Working backwards, moving forwards - PC Retail

Working backwards, moving forwards

Rob Horgan talks to technical evangelist Ian Massingham about how things got started and where cloud computing is heading
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Ian Massingham, Amazon Web Services

2017 marks AWS’s tenth anniversary in EMEA. How has it changed and evolved over the past decade?

The 10 year anniversary is in the EMEA region, but we actually started opening APIs to developers at Amazon back in 2003. These weren’t the AWS services that you know today, these were services associated with allowing developers to work with data and services over on the Amazon retail side of the business.

What we saw from that initial set of experiments with developers was that they wanted to consume a service from Amazon and integrate it into their own applications that they were building. So we continued to think about this and at the same time we were trying to focus – and we are still trying to focus – on equipping our own teams with the kind of tools that they need to maintain Amazon’s own range and pace of innovation.

At Amazon, we are organised into a pretty large collection of independent, small teams which we actually call two pizza teams. This all goes back to a rule of thumb we have that no team should be too large that it can’t be fed by a couple of large pizzas. The reason we focus on team size is to maintain speed by keeping communications and overheads to a minimum.

So we were empowering teams all over our business to create services pre-dating the birth of AWS, and we realised that we needed to provide a certain standardised technology for our teams to use to build new products and services for customers.

We launched our first experimental Amazon Web Services offerings in 2006 in the US called Amazon S3; a simple storage service and that was in the Elastic Compute Cloud which turned out to be very valuable for developers to use as a platform to build applications. Business started to grow and in respect to that growth a lot of usage was starting to come from the European region and that is when we launched our second AWS region in Dublin during 2007.

In terms of coming to Europe, we were responding to the demands of the region here in 2007. Since then we have opened a further two regions in Frankfurt and in London and we have two more in the pipeline in Paris and Stockholm which should both come round within the course of the next year to 18 months and that will further extend our coverage throughout Europe.

How have consumer and business perspectives of the Cloud changed in that 10 year period and what impact has that had on AWS?

Most of the first customers that we had back in 2007 were mostly start-ups or brand new companies that were building apps or services on the internet. They required and demanded access to low-cost computing resources on which they would build their applications.

What you’ve seen in the interceding period is a real change in the mix of customers that are using AWS. We have still got lots of start-ups that choose to build on AWS. In fact I’d go so far as to say that AWS is the defacto platform for start-ups that are building new applications and services where they require resources. It is very difficult to raise money through non-cloud based approaches if you are building a brand new business in today’s market, so we still see a lot of start-ups using AWS.

But also we are now seeing larger enterprises of all types in the UK and elsewhere across Europe putting AWS to work. From NL in Italy to BMW in Germany, to customers here in the UK like Aviva, they are all using AWS to drive IT transformation. There has really been a big change in the way in which businesses use the Cloud over that 10 year period, when we started it would have been really unusual for a large enterprise to use AWS as a global application service but today it is completely normal for companies, and even government departments, to use AWS on scale to meet the security and compliance objectives that they might have, to reduce costs and to improve agility.

Nowadays, AWS is an established platform among enterprise businesses as well as start-ups and that is the really big change from when it first launched. It is completely mainstream now. In November, we put on an event in London where we had River Island talking about how they are transforming the way they serve their customers using AWS to allow them to be digital in their thinking, respond more quickly all while minimising costs. There are traditional businesses today that are taking advantage of AWS as much as it is brand new start-ups.

Amazon Server Farm

With cloud computing becoming an increasingly crowded area of technology, how has AWS adapted to continue to have such a large share of the market?

At AWS and Amazon we always work backwards from customer needs. In creating any new service or launching any new product we always start with the problem that the customer trying to solve.

That working backwards methodology is adopted every time we want to create something new within AWS. In fact, over 95 per cent of the new services that we launch come directly from customer feedback and I think that is actually the secret of success at AWS.

We are very happy to sacrifice short-term gain for long-term success, and that brings mutual success with customers. It has been a really successful business model for both us and our customers and I think that’s the main reason why customers continue to use AWS.

To give an example, something like cryptography – for securing data and protecting data stored in the Cloud – at AWS we’ve got a whole suite of services around providing customers with encryption options. If we take one called KMS, which is really designed to make it as simple as possible for customers to encrypt their data at their end so that they can meet regulatory obligations. So that will serve the vast-majority of customers’ needs.

However, we also have a second option called the cloud HSM, which is a slightly more expensive service but it offers more rigorous key control. Those two services are quite similar so why bother to offer both of them? Well, because customers have said that they need them. Both products were born directly from customer feedback. It is not just about creating the service and then forgetting about it, it is about consistently trying to enhance and improve the services to continue to meet customers’ needs.

While we’re on encryption, a big concern for many people using cloud technology is securing data, how does AWS keep people’s data secure?

The first thing to say is that we don’t take ownership of anybody’s data when they put it in the Cloud. When customers store, process and operate on their data using AWS they retain ownership of the data and they retain control of it.

We also provide a set of tools that customers can use to make it easier for them to secure and encrypt all their data. That helps them meet both regulatory obligations and their own obligations that they may have set to build trust with their customers. We have a wide variety of services that customers can apply to help solve problems in the area of security, data protection, privacy and so on.

We’ve just talked about two of them with HSM and KMS but there is a whole suite of services for identity access management, auditing and logging, for application security, notification, and automated machine learning.

Outside of these services, we provide best practice advice through the AWS console which highlights any areas of particular weakness and what customers can do to improve it. So it is a combination of providing a broad range of services, providing best practices and then providing advice to help customers stay on the right track in terms of securing their data.

AWS stats

In terms of data, what impact will GDPR have on users of AWS and what have you done to prepare?

We announced earlier this year that our services will be GDPR compliant by May 2018. We’ve actually got a GDPR centre available on the AWS website, there’s a GDPR page there where we’ve compiled resources for customers to help them know how to impliment GDPR compliance using some of the tools that we provide. We actually have a suite of services and we are already working with customers to help them to achieve GDPR compliance.

In fact, we actually have a team of specialist security and compliance architects dealing with that particular endeavour so we have done a lot of work to make sure our services are ready for when GDPR comes into effect.

Tell us a bit about the AWS Partner Network (APN) program and how it can benefit Channel partners.

Within the APN, there are a very broad range of partner types that help customers to really get more value out of AWS. The first are partners who broadly speaking provide services that help customers to accelerate AWS adoption and therefore get the customers using the Cloud more quickly.

There are also technology partners that have complimentary technology solutions that work alongside AWS to help customers maximise revenue or achieve additional objectives. They often take the form of ISVs or software providers that have complimentary software that works alongside AWS. So APN is basically somewhere for partners to collaborate with AWS to serve our mutual customers that ensures the best customer experience. I think that is actually equally beneficial to all parties involved.

What do you see as being the biggest opportunities for growth in cloud computing platforms such as yourselves?

There’s growth opportunities both in cloud computing and still within AWS. If you look at our major service announcements over the course of the last two or three years, there has been a big drive towards what has become known as serverless architecture – it wasn’t called that from day one. Ironically enough I don’t think this is going to be a massive area of growth in terms of customer spend as it is a really efficient way to build applications and services.

We also expect to see massive growth in IoT and building connected device applications in the Cloud. It is just a natural place to do it. Very, very good security characteristics, with things like our IoT platform. The AWS service makes it very simple to make connected device applications at scale. Anything from wearables to self-driving cars come under this bracket and I imagine that will be a big area of growth moving forwards.

Finally, more and more big companies and government departments are using AWS to do their core IT. They are using it to transform the way in which they create core applications and the way in which they run the applications that their businesses and customers use. So again I expect there to be plenty of room to grow in the coming years. 

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