Feb
09
2021
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Is overseeing cloud operations the new career path to CEO?

When Amazon announced last week that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos planned to step back from overseeing operations and shift into an executive chairman role, it also revealed that AWS CEO Andy Jassy, head of the company’s profitable cloud division, would replace him.

As Bessemer partner Byron Deeter pointed out on Twitter, Jassy’s promotion was similar to Satya Nadella’s ascent at Microsoft: in 2014, he moved from executive VP in charge of Azure to the chief exec’s office. Similarly, Arvind Krishna, who was promoted to replace Ginni Rometti as IBM CEO last year, also was formerly head of the company’s cloud business.

Could Nadella’s successful rise serve as a blueprint for Amazon as it makes a similar transition? While there are major differences in the missions of these companies, it’s inevitable that we will compare these two executives based on their former jobs. It’s true that they have an awful lot in common, but there are some stark differences, too.

Replacing a legend

For starters, Jassy is taking over for someone who founded one of the world’s biggest corporations. Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer, who had taken over for the company’s face, Bill Gates. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says this notable difference could have a huge impact for Jassy with his founder boss still looking over his shoulder.

“There’s a lot of similarity in the two situations, but Satya was a little removed from the founder Gates. Bezos will always hover and be there, whereas Gates (and Ballmer) had retired for good. [ … ] It was clear [they] would not be coming back. [ … ] For Jassy, the owner could [conceivably] come back anytime,” Mueller said.

But Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Forrester Research, says it’s not a coincidence that both leaders were plucked from the cloud divisions of their respective companies, even if it was seven years apart.

“In both cases, these hyperscale business units of Microsoft and Amazon were the fastest-growing and best-performing units of the companies. [ … ] In both cases, cloud infrastructure was seen as a platform on top of which and around which other cloud offerings could be developed,” Bartels said. The companies both believe that the leaders of these two growth engines were best suited to lead the company into the future.

Feb
04
2021
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The cloud infrastructure market hit $129B in 2020

The cloud infrastructure market in 2020 reflected society itself, with the richest companies getting richer and the ones at the bottom of the market getting poorer. It grew to $129 billion for the year, according to data from Synergy Research Group. That’s up from around $97 billion in 2019.

Synergy also reported that the cloud infra market reached $37 billion in the fourth quarter, up from $33 billion in the third quarter, and 35% from a year ago.

I’ve heard from every founder under the sun for the last 9 months that the pandemic was accelerating digital transformation, and that a big part of that was an expedited shift to the cloud. These numbers would seem to bear that out.

As usual the big three were Amazon, Microsoft and Google, with Alibaba now firmly entrenched in fourth place and IBM falling back to fifth. But Microsoft grew more quickly than rival Amazon, reaching 20% market share at the end of 2020 for the first time. Keep in mind that the Redmond-based software giant has now doubled its share since 2017. That’s remarkably rapid rapid growth. Meanwhile Google and Alibaba took home 9% and 6% respectively.

Here’s what that all looks like in chart form:

Cloud infrastructure marketshare for fourth quarter 2020 from Synergy Research.

Image Credits: Synergy Research

Amazon is an interesting case in that it has plateaued at around 33% for four straight years of Synergy data, but because it’s one-third share of an increasingly growing market, that means that it has kept growing its public cloud revenues as the category itself has expanded.

Amazon closed out the year with $12.74 billion in Q4 AWS revenue, putting it on a run rate of over just over $50 billion for the first time. That was up from $11.6 billion the prior quarter. While Microsoft’s numbers are always difficult to parse from its earning’s reports, doing the math of 20% of $37 billion, it came in with $7.4 billion up from $5.9 billion last quarter.

Google brought in $3.3 billion, up from $2.98 billion in Q3 2020, and Alibaba pulled in $2.22 billion, up from $1.65 billion over the same timeframe.

John Dinsdale, principal analyst at Synergy says the leaders are pretty firmly entrenched at this point with huge absolute market numbers and also huge gaps between the cloud providers. “AWS has been a great success story for over ten years now and it remains in an extremely strong market position despite increasing competition from a broad swathe of strong IT industry companies. That is a great testament both to Amazon and to the AWS leadership team and you’d have to suspect that will not change with the new regime,’ he told me.

He sees Microsoft as a worthy rival, but one that is bound to hit a growth wall at some point. “It is certainly feasible that Microsoft will continue to narrow the gap between itself and Amazon, but the bigger Microsoft Azure becomes the tougher it is to maintain really high growth rates. That is just the law of large numbers.”

Meanwhile, market share at the bottom of the cloud infrastructure space continued to decline even while the number of dollars at stake have continued to expand dramatically. “The market share losers have been the large group of smaller cloud providers, who collectively have lost 13 percentage points of market share over the last 16 quarters,” Synergy wrote in a statement.

Dinsdale says all is not lost for these players, however. “Regarding the smaller players (or the big companies that have only a small market share), they can either focus on specific market niches (can be based around geography, service type or customer vertical) or they can try to offer a broad range of cloud services to a broad range of customers. Companies doing the former can do quite well, while companies doing the latter will find it extremely tough,” Dinsdale told me.

It’s worth noting that Canalys has slightly different numbers with a total market of around $142 billion and almost $40 billion for the quarter, but the percentages are in line with Synergy’s:

Canalys 4th quarter 2021 cloud infrastructure market share percentages

Image Credits: Canalys

At some point the numbers get so big they almost cease to have meaning, but as large as the public cloud revenue numbers become, they remain a relatively small percentage of overall worldwide IT spend. According to Gartner estimates, worldwide IT spend in 2020 was $3.6 trillion (with a T). That means that the cloud infrastructure market accounted for just 3.85% of total spend in 2020.

Think about that for a moment: less than 4% of IT spend currently is on cloud infrastructure, leaving so much room for growth and for those billions to grow ever bigger in the coming years.

It would certainly make it more interesting if someone could come in and disrupt the leaders, but for now at least they are going to be hard to push out of the way unless something unforeseen and dramatic happens to the way we think about computing.

Feb
02
2021
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What Andy Jassy’s promotion to Amazon CEO could mean for AWS

Blockbuster news struck late this afternoon when Amazon announced that Jeff Bezos would be stepping back as CEO of Amazon, the company he built from a business in his garage to worldwide behemoth. As he takes on the role of executive chairman, his replacement will be none other than AWS CEO Andy Jassy.

With Jassy moving into his new role at the company, the immediate question is who replaces him to run AWS. Let the games begin. Among the names being tossed about in the rumor mill are Peter DeSantis, vice president of global infrastructure at AWS and Matt Garman, who is vice president of sales and marketing. Both are members of Bezos’ elite executive team known as the S-team and either would make sense as Jassy’s successor. Nobody knows for sure though, and it could be any number of people inside the organization, or even someone from outside. Amazon was not ready to comment on a successor yet with the hand-off still months away.

Holger Mueller, a senior analyst at Constellation Research, says that Jassy is being rewarded for doing a stellar job raising AWS from a tiny side business to one on a $50 billion run rate. “On the finance side it makes sense to appoint an executive who intimately knows Amazon’s most profitable business, that operates in more competitive markets. [Appointing Jassy] ensures that the new Amazon CEO does not break the ‘golden goose’,” Mueller told me.

Alex Smith, VP of channels, who covers the cloud infrastructure market at analyst firm Canalys, says the writing has been on the wall that a transition was in the works. “This move has been coming for some time. Jassy is the second most public-facing figure at Amazon and has lead one of its most successful business units. Bezos can go out on a high and focus on his many other ventures,” Smith said.

Smith adds that this move should enhance AWS’s place in the organization. “I think this is more of an AWS gain, in terms of its increasing strategic importance to Amazon going forward, rather than loss in terms of losing Andy as direct lead. I expect he’ll remain close to that organization.”

Ed Anderson, a Gartner analyst also sees Jassy as the obvious choice to take over for Bezos. “Amazon is a company driven by technology innovation, something Andy has been doing at AWS for many years now. Also, it’s worth noting that Andy Jassy has an impressive track record of building and running a very large business. Under Andy’s leadership, AWS has grown to be one of the biggest technology companies in the world and one of the most impactful in defining what the future of computing will be,” Anderson said.

In the company earnings report released today, AWS came in at $12.74 billion for the quarter up 28% YoY from $9.6 billion a year ago. That puts the company on an elite $50 billion run rate. No other cloud infrastructure vendor, even the mighty Microsoft, is even close in this category. Microsoft stands at around 20% marketshare compared to AWS’s approximately 33% market share.

It’s unclear what impact the executive shuffle will have on the company at large or AWS in particular. In some ways it feels like when Larry Ellison stepped down as CEO of Oracle in 2014 to take on the exact same executive chairman role. While Safra Catz and Mark Hurd took over at co-CEOs in that situation, Ellison has remained intimately involved with the company he helped found. It’s reasonable to assume that Bezos will do the same.

With Jassy, the company is getting a man who has risen through the ranks since joining the company in 1997 after getting an undergraduate degree and an MBA from Harvard. In 2002 he became VP/technical assistant, working directly under Bezos. It was in this role that he began to see the need for a set of common web services for Amazon developers to use. This idea grew into AWS and Jassy became a VP at the fledgling division working his way up until he was appointed CEO in 2016.

Dec
22
2020
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With a $50B run rate in reach, can anyone stop AWS?

AWS, Amazon’s flourishing cloud arm, has been growing at a rapid clip for more than a decade. An early public cloud infrastructure vendor, it has taken advantage of first-to-market status to become the most successful player in the space. In fact, one could argue that many of today’s startups wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without the formation of cloud companies like AWS giving them easy access to infrastructure without having to build it themselves.

In Amazon’s most-recent earnings report, AWS generated revenues of $11.6 billion, good for a run rate of more than $46 billion. That makes the next AWS milestone a run rate of $50 billion, something that could be in reach in less than two quarters if it continues its pace of revenue growth.

The good news for competing companies is that in spite of the market size and relative maturity, there is still plenty of room to grow.

While the cloud division’s growth is slowing in percentage terms as it comes firmly up against the law of large numbers in which AWS has to grow every quarter compared to an ever-larger revenue base. The result of this dynamic is that while AWS’ year-over-year growth rate is slowing over time — from 35% in Q3 2019 to 29% in Q3 2020 — the pace at which it is adding $10 billion chunks of annual revenue run rate is accelerating.

At the AWS re:Invent customer conference this year, AWS CEO Andy Jassy talked about the pace of change over the years, saying that it took the following number of months to grow its run rate by $10 billion increments:

123 months ($0-$10 billion) 23 months ($10 billion-$20 billion) 13 months ($20 billion-$30 billion) 12 months ($30 billion to $40 billion)

Image Credits: TechCrunch (data from AWS)

Extrapolating from the above trend, it should take AWS fewer than 12 months to scale from a run rate of $40 billion to $50 billion. Stating the obvious, Jassy said “the rate of growth in AWS continues to accelerate.” He also took the time to point out that AWS is now the fifth-largest enterprise IT company in the world, ahead of enterprise stalwarts like SAP and Oracle.

What’s amazing is that AWS achieved its scale so fast, not even existing until 2006. That growth rate makes us ask a question: Can anyone hope to stop AWS’ momentum?

The short answer is that it doesn’t appear likely.

Cloud market landscape

A good place to start is surveying the cloud infrastructure competitive landscape to see if there are any cloud companies that could catch the market leader. According to Synergy Research, AWS remains firmly in front, and it doesn’t look like any competitor could catch AWS anytime soon unless some market dynamic caused a drastic change.

Synergy Research Cloud marketshare leaders. Amazon is first, Microsoft is second and Google is third.

Image Credits: Synergy Research

With around a third of the market, AWS is the clear front-runner. Its closest and fiercest rival Microsoft has around 20%. To put that into perspective a bit, last quarter AWS had $11.6 billion in revenue compared to Microsoft’s $5.2 billion Azure result. While Microsoft’s equivalent cloud number is growing faster at 47%, like AWS, that number has begun to drop steadily while it gains market share and higher revenue and it falls victim to that same law of large numbers.

Dec
17
2020
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Spryker raises $130M at a $500M+ valuation to provide B2Bs with agile e-commerce tools

Businesses today feel, more than ever, the imperative to have flexible e-commerce strategies in place, able to connect with would-be customers wherever they might be. That market driver has now led to a significant growth round for a startup that is helping the larger of these businesses, including those targeting the B2B market, build out their digital sales operations with more agile, responsive e-commerce solutions.

Spryker, which provides a full suite of e-commerce tools for businesses — starting with a platform to bring a company’s inventory online, through to tools to analyse and measure how that inventory is selling and where, and then adding voice commerce, subscriptions, click & collect, IoT commerce and other new features and channels to improve the mix — has closed a round of $130 million.

It plans to use the funding to expand its own technology tools, as well as grow internationally. The company makes revenues in the mid-eight figures (so, around $50 million annually) and some 10% of its revenues currently come from the U.S. The plan will be to grow that business as part of its wider expansion, tackling a market for e-commerce software that is estimated to be worth some $7 billion annually.

The Series C was led by TCV — the storied investor that has backed giants like Facebook, Airbnb, Netflix, Spotify and Splunk, as well as interesting, up-and-coming e-commerce “plumbing” startups like Spryker, Relex and more. Previous backers One Peak and Project A Ventures also participated.

We understand that this latest funding values Berlin -based Spryker at more than $500 million.

Spryker today has around 150 customers, global businesses that run the gamut from recognised fashion brands through to companies that, as Boris Lokschin, who co-founded the company with Alexander Graf (the two share the title of co-CEOs) put it, are “hidden champions, leaders and brands you have never heard about doing things like selling silicone isolations for windows.” The roster includes Metro, Aldi Süd, Toyota and many others.

The plan will be to continue to support and grow its wider business building e-commerce tools for all kinds of larger companies, but in particular Spryker plans to use this tranche of funding to double down specifically on the B2B opportunity, building more agile e-commerce storefronts and in some cases also developing marketplaces around that.

One might assume that in the world of e-commerce, consumer-facing companies need to be the most dynamic and responsive, not least because they are facing a mass market and all the whims and competitive forces that might drive users to abandon shopping carts, look for better deals elsewhere or simply get distracted by the latest notification of a TikTok video or direct message.

For consumer-facing businesses, making sure they have the latest adtech, marketing tech and tools to improve discovery and conversion is a must.

It turns out that business-facing businesses are no less immune to their own set of customer distractions and challenges — particularly in the current market, buffeted as it is by the global health pandemic and its economic reverberations. They, too, could benefit from testing out new channels and techniques to attract customers, help them with discovery and more.

“We’ve discovered that the model for success for B2B businesses online is not about different people, and not about money. They just don’t have the tooling,” said Graf. “Those that have proven to be more successful are those that are able to move faster, to test out everything that comes to mind.”

Spryker positions itself as the company to help larger businesses do this, much in the way that smaller merchants have adopted solutions from the likes of Shopify .

In some ways, it almost feels like the case of Walmart versus Amazon playing itself out across multiple verticals, and now in the world of B2B.

“One of our biggest DIY customers [which would have previously served a mainly trade-only clientele] had to build a marketplace because of restrictions in their brick and mortar assortment, and in how it could be accessed,” Lokschin said. “You might ask yourself, who really needs more selection? But there are new providers like Mano Mano and Amazon, both offering millions of products. Older companies then have to become marketplaces themselves to remain competitive.”

It seems that even Spryker itself is not immune from that marketplace trend: Part of the funding will be to develop a technology AppStore, where it can itself offer third-party tools to companies to complement what it provides in terms of e-commerce tools.

“We integrate with hundreds of tech providers, including 30-40 payment providers, all of the essential logistics networks,” Lokschin said.

Spryker is part of that category of e-commerce businesses known as “headless” providers — by which they mean those using the tools do so by way of API-based architecture and other easy-to-integrate modules delivered through a “PaaS” (clould-based Platform as a Service) model.

It is not alone in that category: There have been a number of others playing on the same concept to emerge both in Europe and the U.S. They include Commerce Layer in Italy; another startup out of Germany called Commercetools; and Shogun in the U.S.

Spryker’s argument is that by being a newer company (founded in 2018) it has a more up-to-date stack that puts it ahead of older startups and more incumbent players like SAP and Oracle.

That is part of what attracted TCV and others in this round, which was closed earlier than Spryker had even planned to raise (it was aiming for Q2 of next year) but came on good terms.

“The commerce infrastructure market has been a high priority for TCV over the years. It is a large market that is growing rapidly on the back of e-commerce growth,” said Muz Ashraf, a principal at TCV, to TechCrunch. “We have invested across other areas of the commerce stack, including payments (Mollie, Klarna), underlying infrastructure (Redis Labs) as well as systems of engagement (ExactTarget, Sitecore). Traditional offline vendors are increasingly rethinking their digital commerce strategy, more so given what we are living through, and that further acts as a market accelerant.

“Having tracked Spryker for a while now, we think their solution meets the needs of enterprises who are increasingly looking for modern solutions that allow them to live in a best-of-breed world, future-proofing their commerce offerings and allowing them to provide innovative experiences to their consumers.”

Dec
16
2020
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Amazon asks judge to set aside Microsoft’s $10B DoD JEDI cloud contract win

It’s been more than two years since the Pentagon announced its $10 billion, decade long JEDI cloud contract, which was supposed to provide a pathway to technological modernization for U.S. armed forces. While Microsoft was awarded the contract in October 2019, Amazon went to court to protest that decision, and it has been in legal limbo ever since.

Yesterday marked another twist in this government procurement saga when Amazon released its latest legal volley, asking a judge to set aside the decision to select Microsoft. Its arguments are similar to ones it has made before, but this time takes aim at the Pentagon’s reevaluation process, which after reviewing the contract and selection process, still found in a decision released this past September that Microsoft had won.

Amazon believes that reevaluation was highly flawed, and subject to undue influence, bias and pressure from the president. Based on this, Amazon has asked the court to set aside the award to Microsoft .

The JEDI reevaluations and re-award decision have fallen victim to an Administration that suppresses the good-faith analysis and reasoning of career officials for political reasons — ultimately to the detriment of national security and the efficient and lawful use of taxpayer dollars. DoD has demonstrated again that it has not executed this procurement objectively and in good faith. This re-award should be set aside.

As you might imagine, Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president for communications at Microsoft does not agree, believing his company won on merit and by providing the best price.

“As the losing bidder, Amazon was informed of our pricing and they realized they’d originally bid too high. They then amended aspects of their bid to achieve a lower price. However, when looking at all the criteria together, the career procurement officials at the DoD decided that given the superior technical advantages and overall value, we continued to offer the best solution,” Shaw said in a statement shared with TechCrunch.

As for Amazon, a spokesperson told TechCrunch, “We are simply seeking a fair and objective review by the court, regarding the technical errors, bias and political interference that blatantly impacted this contract award.”

And so it goes.

The Pentagon announced it was putting out a bid for a $10 billion, decade long contract in 2018, dubbing it JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. The procurement process has been mired in controversy from the start, and the size and scope of the deal has attracted widespread attention, much more than your typical government contract. It brought with it claims of bias, particularly by Oracle, that the bidding process was designed to favor Amazon.

We are more than two years beyond the original announcement. We are more than year beyond the original award to Microsoft, and it still remains stuck in a court battle with two major tech companies continuing to snipe at one another. With neither likely to give in, it will be up to the court to decide the final outcome, and perhaps end this saga once and for all.

Note: The DoD did not respond to our request for comment. Should that change, we will update the story.

Dec
15
2020
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AWS introduces new Chaos Engineering as a Service offering

When large companies like Netflix or Amazon want to test the resilience of their systems, they use chaos engineering tools designed to help them simulate worst-case scenarios and find potential issues before they even happen. Today at AWS re:Invent, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels introduced the company’s Chaos Engineering as a Service offering called AWS Fault Injection Simulator.

The name may lack a certain marketing panache, but Vogels said that the service is designed to help bring this capability to all companies. “We believe that chaos engineering is for everyone, not just shops running at Amazon or Netflix scale. And that’s why today I’m excited to pre-announce a new service built to simplify the process of running chaos experiments in the cloud ,” Vogels said.

As he explained, the goal of chaos engineering is to understand how your application responds to issues by injecting failures into your application, usually running these experiments against production systems. AWS Fault Injection Simulator offers a fully managed service to run these experiments on applications running on AWS hardware.

AWS Fault Injection Simulator workflow.

Image Credits: Amazon / Getty Images

“FIS makes it easy to run safe experiments. We built it to follow the typical chaos experimental workflow where you understand your steady state, set a hypothesis and inject faults into your application. When the experiment is over, FIS will tell you if your hypothesis was confirmed, and you can use the data collected by CloudWatch to decide where you need to make improvements,” he explained.

While the company was announcing the service today, Vogels indicated it won’t actually be available until some time next year.

It’s worth noting that there are other similar services out there by companies like Gremlin, who are already providing a broad Chaos Engineering Service as a Service offering.

Dec
15
2020
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Twitter taps AWS for its latest foray into the public cloud

Twitter has a lot going on, and it’s not always easy to manage that kind of scale on your own. Today, Amazon announced that Twitter has signed a multi-year agreement with AWS to run its real-time timelines. It’s a major win for Amazon’s cloud arm.

While the companies have worked together in some capacity for over a decade, this marks the first time that Twitter is tapping AWS to help run its core timelines.

“This expansion onto AWS marks the first time that Twitter is leveraging the public cloud to scale their real-time service. Twitter will rely on the breadth and depth of AWS, including capabilities in compute, containers, storage and security, to reliably deliver the real-time service with the lowest latency, while continuing to develop and deploy new features to improve how people use Twitter,” the company explained in the announcement.

Parag Agrawal, chief technology officer at Twitter, sees this as a way to expand and improve the company’s real-time offerings by taking advantage of AWS’s network of data centers to deliver content closer to the user. “The collaboration with AWS will improve performance for people who use Twitter by enabling us to serve Tweets from data centers closer to our customers at the same time as we leverage the Arm-based architecture of AWS Graviton2 instances. In addition to helping us scale our infrastructure, this work with AWS enables us to ship features faster as we apply AWS’s diverse and growing portfolio of services,” Agrawal said in a statement.

It’s worth noting that Twitter also has a relationship with Google Cloud. In 2018, it announced it was moving its Hadoop clusters to GCP.

This announcement could be considered a case of the rich getting richer as AWS is the leader in the cloud infrastructure market by far, with around 33% market share. Microsoft is in second with around 18% and Google is in third with 9%, according to Synergy Research. In its most recent earnings report, Amazon reported $11.6 billion in AWS revenue, putting it on a run rate of over $46 billion.

Dec
08
2020
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AWS expands on SageMaker capabilities with end-to-end features for machine learning

Nearly three years after it was first launched, Amazon Web Services’ SageMaker platform has gotten a significant upgrade in the form of new features, making it easier for developers to automate and scale each step of the process to build new automation and machine learning capabilities, the company said.

As machine learning moves into the mainstream, business units across organizations will find applications for automation, and AWS is trying to make the development of those bespoke applications easier for its customers.

“One of the best parts of having such a widely adopted service like SageMaker is that we get lots of customer suggestions which fuel our next set of deliverables,” said AWS vice president of machine learning, Swami Sivasubramanian. “Today, we are announcing a set of tools for Amazon SageMaker that makes it much easier for developers to build end-to-end machine learning pipelines to prepare, build, train, explain, inspect, monitor, debug and run custom machine learning models with greater visibility, explainability and automation at scale.”

Already companies like 3M, ADP, AstraZeneca, Avis, Bayer, Capital One, Cerner, Domino’s Pizza, Fidelity Investments, Lenovo, Lyft, T-Mobile and Thomson Reuters are using SageMaker tools in their own operations, according to AWS.

The company’s new products include Amazon SageMaker Data Wrangler, which the company said was providing a way to normalize data from disparate sources so the data is consistently easy to use. Data Wrangler can also ease the process of grouping disparate data sources into features to highlight certain types of data. The Data Wrangler tool contains more than 300 built-in data transformers that can help customers normalize, transform and combine features without having to write any code.

Amazon also unveiled the Feature Store, which allows customers to create repositories that make it easier to store, update, retrieve and share machine learning features for training and inference.

Another new tool that Amazon Web Services touted was Pipelines, its workflow management and automation toolkit. The Pipelines tech is designed to provide orchestration and automation features not dissimilar from traditional programming. Using pipelines, developers can define each step of an end-to-end machine learning workflow, the company said in a statement. Developers can use the tools to re-run an end-to-end workflow from SageMaker Studio using the same settings to get the same model every time, or they can re-run the workflow with new data to update their models.

To address the longstanding issues with data bias in artificial intelligence and machine learning models, Amazon launched SageMaker Clarify. First announced today, this tool allegedly provides bias detection across the machine learning workflow, so developers can build with an eye toward better transparency on how models were set up. There are open-source tools that can do these tests, Amazon acknowledged, but the tools are manual and require a lot of lifting from developers, according to the company.

Other products designed to simplify the machine learning application development process include SageMaker Debugger, which enables developers to train models faster by monitoring system resource utilization and alerting developers to potential bottlenecks; Distributed Training, which makes it possible to train large, complex, deep learning models faster than current approaches by automatically splitting data across multiple GPUs to accelerate training times; and SageMaker Edge Manager, a machine learning model management tool for edge devices, which allows developers to optimize, secure, monitor and manage models deployed on fleets of edge devices.

Last but not least, Amazon unveiled SageMaker JumpStart, which provides developers with a searchable interface to find algorithms and sample notebooks so they can get started on their machine learning journey. The company said it would give developers new to machine learning the option to select several pre-built machine learning solutions and deploy them into SageMaker environments.

Dec
08
2020
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AWS announces SageMaker Clarify to help reduce bias in machine learning models

As companies rely increasingly on machine learning models to run their businesses, it’s imperative to include anti-bias measures to ensure these models are not making false or misleading assumptions. Today at AWS re:Invent, AWS introduced Amazon SageMaker Clarify to help reduce bias in machine learning models.

“We are launching Amazon SageMaker Clarify. And what that does is it allows you to have insight into your data and models throughout your machine learning lifecycle,” Bratin Saha, Amazon VP and general manager of machine learning told TechCrunch.

He says that it is designed to analyze the data for bias before you start data prep, so you can find these kinds of problems before you even start building your model.

“Once I have my training data set, I can [look at things like if I have] an equal number of various classes, like do I have equal numbers of males and females or do I have equal numbers of other kinds of classes, and we have a set of several metrics that you can use for the statistical analysis so you get real insight into easier data set balance,” Saha explained.

After you build your model, you can run SageMaker Clarify again to look for similar factors that might have crept into your model as you built it. “So you start off by doing statistical bias analysis on your data, and then post training you can again do analysis on the model,” he said.

There are multiple types of bias that can enter a model due to the background of the data scientists building the model, the nature of the data and how they data scientists interpret that data through the model they built. While this can be problematic in general it can also lead to racial stereotypes being extended to algorithms. As an example, facial recognition systems have proven quite accurate at identifying white faces, but much less so when it comes to recognizing people of color.

It may be difficult to identify these kinds of biases with software as it often has to do with team makeup and other factors outside the purview of a software analysis tool, but Saha says they are trying to make that software approach as comprehensive as possible.

“If you look at SageMaker Clarify it gives you data bias analysis, it gives you model bias analysis, it gives you model explainability it gives you per inference explainability it gives you a global explainability,” Saha said.

Saha says that Amazon is aware of the bias problem and that is why it created this tool to help, but he recognizes that this tool alone won’t eliminate all of the bias issues that can crop up in machine learning models, and they offer other ways to help too.

“We are also working with our customers in various ways. So we have documentation, best practices, and we point our customers to how to be able to architect their systems and work with the system so they get the desired results,” he said.

SageMaker Clarify is available starting to day in multiple regions.

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