May
14
2018
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AWS introduces 1-click Lambda functions app for IoT

When Amazon introduced AWS Lambda in 2015, the notion of serverless computing was relatively unknown. It enables developers to deliver software without having to manage a server to do it. Instead, Amazon manages it all and the underlying infrastructure only comes into play when an event triggers a requirement. Today, the company released an app in the iOS App Store called AWS IoT 1-Click to bring that notion a step further.

The 1-click part of the name may be a bit optimistic, but the app is designed to give developers even quicker access to Lambda event triggers. These are designed specifically for simple single-purpose devices like a badge reader or a button. When you press the button, you could be connected to customer service or maintenance or whatever makes sense for the given scenario.

One particularly good example from Amazon is the Dash Button. These are simple buttons that users push to reorder goods like laundry detergent or toilet paper. Pushing the button connects to the device to the internet via the home or business’s WiFi and sends a signal to the vendor to order the product in the pre-configured amount. AWS IoT 1-Click extends this capability to any developers, so long as it is on a supported device.

To use the new feature, you need to enter your existing account information. You configure your WiFi and you can choose from a pre-configured list of devices and Lambda functions for the given device. Supported devices in this early release include AWS IoT Enterprise Button, a commercialized version of the Dash button and the AT&T LTE-M Button.

Once you select a device, you define the project to trigger a Lambda function, or send an SMS or email, as you prefer. Choose Lambda for an event trigger, then touch Next to move to the configuration screen where you configure the trigger action. For instance, if pushing the button triggers a call to IT from the conference room, the trigger would send a page to IT that there was a call for help in the given conference room.

Finally, choose the appropriate Lambda function, which should work correctly based on your configuration information.

All of this obviously requires more than one click and probably involves some testing and reconfiguring to make sure you’ve entered everything correctly, but the idea of having an app to create simple Lambda functions could help people with non-programming background configure buttons with simple functions with some training on the configuration process.

It’s worth noting that the service is still in Preview, so you can download the app today, but you have to apply to participate at this time.

Apr
11
2018
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With Fargate, AWS wants to make containers more cloud native

At its re:Invent developer conference, AWS made so many announcements that even some of the company’s biggest launches only got a small amount of attention. While the company’s long-awaited Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes got quite a bit of press, the launch of the far more novel Fargate container service stayed under the radar.

When I talked to him earlier this week, AWS VP and Amazon CTO (and EDM enthusiast) Werner Vogels admitted as much. “I think some of the Fargate stuff got a bit lost in all the other announcements that there were,” he told me. “I think it is a major step forward in making containers more cloud native and we see quite a few of our customers jumping on board with Fargate.”

Fargate, if you haven’t followed along, is a technology for AWS’ Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Kubernetes Service (EKS) that abstracts all of the underlying infrastructure for running containers away. You pick your container orchestration engine and the service does the rest. There’s no need for managing individual servers or clusters. Instead, you simply tells ECS or EKS that you want to launch a container with Fargate, define the CPU and memory requirements of your application and let the service handle the rest.

To Vogels, who also published a longer blog post on Fargate today, the service is part of the company’s mission to help developers focus on their applications — and not the infrastructure. “I always compare it a bit to the early days of cloud,” said Vogels. “Before we had AWS, there were only virtual machines. And many companies build successful businesses around it. But when you run virtual machines, you still have to manage the hardware. […] One of the things that happened when we introduced EC2 [the core AWS cloud computing service] in the early days, was sort of that it decoupled things from the hardware. […] I think that tremendously improved developer productivity.”

But even with the early containers tools, if you wanted to run them directly on AWS or even in ECS, you still had to do a lot of work that had little to do with actually running the containers. “Basically, it’s the same story,” Vogels said. “VMs became the hardware for the containers. And a significant amount of work for developers went into that orchestration piece.”

What Amazon’s customers wanted, however, was being able to focus on running their containers — not what Vogels called the “hands-on hardware-type of management.” “That was so pre-cloud,” he added and in his blog post today, he also notes that “container orchestration has always seemed to me to be very not cloud native.”

In Vogels’ view, it seems, if you are still worried about infrastructure, you’re not really cloud native. He also noted that the original promise of AWS was that AWS would worry about running the infrastructure while developers got to focus on what mattered for their businesses. It’s services like Fargate and maybe also Lambda that take this overall philosophy the furthest.

Even with a container service like ECS or EKS, though, the clusters still don’t run completely automatically and you still end up provisioning capacity that you don’t need all the time. The promise of Fargate is that it will auto-scale for you and that you only pay for the capacity you actually need.

“Our customers, they just want to build software, they just want to build their applications. They don’t want to be bothered with how to exactly map this container down to that particular virtual machine — which is what they had to do,” Vogels said. “With Fargate, you select the type of CPUs you want to use for a particular task and it will autoscale this for you. Meaning that you actually only have to pay for the capacity you use.”

When it comes to abstracting away infrastructure, though, Fargate does this for containers, but it’s worth noting that a serverless product like AWS Lambda takes it even further. For Vogels, this is a continuum and driven by customer demand. While AWS is clearly placing big bets on containers, he is also quite realistic about the fact that many companies will continue to use containers for the foreseeable future. “VMs won’t go away,” he said.

With a serverless product like Lambda, you don’t even think about the infrastructure at all anymore, not even containers — you get to fully focus on the code and only pay for the execution of that code. And while Vogels sees the landscape of VMs, containers and serverless as a continuum, where customers move from one to the next, he also noted that AWS is seeing enterprises that are skipping over the container step and going all in on serverless right away.

Apr
04
2018
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AWS launches a cheaper single-zone version of its S3 storage service

AWS’ S3 storage service today launched a cheaper option for keeping data in the cloud — as long as developers are willing to give up a few 9s of availability in return for saving up to 20 percent compared to the standard S3 price for applications that need infrequent access. The name for this new S3 tier: S3 One Zone-Infrequent Access.

S3 was among the first services AWS offered. Over the years, the company added a few additional tiers to the standard storage service. There’s the S3 Standard tier with the promise of 99.999999999 percent durability and 99.99 percent availability and S3 Standard-Infrequent Access with the same durability promise and 99.9 percent availability. There’s also Glacier for cold storage.

Data stored in the Standard and Standard-Infrequent access tiers is replicated across three or more availability zones. As the name implies, the main difference between those and the One Zone-Infrequent Access tier is that with this cheaper option, all the data sits in only one availability zone. It’s still replicated across different machines, but if that zone goes down (or is destroyed), you can’t access your data.

Because of this, AWS only promises 99.5 percent availability and only offers a 99 percent SLA. In terms of features and durability, though, there’s no difference between this tier and the other S3 tiers.

As Amazon CTO Werner Vogels noted in a keynote at the AWS Summit in San Francisco today, it’s the replication across availability zones that defines the storage cost. In his view, this new service should be used for data that is infrequently accessed but can be replicated.

An availability of 99.5 percent does mean that you should expect to experience a day or two per year where you can’t access your data, though. For some applications, that’s perfectly acceptable, and Vogels noted that he expects AWS customers to use this for secondary backup copies or for storing media files that can be replicated.

Apr
04
2018
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AWS adds automated point-in-time recovery to DynamoDB

One of the joys of cloud computing is handing over your data to the cloud vendor and letting them handle the heavy lifting. Up until now that has meant they updated the software or scaled the hardware for you. Today, AWS took that to another level when it announced Amazon DynamoDB Continuous Backups and Point-In-Time Recovery (PITR).

With this new service, the company lets you simply enable the new backup tool, and the backup happens automatically. Amazon takes care of the rest, providing a continuous backup of all the data in your DynamoDB database.

But it doesn’t stop there, it lets the backup system act as a recording of sorts. You can rewind your data set to any point in time in the backup to any time with “per second granularity” up to 35 days in the past. What’s more, you can access the tool from the AWS Management Console, an API call or via the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI).

Screenshot: Amazon

“We built this feature to protect against accidental writes or deletes. If a developer runs a script against production instead of staging or if someone fat-fingers a DeleteItem call, PITR has you covered. We also built it for the scenarios you can’t normally predict,” Amazon’s Randall Hunt wrote in the blog post announcing the new feature.

If you’re concerned about the 35 day limit, you needn’t be as the system is an adjunct to your regular on-demand backups, which you can keep for as long as you need.

Amazon’s Chief Technology Officer, Werner Vogels, who introduced the new service at the Amazon Summit in San Francisco today, said it doesn’t matter how much data you have. Even with a terabyte of data, you can make use of this service. “This is a truly powerful mechanism here,” Vogels said.

The new service is available in various regions today. You can learn about regional availability and pricing options here.

Apr
02
2018
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Apple, in a very Apple move, is reportedly working on its own Mac chips

Apple is planning to use its own chips for its Mac devices, which could replace the Intel chips currently running on its desktop and laptop hardware, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Apple already designs a lot of custom silicon, including its chipsets like the W-series for its Bluetooth headphones, the S-series in its watches, its A-series iPhone chips, as well as customized GPU for the new iPhones. In that sense, Apple has in a lot of ways built its own internal fabless chip firm, which makes sense as it looks for its devices to tackle more and more specific use cases and remove some of its reliance on third parties for their equipment. Apple is already in the middle of in a very public spat with Qualcomm over royalties, and while the Mac is sort of a tertiary product in its lineup, it still contributes a significant portion of revenue to the company.

Creating an entire suite of custom silicon could do a lot of things for Apple, the least of which bringing in the Mac into a system where the devices can talk to each other more efficiently. Apple already has a lot of tools to shift user activities between all its devices, but making that more seamless means it’s easier to lock users into the Apple ecosystem. If you’ve ever compared connecting headphones with a W1 chip to the iPhone and just typical Bluetooth headphones, you’ve probably seen the difference, and that could be even more robust with its own chipset. Bloomberg reports that Apple may implement the chips as soon as 2020.

Intel may be the clear loser here, and the market is reflecting that. Intel’s stock is down nearly 8% after the report came out, as it would be a clear shift away from the company’s typical architecture where it has long held its ground as Apple moves on from traditional silicon to its own custom designs. Apple, too, is not the only company looking to design its own silicon, with Amazon looking into building its own AI chips for Alexa in another move to create a lock-in for the Amazon ecosystem. And while the biggest players are looking at their own architecture, there’s an entire suite of startups getting a lot of funding building custom silicon geared toward AI.

Apple declined to comment.

Mar
28
2018
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GoDaddy to move most of its infrastructure to AWS, not including domain management for its 75M domains

It really is Go Time for GoDaddy . Amazon’s cloud services provider AWS and GoDaddy, the domain registration and management giant, may have competed in the past when it comes to working with small businesses to provide them with web services, but today the two took a step closer together. AWS said that GoDaddy is now migrating “the majority” of its infrastructure to AWS in a multi-year deal that will also see AWS becoming a partner in selling on some products of GoDaddy’s — namely Managed WordPress and GoCentral for managing domains and building and running websites.

The deal — financial terms of which are not being disclosed — is wide-ranging, but it will not include taking on domain management for GoDaddy’s 75 million domains currently under management, a spokesperson for the company confirmed to me.

“GoDaddy is not migrating the domains it manages to AWS,” said Dan Race, GoDaddy’s VP of communications. “GoDaddy will continue to manage all customer domains. Domain management is obviously a core business for GoDaddy.”

The move underscores Amazon’s continuing expansion as a powerhouse in cloud hosting and related services, providing a one-stop shop for customers who come for one product and stay for everything else (not unlike its retail strategy in that regard). Also, it is a reminder of how the economies of scale in the cloud business make it financially challenging to compete if you are not already one of the big players, or lack deep pockets to sustain your business as you look to grow. GoDaddy has been a direct victim of those economics: just last summer, GoDaddy killed off Cloud Servers, its AWS-style business for building, testing and scaling cloud services on GoDaddy infrastructure. It also already was hosting some services on AWS prior to this: its enterprise-grade Managed WordPress service was already being hosted there, for example.

The AWS deal also highlights how GoDaddy is trimming operational costs to improve its overall balance sheet under Scott Wagner, the COO who took over as CEO from Blake Irving at the beginning of this year. 

“As a technology provider with more than 17 million customers, it was very important for GoDaddy to select a cloud provider with deep experience in delivering a highly reliable global infrastructure, as well as an unmatched track record of technology innovation, to support our rapidly expanding business,” said Charles Beadnall, CTO at GoDaddy, in a statement.

AWS provides a superior global footprint and set of cloud capabilities which is why we selected them to meet our needs today and into the future. By operating on AWS, we’ll be able to innovate at the speed and scale we need to deliver powerful new tools that will help our customers run their own ventures and be successful online,” he continued.

AWS said that GoDaddy will be using AWS’s Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes and Elastic Compute Cloud P3 instances, as well as machine learning, analytics, and other database-related and container technology. Race told TechCrunch that the infrastructure components that the company is migrating to AWS currently run at GoDaddy but will be gradually moved away as part of its multi-year migration.

“As a large, high-growth business, GoDaddy will be able to leverage AWS to innovate for its customers around the world,” said Mike Clayville, VP, worldwide commercial sales at AWS, in a statement. “Our industry-leading services will enable GoDaddy to leverage emerging technologies like machine learning, quickly test ideas, and deliver new tools and solutions to their customers with greater frequency. We look forward to collaborating with GoDaddy as they build anew in the cloud and innovate new solutions to help people turn their ideas into reality online.”

Feb
12
2018
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Amazon may be developing AI chips for Alexa

 The Information has a report this morning that Amazon is working on building AI chips for the Echo, which would allow Alexa to more quickly parse information and get those answers. Read More

Dec
28
2017
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AWS showed no signs of slowing down in 2017

 AWS had a successful year by any measure. The company continued to behave like a startup with the kind of energy and momentum to invest in new areas not usually seen in an incumbent with a significant marketshare lead. How good a year was it? According to numbers from Synergy Research, the company remains the category leader by far with around 35 percent marketshare. Microsoft sits well behind… Read More

Dec
08
2017
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AWS has a post re:Invent surprise as it enters the single sign-on market

 Steve Jobs used to famously end his keynotes with “there is one more thing…” AWS decided to wait a week after their re:Invent conference ended to announce their more thing when they quietly released a single sign on product for the AWS cloud yesterday.
While the announcement was pretty thin on details, it appears to be focused on providing single sign on for the AWS family of… Read More

Nov
29
2017
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Amazon is putting Alexa in the office

 The interface is evolving. What has long been dominated by screens of all shapes and sizes is now being encroached upon by the voice. And while many companies are building voice interfaces — Apple with Siri, Google with Assistant, and Microsoft with Cortana — none are quite as dominant as Amazon has been with Alexa. At the AWS reinvent conference, Amazon announced Alexa for… Read More

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