Amazon Web Services – Bigger and bolder, but will it be the new normal?

A recap of this year’s edition of the AWS Re:Invent Conference

Contributed by Anoop Balakuntalam

Over the last few years, Amazon has gone from being a brand recognized as a leading commerce player to a brand that is also on the cusp of becoming a technology giant. With cloud operations in over 11 regions across the world, over a million active customers including 900 government agencies worldwide and over 500 significant feature & service launches in just this year, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has shown that it has the breadth and depth to be a leader. In the 2014 Cloud Infrastructure as a Service Magic Quadrant, Gartner rated AWS as having the furthest completeness of vision and highest ability to execute, and also observed that Amazon Web Services has 5 times the compute capacity in use than the aggregate total of the 14 other providers in the quadrant!

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Number of significant new features and services from AWS

 At the recently concluded third edition of the AWS Re:Invent conference at Vegas, AWS further entrenched its position, demonstrated its lead and came off as much bolder in its messaging & offerings. The presence of over 13500 attendees from 53 countries gave testimony to the reach and size of Amazon Web Services. It would be safe to say that in the enterprise technology circles, the word Amazon now first evokes images of a computing & technology provider and then that of a commerce player. In some ways, AWS also feels like the new Apple with crowds eagerly waiting to hear about the new service launches (all held carefully in secret until the keynote) and then the (virtually) long queues to get access to the feature previews!

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Razorfish on the SI slide – Day1 Keynote by Andy Jassy, SVP, AWS

One of the most pervasive ideas that AWS presented at the conference was the idea of “cloud as the new normal”. The idea that it is no longer a question of “if” or even “when” you should move to the cloud, but that if you are not already on the cloud you’re falling behind. In fact, AWS took its messaging one step further to talk about how several large enterprises have made the decision to go “all-in” with Amazon. Companies like Major League Baseball were invited to talk about their decision to go with AWS, several of whom made a reference to how it was a no-brainer to choose Amazon. At the end of it all, one might be forgiven for thinking that the message was that “AWS is the new normal”!

Although this year’s conference was largely about taking strides to change the course of technology and to make its presence felt in devops, AWS also continued wooing its enterprise customers. Philips Healthcare spoke about the massive petabyte scale of real-time streaming & compute they’re using to change the world of healthcare. AWS also talked about how security & compliance are now the reasons and not the blockers for cloud, which was followed by a presentation by Intuit to go with this message.

Several new service announcements were targeted at the enterprise buyer:

  • The AWS Key Management service for encryption key management & compliance, to bring easier management of keys providing greater visibility & control.

  • The AWS Config service was presented as an alternative to ageing ITIL toolsets for resource visibility, dependency tracking & configuration management.

  • The AWS Service Catalog to enable enterprises to provide discovery & provisioning of approved services on the cloud to its users via a custom catalog.

Some of the boldest moves from Amazon were its ventures into attempting to change some of the core fundamental building blocks in the software world. Two in particular stand out:

  • AWS Aurora – a new MySQL compatible database engine with enterprise grade performance, cloud grade scalability & fault tolerance and open-source grade pricing. AWS claims 5x the performance of MySQL at one-tenth the price of comparable commercial databases. This is the first time that Amazon has offered a core software service such as a cloud-grown relational database engine to the enterprise as a possible alternative to large well established commercial offerings.

  • AWS Lambda – a way to run highly available, highly parallel, event-driven code functions in the cloud without the need to manage any kind of infrastructure! This is clearly an attempt to redefine how software is built with new patterns that are entirely cloud-first.

These launches are massive leaps from the heretofore wrapping of existing software & paradigms in scalable automated cloud services, to defining completely new kinds of services and paradigms. All very bold moves and compelling, but concerns of lock-in lurk under the surface.

AWS also strengthened its presence in the world of devops with its share of new “agility is the holy grail” focused services:

  • AWS CodeDeploy – AWS made available to the rest of the world an avatar of its in-house code deployment service that currently enables an average 95 deployments every minute! AWS also announced the availability of two other Application Lifecycle Management tools in early 2015 – CodeCommit and CodePipeline. While CodeCommit seems to be in direct competition to GitHub allowing developers to host code closer to their AWS environments, CodePipeline seems to be the AWS native way to do Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment.

  • AWS EC2 Container Service – With a large section of devops professionals expecting some kind of a container service supporting Docker, AWS would have a done a disservice to itself by not announcing one. The demo showed how containers are automatically scheduled across underlying heterogeneous infrastructure components. The topic of VMs vs containers will continue to be the rage this coming year.

Finally, AWS also made several overtures to propagate its view of how to think about, operate and run technology organizations. Several references were made to the three pronged AWS culture - customer focus, innovation and long term focus. Some enterprise patterns for technology adoption and governance were also discussed.

We were fortunate enough to hear Jeff Bezos speak and the insights he shared were pretty amazing. Considering the first couple of years of AWS many people were questioning the strategy. Right now however, it seems few are wondering. His advice that leaders need to counterbalance the ‘institutional no’ is something that AWS buyers have certainly lived. It was also interesting to hear from Steve Schmidt (CISO, AWS) who made several good points about managing security and urged his audience to make it easier for people to do the secure thing than to do something insecurely.

No developer, no project and no enterprise can afford to ignore the new forces and paradigms that Amazon brought to the table. Bringing the ability to run code without having to manage any infrastructure and having Intel develop a processor exclusively for Amazon, are clear indicators of an emerging giant. With the number of “all-in” migration clients presented at the conference and the repeated reinforcing of the message of “new normal”, AWS is still the biggest force to reckon with despite the heating competition. But as Gartner said, the race has just begun!

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Our Weekend At The Salesforce $1 Million Hackathon

The Salesforce $1 Million Hackathon is an annual event organized by Salesforce at Silicon Valley. This year, it was held from October 10 – 12, 2014 at City View in Metreon, San Francisco, California (USA).

Contributed by Brajeshwar OinamIt was an electrifying feeling to be surrounded by developers and designers from all around the world. I have always wanted to be a part of such a big event. What excited me the most was the opportunity to meet like-minded people with diverse backgrounds and a variety of experience in different domains. Knowing what I could take back from this place was priceless.

The event consisted of four rounds. One of the important guidelines was to create an app using Force.com, Heroku, or Force.com with Heroku. We could form a team of up to 6 members with anyone interested. We tweeted looking for team members. The tweets were displayed on a giant display visible to all. I teamed up with a Brazilian and three non-resident Indians – 4 team members whom I had not met before.

First few minutes we interacted mostly involved knowing each other and our domains of expertise. It is very important to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses in order to assign roles and complement efficiency while working in a newly formed team.

The amalgamation of ideas and exchange of knowledge was enlightening. There were a host of things I taught them and a lot of things I learnt from them. After brainstorming, we decided to come up with an app that could boost efficiency and performance and at the same time reduce the loss of time in a business environment. Careful evaluations led us to a consensus that we need to combine two of time management’s well established principles and integrate it into our app.

The Eisenhower matrix which helps sort tasks on the basis of importance and urgency plus the Pomodoro technique that helps focus all our attention on a specific task with time restrictions to evaluate performance. We had to ensure this setup has exceptional user interface and works smoothly. We named our app ‘Simpledone’. The app we built could categorize and notify tasks on priority basis and have a timer to evaluate performance. The users could assign tasks and set its urgency and importance. The target user for the app was anyone with a busy lifestyle and who wants a focused execution with minimum effort.

We decided to go with a mobile first strategy. The app had an API-oriented architecture and was responsive. We used Ruby on Rails (RoR), CSS (powered by Sass), Javascript, HTML and PostgreSQL DB to develop the app, which would later be made Open Source. We made use of Heroku which saved us time and also increased efficiency while developing the app. The app uses an algorithm generated priority list and uses visual time boxing.

We received a very positive response from the judges on our User interface and User experience in the app with a rating of 63%. Majority of them were interested in knowing how the app could be integrated into existing project management tools like JIRA, Basecamp, etc.

The opportunity to work with random people having unknown capabilities and coming from distinct cultures was one of the best learning experiences. We made some great connections and have been regularly updating each other with new ideas and suggestions.

I also noticed a lot of people focusing on application development and design for wearable devices and an increased focus on Internet of Things (IoT). I feel these are going to be the next big things. I believe everyone interested in the field of development and design should participate in similar events for the exposure it provides and the kind of knowledge transfer that it results in – working in an environment that takes us out of our comfort zone really makes us think out of the box.

You can find the repository of ‘Simpledone’ on Github here.  We also made a video of our pitch for the app. Take a look at it here.

You could try out the app at:  http://whispering-refuge-9133.herokuapp.com/

More Info about the app available here.

Visit us at Razorfish.com