How AWS Has Turned Into An Unstoppable Juggernaut – An Analysis From re:Invent 2018

AWS re:Invent, Amazon’s annual user conference hosted at Las Vegas concluded last week. As expected, Amazon launched a slew of new services ranging from a robotic automation tool to an on-premises hardware appliance.

The event is only getting bigger and better with each passing year. AWS re:Invent 2018 is going to be remembered as a milestone for both Amazon and the industry.

Before I share the detailed analysis from the event, I want to highlight some of the observations from the conference:

  • Andy Jassy didn’t shy away from sharing the revenue details while taking a dig at the competition. This is the first time that AWS officially compared its market share with the competition by directly quoting Gartner’s analysis.
  • Amazon continues to upset its customers and partners by offering competing services. The launch of managed Kafka, AppMesh are indicators that AWS will continue to commercialize popular open source software.
  • AWS is slowly but steadily moving away from Intel. Amazon has launched EC2 instances powered by Arm-based processors. Its investment in Project Nitro, a hardware/software combination to drive the next generation of virtualization is an early indicator of the trend.
  • When compared to AWS Lambda, container-based services got lesser attention. The keynotes didn’t feature any announcements related to ECS, Fargate, or EKS. Though there have been updates such as additional regions for EKS and Fargate, App Mesh, and the new container products in AWS Marketplace, there were no significant announcements made during the keynotes.
  • AWS is pushing the boundaries by continuously enhancing the core building blocks of its cloud. Amazon EC2 got new instance types in the form of A1, C5n and P3dn. Amazon S3 now supports intelligent tiering where infrequently accessed data is automatically moved to a cheaper tier. Amazon EFS now supports 3rd party filesystems including Lustre and SMB file share.

Having shared some observations, allow me to provide a detailed analysis of the announcements:

Open sourcing Firecracker

Amazon is often criticized for consuming open source software with no contribution to the community. Over a dozen commercial services offered by AWS are based on popular open source projects.

At re:Invent 2018, Amazon made a major contribution to the open source community through Firecracker – a virtual machine manager that can run serverless workloads such as functions at lightning speed. It’s based on the same technology that powers AWS Lambda and AWS Fargate services.

Amazon hired Adrian Cockcroft who spearheaded the cloud initiatives at Netflix helping the company move its streaming platform to AWS. Adrian is directly responsible for the open source strategy at AWS. Firecracker is the first significant win for Adrian and his team. They managed to convince the AWS leadership team to open source the secret sauce used by internal teams.

Firecracker has the potential to disrupt the container ecosystem. It combines the security of virtual machines with the speed of containers to deliver unique execution environment well-suited for serverless technology. Firecracker effectively blurs the line between VMs and containers by bringing best of both worlds.

Amazon silenced the critics by open sourcing a significant piece of software in the form of Firecracker.

AWS Outposts – The first true on-premises offering

Amazon dabbled with the hybrid cloud for a long time. It offered Storage Gateway, Snowball Edge, DynamoDB Local, Greengrass among other services to run within the enterprise data center. But it never shipped a true hardware appliance that can run the core of AWS – EC2 and EBS.

This re:Invent will be remembered for the official entry of AWS into the enterprise data center. AWS Outposts, an aptly-named service delivers a fully managed and configurable compute and storage racks built with AWS-designed hardware that customers can use to operate a seamless hybrid cloud.

Customers can choose to run VMware software or AWS native software that exposes the same API as EC2 and EBS.

AWS Outposts is Amazon’s answer to Microsoft’s Azure Stack. This move from Amazon will impact incumbent players betting big on hybrid cloud.

Most comprehensive DB as a Service offering

AWS becomes the first public cloud to offer almost every flavor of the database. From traditional RDBMS to a modern graph database, customers can sign up for a variety of managed database services.

The latest addition to the portfolio comes in the form of Amazon Timestream, a fully managed time series database for IoT and operational applications. AWS has also launched Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB), cryptographically verifiable ledger for applications where multiple parties work with a centralized, trusted authority to maintain a verifiable record of transactions.

Amazon Aurora, the cloud-native database now supports globally distributed databases. This service competes with Google Cloud Spanner and Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB.

This re:Invent turned AWS into a cloud with the most comprehensive database offerings.

AI at the front and center of the cloud

AWS is exposing AI-based services that the internal teams at have been using for a long time.

Cognitive APIs such as Comprehend got additional capabilities that target vertical industries. Comprehend Medical is a service that can extract relevant medical information from unstructured text such as medical condition, medication, dosage, strength, and frequency. This is just an example of what Comprehend service is capable. In the near future, I expect Amazon to add legal-specific taxonomy to Comprehend.

Amazon is leveraging its investment in Annapurna, a chip-design company that was acquired in 2015. The custom chips made by Annapurna are exploited by AWS to deliver cheaper inferencing of ML models. AWS Inferentia is a machine learning inference chip designed to provide inferencing for models developed in TensorFlow, Apache MXNet, and PyTorch deep learning framework.

Amazon SageMaker, the ML PaaS, got many enhancements to make ML development faster and cheaper. The service has become the focal point for training, serving, and deploying machine learning models.

Amazon has taken the lead in offering industry’s most comprehensive suite of AI and ML services. SageMaker Ground Truth, SageMaker Neo, Elastic Inference, Inferentia are some of the indicators of the AI innovation at AWS.

Breaking new ground with Ground Station

Amazon continues to surprise the ecosystem by launching unconventional services. This time the surprise element came in the form of AWS Ground Station, a managed service that lets customers control satellite communications, downlink and process satellite data, and scale satellite operations. The service is available in all the geographies where AWS has a region.

The other service that gained attention was AWS RoboMaker – a service to develop, test, and deploy intelligent robotics applications at scale. The service is integrated with Cloud9 IDE that comes with the Robotic OS pre-installed and includes sample applications.

Continuing the tradition of launching a hardware device aligned with its cloud, AWS launched DeepRacer, an autonomous toy car that runs a reinforcement learning model. Earlier, AWS launched IoT Button and DeepLens at re:Invent.

I will not be surprised if Amazon offers air traffic control (ATC) as a service at next re:Invent. Airports across the globe can sign up to take advantage of a fully managed ATC service based on a pay-as-you-go model.

Amazon is firing on all cylinders to ensure that they are far ahead in the game. With the recent announcements, the gap between AWS and the competition became much wider. It caught the industry analysts by surprise through the entry into new domains, and by significantly enhancing existing services.

AWS re:Invent 2018 is a significant milestone for both AWS and the ecosystem.

Updated on 12/13 to based on inputs from AWS team.


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