AWS re:Invent 2016: 5 Key Takeaways for Enterprise Cloud Users

December 11 2016 | by Jonathan Maresky

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Playing host to around 32,000 IT professionals, last week’s fifth annual AWS re:Invent conference proved to be the biggest and best Amazon cloud computing summit ever. The spectacle of thousands of attendees, weighed down by massive backpacks, flocking to The Venetian in Las Vegas underlined just how important this huge meet-up had become in the IT event calendar.

So what were the key announcements at this year’s event? And what was their significance? Here are our 5 takeaways:

1 – Strategic Partnership with VMware
Following Amazon’s recent announcement of its partnership with cloud vendor VMware, it came as no surprise that AWS CEO Andy Jassy invited his VMware counterpart Pat Gelsinger to join him on stage to discuss the implications of the deal. Having arrived late to the cloud space, VMware finally made the decision to join forces with Amazon and run a dedicated private cloud offering on top of the platform. This is set to enhance the offering of both companies and offers a win-win to both sides. And, likewise, the customers of both companies should benefit as well.

First and foremost, the new offering will solve many of the headaches enterprises face when moving traditional applications to the cloud. It will aid migration and interoperability by enabling integration between on-premise and AWS environments, operated through the same vCenter UIs, APIs and CLIs VMware customers are familiar with. For VMware, the partnership will help the virtualization vendor remain relevant in the marketplace and secures its business future in the cloud. For Amazon the deal was also a great win, giving its platform the ultimate enterprise recognition and a way to take on more enterprise workloads.

2 – A Host of New Compute Options
New instance families and types have been a traditional staple of AWS re:Invent at the previous four events. But this year, Amazon surprised everyone with the sheer number of new compute options.


TAWS CEO Andy Jassy Showcasing Amazon’s Wide Spectrum of Instance Families 

And the focus has clearly been towards the enterprise market, with the introduction of several larger-sized virtual machines. For example, the new-generation, memory-optimized R4 family not only offers faster memory and a larger L3 cache than its R3 predecessor. It also includes a larger instance type, offering 64 vCPUs and 488GiB memory.

Similarly, alongside improved IOPS performance, the new storage-optimized I3 family will offer a larger instance size, featuring 64 vCPUs, 488GiB memory and 15.2TB of onboard SSD storage, which isn’t available as an I2 instance type.

Amazon also announced a completely new and specialized F1 instance family, with field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which you can program to create custom hardware accelerations for your application.

Here’s your complete list of new and forthcoming additions to EC2:

  • T2.xlarge general-purpose instance type (16GiB memory and 4 vCPUs)
  • T2.2xlarge general-purpose instance type (32GiB memory and 8 vCPUs)
  • R4 memory-optimized family (up to 488GiB memory, DDR4, L3 cache and up to 64 vCPUs)
  • I3 storage-optimized family (up to 3.3 million IOPS, 488GiB memory, 15.2 TB NVMe SSD and 64 vCPUs)
  • C5 compute-optimized family (up to 144GiB memory, Intel Skylake and up to 72 vCPUs)
  • F1 hardware-accelerated instance family (up to 8 FPGAs per instance)From a cost and performance optimization perspective, the new additions to EC2 are welcome news, as they offer even greater scope for fitting resources more closely to your application needs. However, the downside to greater choice is greater complexity. This can present a significant challenge to enterprises, as they’ll need a way to monitor a wide diversity of cloud resource types to ensure they continually adapt their infrastructure as requirements change over time.


    In a Recent Tweet, Leading Cloud Journalist Barb Darrow Summed Up the Issue Perfectly


    3 – More Data Store Management and Querying Options
    In terms of storage management and analysis, in our opinion, AWS Athena was one of the most eye-catching of Amazon’s new product launches. This service makes it easy for users to query data hosted on S3 using standard SQL and is a pay-as-you-go offering based on the number of queries you run.

    Additionally, Amazon upgraded Aurora to support PostgreSQL—a move that many enterprise users will see as long overdue. This puts Amazon in direct competition with Oracle, as Oracle databases are also compatible with PostgreSQL. So now customers can easily migrate their PostgreSQL databases, hosted on either Oracle or Amazon RDS, straight to Aurora and enjoy the performance, availability and scalability of a modern born-in-the-cloud database engine.

    And from the data management perspective, the vendor announced fully managed ETL (extract, transform, load) service AWS Glue. The new service will address customer demand for an easier way to migrate data at scale to their data stores. The service presents you with an easy-to-use console, which guides you through the entire ETL process. It automatically crawls your data sources, identifies data formats, suggests schemas and transformations, prepares your data and loads it to your destination store. The service also schedules your ETL tasks, automatically provisioning and scaling the infrastructure you need so that jobs can run quickly and efficiently at any scale.

    Amazon’s latest moves highlight the vendor’s increasing efforts to help enterprises migrate their data to the cloud. Cost and the ability to scale have long been widely recognized challenges, as IT continually needs more hardware to accommodate a growing mountain of data. However, it was never easy to move data either. Realizing this, Amazon appear to have set their sights on facilitating data migration to its platform by supporting a wider choice of database formats and providing simple out-of-the-box querying tools.

    4 – Protection and Operations
    In an engaging keynote, AWS CTO Werner Vogels made some compelling points about the measures the vendor was taking to give customers more protection and control:

    “Our goal was to help Internet-scale companies be successful, but we completely transformed the technology industry.”

    As security is still a major concern with cloud technology, Vogels addressed this point. He explained that the number one priority the vendor had as a customer-centric company would always be to protect users of their platform, along with their customers, at all costs. On the one hand, they do this from an operational perspective in that they are responsible for the security of the cloud. But, on the other, they innovate rapidly so they can give users the tools and control they need to protect their business in the cloud.

    To meet this very objective, the vendor announced AWS Shield, a managed Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection service, which offers a standard tier that’s free to all AWS users.

    Amazon also enhanced its DevOps capabilities with AWS CodeBuild as well as AWS Personal Health Dashboard, which offers personalized visibility into the performance and availability of the AWS services you actually use. It also introduced AWS X-Ray—a service that’s designed to help developers troubleshoot performance issues affecting microservices in a complex distributed application environment.

    5 – Light Years Ahead of the Competition
    Amazon only has to state the facts when it comes to bragging rights in the cloud marketplace. And that’s exactly what Andy Jassy did when he followed up a recent rebuttal to claims by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison that Oracle Cloud was 24 times faster than AWS and 20 years ahead in technology. In his speech, Jassy pointed to the unprecedented demand for its proprietary database engine, Aurora, which has become the fastest growing service in the history of AWS. He then added insult to injury by inviting Saman Michael Far from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) on stage to talk about how the organization migrated its massive databases from Oracle to AWS.

    Amazon is also forging ahead in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with the launch of AI services and analytics systems, such as Amazon Lex, Amazon Polly and Amazon Rekognition. Lex is the speech recognition technology behind Alexa, which you can use to build conversational interfaces into applications. Polly is a service that converts text to speech so you can create applications that talk. And finally, as the name suggests, Rekognition is an image recognition and categorization service, which can detect objects, scenes and faces in images. Rekognition boasts facial analysis features, such as the ability to search and compare faces. Such tools will open up a whole new world of opportunity for enterprise IT. And who knows where they will take it?


    A re:Invent Agenda Packed Full of New AWS Products and Features


    Transforming the IT Industry


    If we could sum up re:Invent in a few words, it would be those of Werner Vogels in his keynote speech. Quite simply, AWS is transforming the IT industry. And as more and more enterprises move to the cloud, this relatively new way of delivering IT will soon become the norm—with Amazon leading the way long into the foreseeable future.


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