility into these concerns. Amazon appears to have studied the value of what they're doing in its market and decided to provide some of the same information itself. The service is now available in preview or non-product stage.

-- AWS Service Catalogue is a commonly requested feature by enterprises, Jassy said. It will offer a master catalog of what Amazon has to offer, so IT managers can make up a catalogue of services for use by their company's employees. That way, employees are self-provisioning servers with configurations already approved by IT. IT can also maintain control over who is allowed to use which products in the catalogue. It can limit how many times an application is used per month in order to maintain licensing compliance. AWS will log all product use via its CloudTrail API-use tracking, allowing IT to visualize usage and report on it. Service Catalogue will become available in the first quarter of 2015.

-- AWS CodeDeploy steps up AWS's commitment to DevOps operations for its customers. It is available immediately and provides a free and automated way to upgrade applications running on EC2. It can provide rolling updates across an application set. CodeDeploy "was born out of the experiences of Amazon's own developers, who saw the need for deployment tools that would let them deliver new functionality quickly, reliably, and at high scale," said Scott Wiltamuth, VP of developer productivity and tools for AWS, in a media release announcing the service. AWS developers use the tool to push 95 deployments a minute, he said. It works with open source tools such as GitHub, CircleCI, Atlassian, Codeship, Solano CI, and CloudBees (Jenkins continuous integration).

-- AWS CodePipeline, coming next year, will be an automated continuous delivery service to be used for integrating code into existing operations.

Apply now for the 2015 InformationWeek Elite 100, which recognizes the most innovative users of technology to advance a company's business goals. Winners will be recognized at the InformationWeek Conference, April 27-28, 2015, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Application period ends Jan. 16, 2015.

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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