I few months have past since I attended my first Amazon re:Invent conference. I have had some time to reflect on my observations about the meeting. It was indeed an impressive event with a massive number of sessions and an electricity that was palpable. What stood out was the homogeneity of the attendees who were largely young (primarily male) developers. This is not surprising given Amazon’s heritage of appealing to departmental programmers and developers at cloud first startups. The Amazon approach feels familiar to developers coming out of the Linux operating system world – lots of services that can create a powerful system. And Amazon understands developers very well. In fact, it is clear that Amazon’s management is maniacally focused on meeting customer requests and requirements. Their customers are hungry for new capabilities. These developers love emerging technology and tools – the more the better. Many of these developers are building born on the web applications designed to the smash the old and on with the new.
While there were a huge number of new products announced, there were some key trends that I noticed. I would divide the announcements (too many to list) into four buckets: Alexa for Business; enterprise expansion; support for Kubernetes, and AI/machine learning Tools. In addition, Amazon announced a myriad of other tools including data management, security, and management that I will not cover here.
All of the services and tools that I am focused on have a common theme: leveraging the AWS cloud infrastructure services to gain incremental revenue. This is especially important as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is increasingly commoditized.
Value of the Alexa Ecosystem. In terms of market reach, the Alexa for Business announcement is the most significant. Alexa for Business is a web service designed to enable a business to use the Amazon Alexa devices as a platform for customers to manage corporate collaboration. It provides a set of APIs to enable ISVs and enterprises to create their own collaborative services. The first application that Amazon announced was a service to control a conference room including all the equipment, integrate with the corporate calendar set of tools.
I expect to see Amazon use Alexa as a vehicle for expanding its ecosystem of partners. If successful, this intelligent assistant could have a significant impact on growth of its enterprise footprint as well as its web services business.
Pushing deeper into the enterprise. AWS has long been associated with shadow IT and software developers. That is changing as Amazon expands its services into significant enterprise markets. For example, EC2 has added bare metal instances that allow developers to directly access processor and memory of an underlying service. This is important for high performance applications that cannot give up overhead to virtualization. Amazon has also added Amazon MQ, a message broker based on Apache ActiveMQ – a necessary service for enterprise scale computing projects. To support enterprise integration, the company introduced Amazon MQ that is intended to simplify management of existing applications and services. AWS batch services provides a single API Call to support up to 10,000 jobs.
Building on Kurbernetes. Despite offerings its own EC2 Container Service, Amazon began supporting Kurbernetes last August based on growing market momentum. Clearly, Amazon understands the growing power of Kurbernetes in the market, and is going all in to provide services. Amazon has created a version of its Elastic Container Service (ECS) for Kurbernetes. In addition, AWS Fargate is a tool intended to help developers to deploy and manage containers without having to directly manage the underlying infrastructure. Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (Amazon EKS) is a service that abstracts the details of managing availability and scalability for each cluster.
Machine Learning and AI take center stage.
In 2016 Amazon announced that the Amazon AI platform as a way to bring AI tools to its developer community. Its first services were Amazon Rekognition, an image recognition service, and Amazon Polly, a text-to-speech service. A third service called Amazon Lex was the foundation for this year’s Alexa for Business announcement. During the 2017 conference Amazon expanded existing offerings such as adding video recognition to Amazon Rekognition. Other introductions included: Amazon SageMaker, a managed service designed to help data scientists and developers build, train and deploy machine learning models; AWS Greengrass ML Inference capability, a tool to deploy and run ML inferences locally on connected devices; and Amazon Comprehend, a Natural Language Processing (NLP) API service.
The Bottom Line
Amazon is moving fast to build out in tools in support of its cloud platform. While there are too many tools and offerings to mention here, the focus of all of the announcements is to simplify the ability of cloud developers to add new capabilities to their applications and services. Clearly, developers are delighted with the collection of new services and tools. There is an advantage. These decentralized development teams have the freedom to work directly with customers and implement innovations quickly. The cloud platform helps avoid some of the on premises problems of customers’ having to own the responsibility of updating software. The responsibility falls to Amazon to make sure that these development services are designed to effectively work together. In addition, Amazon is beginning to spend a lot of time working with partners to connect on premises services such as VMware’s Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) to operate within the Amazon cloud. When you can enter the world with a clean slate and help customers build beautiful new applications that live and breath in the web it is a lot easier than having to deal with legacy or the data center. In the Amazon world, coexisting with the data center will be a requirement for the future.
Amazon has a distinct advantage with its huge ecosystem of developers and born-on-the-web ISVs. It also has an advantage of being able to attract legacy vendors that want to play in the new world. One of the advantages is that Amazon can look forward and innovate without worrying about the past. And I have to admit the level of innovation and experimentation is breathtaking.