What we learned at AWS re:Invent 2016: Amazon AI, Alexa and serverless computing
As the dust settles on AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas here is a quick roundup of some of the major announcements and themes from the conference following its biggest year yet.
1. re:Invent has got really, really big
This was my first re:Invent but the sheer scale of the event was obvious from the queues for breakfast on day one. Official figures had attendance at 32,000, up from around 20,000 in 2015.
I am often sceptical of these figures but for once this number seemed low, with the vast keynote hall being filled to capacity on both days. It will be interesting to see if the conference has outgrown Las Vegas for next year.
2. Alexa skills are the new apps
Amazon was naturally keen to show off its AI assistant Alexa during re:Invent, and there are some really innovative businesses building Alexa 'skills' to help customers use voice commands to get things done, such as Dominos pizza, Skyscanner and Capital One.
Gavin Jackson, managing director for EMEA, also told Computerworld UK that a number of UK businesses are already developing Alexa skills and to expect a batch of announcements in 2017. He said there are “lots of very large, global financial services companies headquartered in the UK that are experimenting, building skills, building customer interfaces with Alexa and Echo".
“There’s also lots of manufacturers building the Alexa voice platform into their own technologies and those technologies being appliances and cars.”
3. Serverless computing is ready for the mainstream
AWS is perfectly positioned to help companies of all sizes embrace serverless architecture for applications, with CTO Werner Vogels talking the technology up throughout the year.
Vogels said that he is seeing customers moving applications to a serverless architecture with AWS, running them on virtual machines (VMs) just using code through services like Lambda, DynamoDB and API Gateway.
He explained the shift in the industry: “Your servers were like pets, if they became ill you had to nurture them back to health. Then with cloud they were cattle, you put them out to pasture and got yourself a new one. In serverless there is no cattle, only your application. You don’t even have to think about nurturing back to health or getting new ones, all the execution is taken care of.”
Enterprises customers that are already moving applications to serverless with Lambda include Thomson Reuters, Finra, Hearst, Vevo and Expedia, and the company expects more to move in that direction. Vogels said: “It’s not just young companies that are going down this path of serverless, the largest enterprises have figured out that this is the way which is most cost effective for them.”
4. AWS announced A LOT of new features and services
AWS announced a tonne of features and updates during re:Invent, with the full list shown on the slide above.
This includes AWS Shield for those worried about DDoS attacks and Athena for streaming analytics. AWS continues to offer a broader set of managed services for developers than its competitors.
5. AWS is on the AI bandwagon
Amazon has had a machine learning service for customers since last year, but they followed in the footsteps of Google and Salesforce in making AI and machine learning central tenets of their conference messaging.
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CEO Andy Jassy announced three new AI services for customers to harness the technology behind Alexa, text to speech capabilities and image recognition APIs.
6. AWS is facing more competition, but remains the clear market leader
AWS may account for the largest portion of public cloud IaaS spending, but it is facing growing competition from Microsoft Azure, while Google has invested significantly in attracting enterprise customers in the past year,
CEO Jassy underlined this during his keynote, making digs at legacy competitors like Oracle and quoting a Gartner estimate that AWS is ten times bigger than its next fourteen competitors combined.
He also reiterated his belief that the trillion dollar IaaS market isn’t winner takes all: “It won’t be one player and there will be several successful players, not 30 because scale matters and breadth of functionality matters to customers.”
AWS is so big now that there are rumours that it might spin off from the Amazon retail business. Responding to these during a press Q&A Jassy said: “We have no plans to do so because there is no compelling reason, the reality is Amazon as a company has been so generous and gracious in funding AWS.”
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