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10 Years of re:invent

10 Years of re:Invent By Chad Epstein, Synthesis  Cloud Practise Lead

“We’re actually just getting started.” – Adam Selipsky

This year kicked off the 10-year anniversary edition of the AWS re:Invent conference and also marked the return of it being hosted in-person in Las Vegas after a virtual-only event in 2020. Another significant change was the delivery of the first keynote by AWS’s new CEO, Adam Selipsky, replacing Andy Jassy who led the company since its inception in 2003 (Andy Jassy replaced Jeff Bezos as CEO of Amazon in July this year). Cloud technology has been improving at a rapid pace since the first re:Invent conference in 2012 and as Adam so aptly put it in his keynote address: “we’re actually just getting started”.

As per usual, the event was jammed-packed with announcements and major launches across the wide categories of services that AWS offers.

Adam’s began his keynote by reiterating how AWS has maintained leadership in the cloud space for the 11th consecutive year according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant reports and acknowledging cloud innovators including Netflix who has been a significant AWS user since its beginning, and NASA who used AWS services to stream the landing of its Curiosity rover mission to Mars. He then went on to talk about Amazon’s virtual server, the EC2 instance, and how it has kept on evolving over the years (they now have 475 instance types!).

This year, the latest generation of AWS’s home-grown processor was announced, the Graviton3 which is reportedly 25% faster on average than the previous Graviton2, as well as being three times faster for general machine learning workloads and uses 60% less energy than the previous generation chip.

This new generation processor can initially be found in the new EC2 C7g instance type and is a significant step forward considering Graviton2’s already impressive price-to-performance ratio.

Another Arm-based CPU announcement was later made by AWS CTO, Dr Werner Wogels. Werner arrived on stage with a grand entrance wearing a t-shirt of UK rock band, The Stanglers, and soon after introduced new EC2 M1 Mac instances which come after the first batch of EC2 Intel-based Mac instances were announced at re:Invent 2020.

An additional exciting announcement was the Mainframe Modernisation service which may just be the push needed for enterprises such as banks and insurers to migrate and modernize their legacy and proprietary technology by automating conversion of mainframe code (goodbye COBOL, hello Java).  This, combined with the announcement of offline tape storage transfer to the cloud using AWS Snowball Edge, means that enterprises have little excuses left to let go of this aging hardware.

Speaking of hardware, in the era of the fourth industrial revolution, providing strong interconnectivity between people and devices is key and AWS is seeking to capitalize this with the announcement of AWS Private 5G which is a new managed pay-as-you-go service that helps enterprises set up and scale their own private 5G mobile networks in their facilities in days instead of months.  It’s still early days, but more and more industries are looking to utilise this kind of next generation network such as Porche within their production facilities to enable wireless robotics communication at high speed and low latency.

Continuing the Industry 4.0 trend, AWS also announced AWS Cloud WAN for building a global office network and AWS IoT TwinMaker which allows developers to create digital twins or virtual representations of real-world systems such as buildings, factories, industrial equipment, and production lines.  These can then be regularly updated with real-world data to mimic the structure, state, and behaviour of the systems they represent.

On the machine learning front, Swami Sivasubramanian, AWS’s vice president of machine learning (ML) announced several new enhancements to the platform. His first announcement was Amazon DevOps Guru for RDS – a new machine learning-based capability for Amazon relational database service (RDS) that can automatically detect and diagnose database performance and operational issues. There were also numerous enhancements to Amazon’s ML platform, SageMaker, to help create datasets, improve training and inference performance, and cost effectiveness.  For training of ML models, AWS introduced new hardware in the form of EC2 Trn1 instances powered by Amazon’s own Tranium chip.

But what if you don’t have any ML or coding experience and want to get started? This year’s re:Invent has you covered with new product announcements to open up development and machine learning to a broader user base such as business analysts with little or no coding required.  These included: Amazon SageMaker Canvas – a drag-and-drop way to generate ML predictions, and Amazon Kenda Experience Builder – a  customisable way to deploy intelligent search applications in a few clicks.  To help people begin their ML learning journey, AWS launched a free machine learning development environment called Amazon SageMaker Studio Lab which provides compute, storage, and security at no cost for anyone to learn and experiment with ML technologies. For general cloud development there’s also the new AWS Amplify Studio which helps developers build cloud-hosted applications in “hours instead of weeks.”

Some other smaller announcements at the event included enhancements to existing services such as improved security and transactions for AWS’s data lake service, Lake Formation;  price reductions for S3 Glacier storage (now known as S3 Glacier Flexible Retrieval), a S3 Intelligent tier that can automatically move data to the new Glacier instant retrieval storage class; and serverless version of data analytics services:  Redshift, MSK, EMR and Kinesis.  Developers can also get excited with new AWS SDKs for Swift, Kotlin and Rust as well as the general release of AWS Cloud Development Kit (AWS CDK) v2.

Sustainability has been a key theme throughout re:Invent 2021, and rightly so since AWS data centres consume huge amounts of energy.  That said, AWS has ambitious goals of achieving net-zero carbon by 2040 and powering operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. Just earlier this year, they launched a 10-megawatt solar project in the Northern Cape which will supply renewable energy to AWS data centres in South Africa.

At the conference, AWS introduced the Shared Sustainability Model (similar to the security-based Shared Responsibility Model), where customers are also responsible for sustainability in the cloud, for e.g. moving towards serverless services which minimizes energy wastage. To assist in tracking sustainability data, AWS introduced the AWS Customer Carbon Footprint tool to give customers a view of exactly what they are using and also added a new Sustainability Pillar to the AWS Well-Architected Framework.  As Werner put it: “Every resource you are not using is the greenest resource you can think of”.

One bit of exciting news for South Africa is that AWS is launching what they call a Local Zone in what appears to be Johannesburg in 2022.  Local Zones are an extension of an AWS Region that places select services closer to a large population, industry, and IT centres, to lower latency significantly. This comes after the launch of the AWS Cape Town region in April 2020.

Overall, this year’s re:Invent contained plenty of new announcements (with tons more not mentioned here), but also contained a fair amount of nostalgia as to how far we’ve come and it doesn’t seem like the pace is slowing down any time soon.

See AWS’s blog post here for a more complete list of new launches.