Tag Archives: AWS

AWS re:Invent comes to London

2019-01-22_10-29-04Last week (January 2019) I attended an AWS event in London to learn a bit more about Amazon Web Services and catch up on the big announcements from the November re:Invent conference held in Las Vegas. This is my write up of that one day event held at the Altitude360 tower in the capital.

Keynote

After an (unusual) request for no phones or photography during the session the day kicked off with a Keynote from Chris Hayman. Chris started with the overview of AWS’s majority market share and highlighted some of their millions of customers. Pie charts and graphs showed just how dominant Amazon is in this sector.

He then went on to touch on the large portfolio of products in the AWS stable- this featured a slide with so many product names that even sat in the front row looking at this cinema sized screen I wasn’t able to make them all out. This gamut continued throughout the day- by lunchtime I estimated I’d been introduced to at least fifty different products from the range. This is all a bit overwhelming- “how am I going to learn about all of these?” I was thinking.

But then I had something of an epiphany- stop thinking of these as discrete apps like I would with a traditional server setup and instead think of them as components or features of the overall single package. For example-  in AWS you have a product called “Amazon Route 53” which provides a DNS service, there’s “AWS Transfer for SFTP”, “Amazon Elastic Block Store”, “AWS Systems Manager”. Back on your Windows Server you’d refer to these as the DNS, IIS, iSCSI Target, or Server Manager roles or services. This isn’t to say they are all equivalent between vendors, but thinking of these AWS product lines as services under the same umbrella platform helped bridge the gap from the more traditional way of thinking.

This proliferation of names and features does make writing up the conference without it becoming a list of products a little tricky so this post will focus on my highlights from the day with links to product pages etc. where appropriate. If you do want a full list, the “Products” link at the top of the AWS website will fill you in.

Along with a high level view of the announcements from re:Invent, the keynote also included a few customer stories- EMIS group who provide software and IT services to the NHS, the London Borough of Waltham Forest who are using AWS to leverage the data they collect to help citizens in their region, and LGSS Digital who are using Amazon Connect to provide AI powered call centres for local authorities.

The IT Crowd. Pic from channel4.com

Techies love the basement life

Following the Keynote the day split into a Business and Technical track. I favoured the latter, opting to stay in the windowless basement theatre when the Business track left for the 28-floor elevator ride to their views across London. Better to focus on the content rather than be distracted by the busy cityscape below 🙂

Core Services

The first session covered the Core Services in a bit more detail, starting off with the EC2 compute power that everything hinges on. We delved into the instance types available, from the new Graviton ARM processors (A1) through to the high-end compute with 4GHz Xeon cores (z1d).

In the storage part of the talk there were a couple of new features that caught my attention- notably the Managed File System offerings- FSx. The Windows version of this provides an AD-integrated DFS file-share with all the multi-availability-zone global resilience that the public cloud offers. A second service of note was the Glacier Deep Archive which offers storage at about $1/TB/month with a 12 hour recovery time for all those files that have to be kept for long periods but won’t be needed in a hurry.

Networking and Security came up next- one of the interesting things here was the “AWS Security Hub” which brings together all the AWS security products in one place. There’s a growing number of discrete products in the AWS security sphere (as with their other product groups) so having one system to manage them all makes a lot of sense.

Dev Tools and Containers

The afternoon sessions started with one covering developer tools, containers, and microservices. A big takeaway for me here was how AWS supports a development environment where multiple teams are using multiple languages to develop these microservices that need to all talk to each other for the application as a whole to work. The complicated nature of this needs management and visibility of the components as well as consistent communications between them. Features such as the preview “AWS App Mesh” and “AWS Cloud Map” can help developers with this challenge.

DB, AI, and ML

A quick dive into the world of databases, data lakes, data warehouses, ledgers, and blockchain came next. Again, every variant comes with a product name and there’s some inconsistency here- some products such as “Amazon Managed Blockchain” or “Amazon DocumentDB” have a name that clearly shows what they do, whilst others such as “Amazon Neptune” or “Amazon Aurora” leave you guessing. Thankfully they haven’t all been reduced to acronyms across the marketing and documentation -we have S3, RDS, EC2 etc but fifty+ of those would definitely get confusing.

My highlight of the section on AI and Machine Learning was our quick look at the the “AWS DeepRacer”- a scale model car which you can go out and buy and then teach to drive itself. During the break we got to see it whizz up and down the stage.

 

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An #Amazon #DeepRacer being put through its paces.

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Internet of Everything Else

We were next introduced to the wide range of IoT services available on AWS. These are split into 3 categories: Data, Control, and Device. There’s lots of interesting developments happening here with Amazon working with the endpoints collecting the data- perhaps integrating with legacy equipment using “AWS IoT Sitewise”- and then storing, before analysing and acting upon it.

The final session was left to cover “Everything Else”- all those things that didn’t fit into one of the above categories. This included the VMware supported AWS Outposts where Amazon hardware can be hosted in your own datacentre and, bizarrely given the audience, a look at the AWS “Groundstation as a service” offering in case you have a satellite you need to talk to.

Summary

Overall this was an interesting excursion into the world of AWS even if it was solid PowerPoint for every session. The opportunity to drink direct from the firehose of information and then have face to face discussions with the team from Amazon on how to apply it in my own environment was definitely worth the time, and I look forward to finding out more. Details on their future events can be found here: https://aws.amazon.com/events/

Rise of the Full Stack Vendors

In a recent Datanauts podcast Chris Wahl was discussing Azure and Azure Stack with fellow Rubrikan Mike Nelson and Microsoft’s Jeffrey Snover (If you haven’t already, you can check out the podcast for yourself- Datanauts #148). Jeffrey made some interesting observations about the changes in alignment of some of the major IT vendors over time (this discussion runs from 25min to 29min into the podcast).

He detailed how the big players (DEC, IBM etc) had started with a “vertical” alignment by building their own chips, boards, operating systems, and applications. This was followed by a dis-integration where the industry shifted to a “horizontal” alignment- chips from Intel/Motorola , Operating Systems from Microsoft/Sun, and applications and services coming from a wide range of vendors. He goes on to posit how cloud vendors are turning the industry back towards a vertical alignment, and gives the example of how Microsoft are designing their own chips (FPGAs, NICs, servers , the new “Brainwave” chip to accelerate AI etc)  right through to software; all to create the Azure Cloud.

This idea got me thinking about how this is happening elsewhere in the industry, and what the future might hold.

This realignment can be seen across the major IT manufacturers- in recent years Dell- traditionally just a client and server PC vendor- has formed Dell Technologies, picking up tech such as Force10’s network, EMC’s storage, and VMware’s hypervisor. This now puts them in that vertical alignment of controlling their own enterprise stack from the client device through the network to the server hardware and the hypervisor sat on it. In an on-premises setup Dell can provide the infrastructure from the end of the user’s fingers to the start of the Operating System or Container.

Amazon have started from the other direction- AWS as a cloud provider owning their own chipsets. servers, storage, and networking. They own the datacentre end of their customers today, but how long is it before we see the successors to the Kindle Fire devices and Alexa-connected displays being pushed as the end-user device of choice. Everything between the user and the application would then be in their single vertical.

We see similar activity from Google. Their cloud platform stretches down to their Android and ChromeOS operating systems, the Chrome browser, and even into hardware. Although (similarly to Amazon) the endpoint devices are today largely aimed at the consumer market, as the commoditisation of IT continues there’s nothing stopping this leaking into the enterprise.

However, these vertical orientations are not to the exclusion of horizontal partnerships and we’ve seen a lot more of that over recent years. For example VMware partnering with AWS, IBM, and Microsoft and Google for Cloud provision, or Dell-EMC powering the on-premises Microsoft Azure Stack, or IBM providing their software on Azure.

So will this continue, and what does the distant future hold? Looking far into the tech future is always guesswork, but if I had to bet I’d suggest that this alignment model will eventually swing back as these sort of things always seem to go in cycles. The verticalisation (new word?) will carry on for the next few years but over time the customers demand more choice and (in enterprise at least) less of the perceived risk of “vendor lock-in”. Eventually this leads to a tipping point, fragmentation of the stack and a turn back towards that horizontal alignment we are moving away from today.

Thanks Datanauts for the inspiration behind this, and #Blogtober2018 for convincing me to do more long-form opinion posts.

VMworld 2018 US: HCI1469BU- The Future of vSAN and Hyperconverged Infrastructure

This “HCI Futures” session at VMworld US was hosted by two VPs from the Storage and Availability Business Unit, plus a customer guest. It covered the new features recently added to the vSAN environment with the release of 6.7 Update 1, alongside discussion of the possible future direction of VMware in the Hyper-Converged Infrastructure space. I caught up with the session via the online recording.

HCI is a rapidly growing architecture, with both industry wide figures from IDC and VMware’s own figures seeing massive spending increases. In the week of this VMworld, the 4-year old vSAN product is now boasting 15,000 customers. We are told customers are embarking on journeys into the Hybrid Cloud and looking for operational consistency between their On-Premises and Public Cloud environments.

The customer story incorporated into this breakout session was provided by Honeywell. They were an early adopter of vSAN in 2014, starting with the low-risk option of  hosting their management cluster on the technology. Since then they have replaced much of their traditional SAN infrastructure and are now boasting 1.7 Petabytes of data on vSAN, with compression and de-duplication giving them savings of nearly 700TB of disk.

VMware is pushing along several paths to enhance the product- the most obvious is including new storage technologies as they become available. All-flash vSAN is now commonplace, with SSDs replacing traditional spinning disk in the capacity tiers. Looking to the future, the session talked of the usage of NVMe and Persistent Memory (PMEM) developments – storage latency becoming significantly less than network latency for the first time. This prompts a move away from the current 2-tier model to one which incorporates “Adaptive Tiering” to make best use of the different storage components available.

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In the Public Cloud- in particular the VMware on AWS offering- there have been customers who want to expand storage faster than compute. In the current model this hasn’t been possible due to the fixed-capacity building blocks that HCI is known for. This is being addressed by adding access to Amazon’s Elastic Block Storage (EBS) in 6.7U1 as a storage target for the environment. vSAN Encryption using the Amazon KMS is also included, along with the ability to utilise the Elastic DRS features when using AWS as a DRaaS provider for a vSphere environment.

vSAN is also moving away from it’s position as “just” the storage for Virtual Machines. Future developments include the introduction of file storage- and the ability to do some advanced data management- classifying, searching, and filtering the data.

With all this data being stored, VMware is looking to enhance the data protection functionality in the platform. Incorporation of native snapshots with replication to secondary storage (and cloud) for DR purposes increase the challenge to “traditional” storage vendors- and although it was played down in this talk also encroach further into the backup space which is populated by a large group of VMware partners.

Cloud Native applications are also being catered for with Kubernetes integration- using application-level hooks to leverage snapshots, replication, encryption, and backups all through the existing vCenter interface.

If you want to watch the recording of this session to get more information it’s available on the VMworld site: https://videos.vmworld.com/searchsite/2018?search=HCI1469BU. To sign up to the vSAN Beta which is covering some of the Data Protection, Cloud Native Storage, and File Services visit http://www.vmware.com/go/vsan-beta

VMworld

VMworld US 2017 Monday Keynote Highlights

vmw2017sqMonday 28th August 2017 and VMworld has officially kicked off and Monday morning in Las Vegas saw the first keynote of the US event. Whilst I’m waiting patiently for my trip to the European leg in two weeks time I was able to keep track as the Keynotes are live streamed for remote viewers– here’s my highlights from this session.

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