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It’s all about The Transformation

At this morning’s AWS re:Invent keynote, AWS shared quite a mountain of information, and a toolbox of new services, all based around helping companies change their businesses and the way they look at technology.  Transformation was the keyword for this presentation, and it was apparent in the tools and tone taken throughout the whole two and a half hours.  The focus was on providing the tools to the “Transformers” (Highlighted by Vogel’s Autobot T-shirt), and enabling them to do amazing things for their customers. Vogel’s keynote was less about infrastructure, more about the software and how to get it into the hands of your customers, and how the toolbox that AWS continues to expand can help.  It’s not entirely about AWS though… it starts with their customers.

AWS: To Be the Most Customer Centric IT Company on Earth

There’s a large drive from all the teams at AWS to focus on the needs of their customers (that’s you by the way).  In fact, this couldn’t be more evident than with their new offering called AWS Blox, an open source scheduler for ECS that’ll be co-developed with the community.  This can also be seen in their 5 customer centric objectives:

  1. Protect the customers at all times.
  2. Listen closely to customers and act.
  3. Give customers choice.
  4. Work backwards from the customer.
  5. Help customers transform.

This led nicely into Jeff Lawson’s (CEO / Chairman – Twilio) presentation which revolved around software development.  The two things to take away from this were a couple of quotes: 1. “Building software is a mindset, not a skillset,” which speaks immeasurably to the idea of the enveloping purpose of software in the first place.  Software drives products to customers.  And 2. “Companies that win are companies that ship software.”

How can we help you be a Transformer?

There are a plethora of modern day processes revolving around Agile practices, which involve feature deployment speed to your customers.  The big, main point here is that Amazon really wants to take as much of the waste off of their customers’ shoulders as possible and manage it for them.  This is one of the fundamental principals in lean manufacturing and Agile development processes. Cut waste, so your people can concentrate on what’s important to your customer –  Providing stellar products and features.

To that end, AWS already provides everything you’ll need as far as infrastructure is concerned.  Need a thousand instances for a load ?  Spin them up, run your , then tear them down, and only pay for that hour you had them up.  That’s the bread and butter.  Where AWS is moving now is to help that development pipeline and to provide the tools to do it.

First and foremost, they’ve updated their Well Architected Framework (along with all the underlying documentation) to include a 5th pillar:

  1. Security
  2. Reliability
  3. Performance Efficiency
  4. Cost Optimization
  5. Operational Excellence (This is where Automation and CI/CD pipelines come into play.)

Transforming Operational Excellence

Automation is the name of the game here.  The existing tools have gotten some updates, and there are some new ones to add to your armory as well.

AWS CloudFormation has seen a ton of updates this past year including role-based stack creation, failure recovery, resource schemas and last but by far not least, yaml support!  Configuration management (in the form of Chef) has gotten a BIG boost in their new AWS Opsworks For Chef Automate, a fully managed chef server.  Oh, and managing system level patching and resource configuration?  They’ve got that covered as well with the Amazon EC2 Systems Manager.  The Biggest changes come to help your CI/CD pipeline.  The new AWS CodeBuild will build and your projects and fills out the pipeline toolset (between CodeCommit and CodeDeploy).  What about insight into your application?  The fantastic looking X-Ray will allow insight into your applications on a very deep level, with a smart looking UI to boot.  Another nice looking UI of a tool to handle managing events from your infrastructure is AWS Personal Health Dashboard.  This tool will help you manage responses to your events, and can be tied into Lambda for automation.

Security is number one with AWS, so it’s no surprise that they’re offering two new tools to help protect against the common DDOS attack.  The first, AWS Shield will help protect against some of the more common DDOS attack vectors.  The best thing about it?  Everyone gets it FOR FREE!  You use AWS, you get AWS Shield.  That simple.  AWS Shield Advanced is for more complex attacks and is a paid service that you can opt in for if you feel the need.

Transforming your Data

Amazon’s cloud offering levels the playing field when it comes to resource procurement.  Small companies can now compete with the big ones since they draw from the same pool and have the same tools available to them (regardless of size).  So what’s your competitive differentiator?  Data.  That’s why another focus of this past year has been on Big Data.

AWS already has a lot going for it with data analytics, from ingestion tools like Kinesis and Snowball to processing with EMR, there just seemed to be one thing missing:  AWS Glue.  AWS Glue pulls together all the components of Modern Data Warehouses into a comprehensive architecture for data analytics.  From data ingestion to data quality, source data preservation to orchestration and job scheduling, it looks like AWS Glue will manage it all.  Also on the processing end, the new AWS Batch tool will manage batch processing at any scale.

Transforming your Application Architecture

Amazon now provides 3 different architectures and payment styles when it comes to application development (or deployment if you look at it that way) – Virtualization, which is already quite robust in their compute ecosystem; Containers, which have an ever maturing product in ECS; and Serverless, which is handled quite well through services like AWS Lambda.  Virtualization didn’t get a particular mention here, but Containerization did.  Blox was already mentioned above, but there was also a “coming soon” drop here as well.  Looks like we’ll be seeing some kind of task placement engine in the near future.

Next up were new offerings around Lambda.  The first, and one that will surely broaden the adoption of serverless architectures, is the inclusion of the C# language into the list of supported languages.  To cut back on possible latency issues, you can now run Lambda functions at CloudFront locations using the new AWS Lambda@Edge.  To help coordinate all the components of your distributed applications, you now have AWS Step Functions.  This tool will allow you to coordinate all your bits and pieces using a visual workflow.

There’s a lot of potential for transforming your business here.

Like always, AWS doesn’t force you to use any particular tool or service, but they have a lot of what you need to develop products and features the right way.  They’ve made some serious strides to pull as much of the wasted, non-customer centric work away from your teams, and give them back that time to push more value to your customers.  Amazon doesn’t yet approach the organizational / process side of the equation, so that will still fall to the customer.  Once you figure it out though, it looks like AWS is positioned, and will continue to position itself, to help you and your teams make that transformation a reality.

-Craig Monson, Sr Automation Architect

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