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
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.

Dec
03
2020
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AWS expands startup assistance program

Last year, AWS launched the APN Global Startup Program, which is sort of AWS’s answer to an incubator for mid to late-stage startups deeply involved with AWS technology. This year, the company wants to expand that offering, and today it announced some updates to the program at the Partner keynote at AWS re:Invent.

While startups technically have to pay a $2,500 fee if they are accepted to the program, AWS typically refunds that fee, says Doug Yeum, head of the Global Partner Organization at AWS — and they get a lot of benefits for being part of the program.

“While the APN has a $2,500 annual program fee, startups that are accepted into the invite-only APN Global Startup Program get that fee back, as well as free access to substantial additional resources both in terms of funding as well as exclusive program partner managers and co-sell specialists resources,” Yeum told TechCrunch.

And those benefits are pretty substantial, including access to a new “white glove program” that lets them work with a program manager with direct knowledge of AWS and who has experience working with startups. In addition, participants get access to an ISV program to work more directly with these vendors to increase sales and access to data exchange services to move third-party data into the AWS cloud.

What’s more, they can apply to the new AI/ML Acceleration program. As AWS describes it, “This includes up to $5,000 AWS credits to fund experiments on AWS services, enabling startups to explore AWS AI/ML tools that offer the best fit for them at low risk.”

Finally, they get partially free access to the AWS Marketplace, offsetting the normal marketplace listing fees for the first five offerings. Some participants will also get access to AWS sales to help use the power of the large company to drive a startup’s sales.

While you can apply to the program, the company also recruits individual startups that catch its attention. “We also proactively invite mid to late-stage startups built on AWS that, based on market signals, are showing traction and offer interesting use cases for our mutual enterprise customers,” Yeum explained.

Among the companies currently involved in the program are HashiCorp, Logz.io and Snapdocs. Interested startups can apply on the APN Global Startup website.

Dec
01
2020
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AWS launches new services for its industrial customers

One of the areas that is often left behind when it comes to cloud computing is the industrial sector. That’s because these facilities often have older equipment or proprietary systems that aren’t well suited to the cloud. Amazon wants to change that, and today the company announced a slew of new services at AWS re:Invent aimed at helping the industrial sector understand their equipment and environments better.

For starters, the company announced Amazon Monitron, which is designed to monitor equipment and send signals to the engineering team when the equipment could be breaking down. If industrial companies can know when their equipment is breaking, it allows them to repair on it their own terms, rather than waiting until after it breaks down and having the equipment down at what could be an inopportune time.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy says, an experienced engineer will know when equipment is breaking down by a certain change in sound or a vibration, but if the machine could tell you even before it got that far, it would be a huge boost to these teams.

“…a lot of companies either don’t have sensors, they’re not modern powerful sensors, or they are not consistent and they don’t know how to take that data from the sensors and send it to the cloud, and they don’t know how to build machine learning models, and our manufacturing companies we work with are asking [us] just solve this [and] build an end-to-end solution. So I’m excited to announce today the launch of Amazon Monotron, which is an end-to-end solution for equipment monitoring,” Jassy said.

The company builds a machine learning model that understands what a normal state looks like, then uses that information to find anomalies and send back information to the team in a mobile app about equipment that needs maintenance now based on the data the model is seeing.

For those companies who may have a more modern system and don’t need the complete package that Monotron offers, Amazon has something for these customers as well. If you have modern sensors, but you don’t have a sophisticated machine learning model, Amazon can ingest this data and apply its machine learning algorithms to find anomalies just as it can with Monotron.

“So we have something for this group of customers as well to announce today, which is the launch of Amazon Lookout for Equipment, which does anomaly detection for industrial machinery,” he said.

In addition, the company announced the Panorama Appliance for companies using cameras at the edge who want to use more sophisticated computer vision, but might not have the most modern equipment to do that. “I’m excited to announce today the launch of the AWS Panorama Appliance which is a new hardware appliance [that allows] organizations to add computer vision to existing on premises smart cameras,” Jassy told AWS re:Invent today.

In addition, it also announced a Panorama SDK to help hardware vendors build smarter cameras based on Panorama.

All of these services are designed to give industrial companies access to sophisticated cloud and machine learning technology at whatever level they may require depending on where they are on the technology journey.

 

Dec
01
2020
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AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.

Dec
01
2020
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AWS adds natural language search service for business intelligence from its data sets

When Amazon Web Services launched QuickSight, its business intelligence service, back in 2016 the company wanted to provide product information and customer information for business users — not just developers.

At the time, the natural language processing technologies available weren’t robust enough to give customers the tools to search databases effectively using queries in plain speech.

Now, as those technologies have matured, Amazon is coming back with a significant upgrade called QuickSight Q, which allows users to just ask a simple question and get the answers they need, according to Andy Jassy’s keynote at AWS re:Invent.

“We will provide natural language to provide what we think the key learning is,” said Jassy. “I don’t like that our users have to know which databases to access or where data is stored. I want them to be able to type into a search bar and get the answer to a natural language question.

That’s what QuickSight Q aims to do. It’s a direct challenge to a number of business intelligence startups and another instance of the way machine learning and natural language processing are changing business processes across multiple industries.

“The way Q works. Type in a question in natural language [like]… ‘Give me the trailing twelve month sales of product X?’… You get an answer in seconds. You don’t have to know tables or have to know data stores.”

It’s a compelling use case and gets at the way AWS is integrating machine learning to provide more no-code services to customers. “Customers didn’t hire us to do machine learning,” Jassy said. “They hired us to answer the questions.”

Dec
01
2020
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AWS announces DevOps Guru to find operational issues automatically

At AWS re:Invent today, Andy Jassy announced DevOps Guru, a new tool for DevOps teams to help the operations side find issues that could be having an impact on an application performance. Consider it like the sibling of CodeGuru, the service the company announced last year to find issues in your code before you deploy.

It works in a similar fashion using machine learning to find issues on the operations side of the equation. “I’m excited to launch a new service today called Amazon DevOps Guru, which is a new service that uses machine learning to identify operational issues long before they impact customers,” Jassy said today.

The way it works is that it collects and analyzes data from application metrics, logs, and events “to identify behavior that deviates from normal operational patterns,” the company explained in the blog post announcing the new service.

This service essentially gives AWS a product that would be competing with companies like Sumo Logic, DataDog or Splunk by providing deep operational insight on problems that could be having an impact on your application such as misconfigurations or resources that are over capacity.

When it finds a problem, the service can send an SMS, Slack message or other communication to the team and provides recommendations on how to fix the problem as quickly as possible.

What’s more, you pay for the data analyzed by the service, rather than a monthly fee. The company says this means that there is no upfront cost or commitment involved.

Dec
01
2020
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AWS announces high resource Lambda functions, container image support & millisecond billing

AWS announced some big updates to its Lambda serverless function service today. For starters, starting today it will be able to deliver functions with up to 10MB of memory and 6 vCPUs (virtual CPUs). This will allow developers building more compute-intensive functions to get the resources they need.

“Starting today, you can allocate up to 10 GB of memory to a Lambda function. This is more than a 3x increase compared to previous limits. Lambda allocates CPU and other resources linearly in proportion to the amount of memory configured. That means you can now have access to up to 6 vCPUs in each execution environment,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new capabilities.

Serverless computing doesn’t mean there are no servers. It means that developers no longer have to worry about the compute, storage and memory requirements because the cloud provider — in this case, AWS — takes care of it for them, freeing them up to just code the application instead of deploying resources.

Today’s announcement combined with support for support for the AVX2 instruction set, means that developers can use this approach with more sophisticated technologies like machine learning, gaming and even high performance computing.

One of the beauties of this approach is that in theory you can save money because you aren’t paying for resources you aren’t using. You are only paying each time the application requires a set of resources and no more. To make this an even bigger advantage, the company also announced, “Starting today, we are rounding up duration to the nearest millisecond with no minimum execution time,” the company announced in a blog post on the new pricing approach.

Finally the company also announced container image support for Lambda functions. “To help you with that, you can now package and deploy Lambda functions as container images of up to 10 GB in size. In this way, you can also easily build and deploy larger workloads that rely on sizable dependencies, such as machine learning or data intensive workloads,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new capability.

All of these announcements in combination mean that you can now use Lambda functions for more intensive operations than you could previously, and the new billing approach should lower your overall spending as you make that transition to the new capabilities.

Dec
01
2020
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AWS brings ECS, EKS services to the data center, open sources EKS

Today at AWS re:Invent, Andy Jassy talked a lot about how companies are making a big push to the cloud, but today’s container-focussed announcements gave a big nod to the data center as the company announced ECS Anywhere and EKS Anywhere, both designed to let you run these services on-premises, as well as in the cloud.

These two services, ECS for generalized container orchestration and EKS for that’s focused on Kubernetes will let customers use these popular AWS services on premises. Jassy said that some customers still want the same tools they use in the cloud on prem and this is designed to give it to them.

Speaking of ECS he said,  “I still have a lot of my containers that I need to run on premises as I’m making this transition to the cloud, and [these] people really want it to have the same management and deployment mechanisms that they have in AWS also on premises and customers have asked us to work on this. And so I’m excited to announce two new things to you. The first is the launch, or the announcement of Amazon ECS Anywhere, which lets you run ECS and your own data center,” he told the re:Invent audience.

Image Credits: AWS

He said it gives you the same AWS API’s and cluster configuration management pieces. This will work the same for EKS, allowing this single management methodology regardless of where you are using the service.

While it was at it, the company also announced it was open sourcing EKS, its own managed Kubernetes service. The idea behind these moves is to give customers as much flexibility as possible, and recognizing what Microsoft, IBM and Google have been saying, that we live in a multi-cloud and hybrid world and people aren’t moving everything to the cloud right away.

In fact, in his opening Jassy stated that right now in 2020, just 4% of worldwide IT spend is on the cloud. That means there’s money to be made selling services on premises, and that’s what these services will do.

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