All posts by Bobby Hellard

View from the airport: AWS Re:Invent 2019


Bobby Hellard

6 Dec, 2019

Gather round kids, because AWS Re:Invent is over for another year and this is now a safe space to talk about all those subjects that were off-limits during the cloud conference.

Namely multi-cloud and project JEDI.

Having safely left Las Vegas via McCarran International Airport, I feel I can finally discuss these hot topics. I can say what I want about Microsoft winning the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud migration project (AWS is appealing that) and also anything about the term for using services from more than one cloud provider.

The multi-cloud discourse had no place at Re:Invent. It was definitely not mentioned by any AWS executives. But it’s so hot right now that it almost burns Amazon because it refuses to acknowledge it.

The very word is banned if recent reports are true. Back in August, the cloud giant released a “co-branding” guide for partners that said it would not approve the term “multi-cloud” or “any other language that implies designing or supporting more than one cloud provider“.

Unfortunately for AWS, that word was brought up in various briefings I attended throughout the event. Such as at the end of a Sophos security roundtable, where journalists were invited to ask questions and clearly took pleasure in asking difficult questions like “what’s your beef with multi-cloud?” and “how much did it suck to lose out to Microsoft?”

Ouch.

Many companies have gone ‘all-in’ on AWS, but many more have merely added a single services or integrated certain products to offer their customers – regardless of their cloud provider(s). This is the case for Sophos, which had to confess to offering cloud security to multi-cloud environments.

It was a strange end to an otherwise brilliant session. Sophos is a great company with a broad range of security expertise, but with AWS trying to quash talk of multi-cloud, it forces partners to tackle the difficult question.

“Our products do – sorry to my AWS brothers – support multiple clouds…” Sophos director Andy Miller said while the room collectively cringed. “We work in AWS and Azure and Google.”

The Seattle Seahawks, which has integrated AWS machine learning algorithms into various parts of its organisation, found itself in the same position. From player performance to business processes, the technology will run throughout the NFL franchise over the next five years. But as its tech lead, Chip Suttles, told me, it also uses Office 365 and Azure.

Similarly, when I asked the platform team lead of Monzo, Chris Evans, why his company uses AWS, he told me it was partly due to Amazon having the technology they needed at the time. If it started now, they could use Azure, Google Cloud and so on… he even used that dirty word ‘multi-cloud’. Evans and co are more than happy with what AWS gives them and it’s also a large part of the fintech company’s success, but nothing suggests that wouldn’t be the same with different providers.

AWS may be the biggest provider of cloud computing, but its massive lead on its rivals is due to it being the first to capitalise when it was an emerging technology. The big trend within that technology now is using multiple providers and AWS is strangely taking a legacy-like approach. It wants you and your company to use it exclusively, but no matter how many great tools and functions you provide you can’t please everyone. In the world of multi-cloud, AWS is fighting a losing battle.

On Thursday, Andy Jassy was pencilled in for a Q and A session. Journalists were asked to submit questions beforehand, presumably to vet them, and the word on the street (or strip) was that JEDI questions had been sent in. Unfortunately, we will never know what these were as Jassy didn’t take any questions and instead conducted an interview with Roger Goodwell, the commissioner of the NFL.

One assumes that after his three-hour keynote and various appearances throughout the week, Jassy saw a list of multi-cloud and JEDI questions and thought, “Nah, I’ll pass”.

AWS ramps up SageMaker tools at Re:Invent


Bobby Hellard

4 Dec, 2019

CEO Andy Jassy announced a barrage of new machine learning capabilities for AWS SageMaker during his Re:Invent keynote on Tuesday.

SageMaker is Amazon’s big machine learning hub that aims to remove most of the heavy lifting for developers and let them use ML more expansively. Launched in 2017, there have been numerous features and capabilities introduced over the years, with more than 50 added to it in 2019 alone.

Of the SageMaker announcements made at the company’s annual conference in Las Vegas, the biggest was AWS SageMaker Studio, an IDE that allows developers and data scientists to build, code, develop, train and tune machine learning workflows all in a single interface. Within it information can be viewed, stored, collected and used to collaborate with others through the studio.

In addition to SageMaker Studio, the company announced a further five new capabilities: Notebooks, Experiment Management, Autopilot, Debugger and Model Monitor.

AWS SageMaker Studio interface

The first of these is described as a ‘one-click’ notebook with elastic compute.

“In the past, Notebooks is frequently where data scientists would work and it was associated with a single EC2 instance,” explained Larry Pizette, the global head of ML solutions Lab. “If a developer or data scientist wanted to switch capabilities, so they wanted more compute capacity, for instance, they had to shut that down and instantiate a whole new notebook.

“This can now be done dynamically, in just seconds, so they can get more compute or GPU capability for doing training or inference, so its a huge improvement over what was done before.”

All of the updates to SageMaker have a specific purpose to simplify the machine learning workflows, like Experiment Management, which enables developers to visualise and compare ML model iterations, training parameters, and outcomes.

Autopilot lets developers submit simple data in CSV files and have ML models automatically generated. SageMaker Debugger provides real-time monitoring for ML models to improve predictive accuracy, reduce training times.

And finally, Amazon SageMaker Model Monitor detects concept drift to discover when the performance of a model running in production begins to deviate from the original trained model.

“We recognised that models get used over time and there can be changes to the underlying assumptions that the models were built with – such as housing prices which inflate,” said Pizette. “If interest rates change it will affect the prediction of whether a person will by a home or not.”

“When the model is initially built to keep statistics, it will notice what we call ‘Concept Drift’ if that concept drift is happening, and the model gets out of sync with the current conditions, it will identify where that’s happening and provide the developer or data scientist with the information to help them retrain and retool that model.”

Verizon unveils 5G edge compute service at Re:Invent


Bobby Hellard

4 Dec, 2019

AWS and Verizon have partnered to deliver cloud computing services at the edge using 5G connectivity.

The deal will see Amazon’s cloud processing brought closer to mobile devices at the edge thanks to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband Network and AWS Wavelength.

Speaking during an AWS keynote on Tuesday, Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg said that his company was “the first in the world to offer 5G network edge computing”.

However, this announcement comes a week after Microsoft and AT&T revealed their own integrated 5G edge computing service on Azure.

AWS and Verizon are currently piloting AWS Wavelength on Verizon’s edge compute platform, 5G Edge, in Chicago for a select group of customers, including video game publisher Bethesda Softworks and the NFL. Additional deployments are planned in other locations across the US for 2020.

“We’ve worked closely with Verizon to deliver a way for AWS customers to easily take advantage of the ubiquitous connectivity and advanced features of 5G,” said Jassy.

“AWS Wavelength provides the same AWS environment – APIs, management console, and tools – that they’re using today at the edge of the 5G network. Starting with Verizon’s 5G network locations in the US, customers will be able to deploy the latency-sensitive portions of an application at the edge to provide single-digit millisecond latency to mobile and connected devices.”

The aim is to enable developers to deliver a wide range of transformative, latency-sensitive use cases such as smart cars, IoT and augmented and virtual reality, according to AWS. The service will also be coming to Europe via Vodafone sometime in 2020.

“Vodafone is pleased to be the first telco to introduce AWS Wavelength in Europe,” said Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business. “Faster speeds and lower latencies have the potential to revolutionise how our customers do business and they can rely on Vodafone’s existing capabilities and security layers within our own network.”

AWS plugs leaky S3 buckets with CloudKnox integration


Bobby Hellard

3 Dec, 2019

AWS has launched a new tool to help customers avoid data leaks within its simple storage service.

The AWS IAM Access Analyzer is a new function that analyses resource policies to help administrators and security teams protect their resources from unintended access.

It comes from an integration with CloudKnox, a company that specialises in hybrid cloud access management.

It’s a strategic integration designed to protect organisations against unintended access to critical resources and mitigate the risks they face, such as overprivileged identities, according to Balaji Parimi, CEO of CloudKnox.

“Exposed or misconfigured infrastructure resources can lead to a breach or a data leak,” he said. “Combining AWS IAM Access Analyzer’s automated policy monitoring and analysis with CloudKnox’s identity privilege management capabilities will make it easier for CloudKnox customers to gain visibility into and control over the proliferation of resources across AWS environments.”

Amazon S3 is one of the most popular cloud storage services, but because of human error, it’s historically been a bit of a security liability, according to Sean Roberts, GM of Cloud Business Unit at hybrid managed services provider Ensono.

“Over the last few years, hundreds of well-known organisations have suffered data breaches as a direct result of an incorrect S3 configuration — where buckets have been set to public when they should have been private,” he said.

“When sensitive data is unintentionally exposed online, it can damage an organisation’s reputation and lead to serious financial implications. In real terms, this sensitive data is often usernames and passwords, compromising not only the business but its customers too.”

In July, more than 17,000 domains were said to have been compromised in an attack launched by the prolific hacking group Magecart that preyed on leaky S3 buckets. Looking back over the last two years, a number of companies and organisations such as NASA, Dow Jones and even Facebook have been seen breaches from this S3 Buckets.

With the Access Analyzer, there’s a new option in the console for IAM (Identity and Access Management). The toll alerts customers when a bucket is configured to allow public access or access to other AWS accounts. There is also a single-click option that will block public access.

What to expect from AWS Re:Invent 2019


Bobby Hellard

2 Dec, 2019

The card tables at las Vegas will have to make way for cloud computing this week, as AWS is in town for Re:Invent 2019.

Last year the conference took place in eight venues, with some 50,000 cloud computing enthusiasts descending on the city of sin. There was a lot to take in too, from new blockchain and machine learning service to even satellite data programs, the announcements came thick and fast.

AWS is the leading provider of public cloud services, so naturally its annual conference is gargantuan. It can’t afford to rest on its laurels, though, as its rivals are building up their own offerings and gaining on Amazon fast. In just the last year Microsoft has invested heavily in Azure with a string of acquisitions for migration services, while IBM has changed focus with its massive Red Hat deal and Google is ploughing so much into its cloud it’s hurting Alphabet earnings.

This is without mentioning the biggest cloud computing deal of the last two years, the Pentagon’s JEDI contract, being awarded to Microsoft, despite AWS being the clear favourite for much of the bidding.

Bearing all this in mind, I do expect to see a slew of new products and services unveiled throughout the week.

Expansive keynotes

AWS tends to do marathon keynotes that run on for three hours and overflow with announcements. Last year CEO Andy Jassy fired through new products and special guest customers with the same stamina that saw Eliud Kipchoge recently break the world record over 26.2 miles.

Jassy is, of course, back again this year, for not one but two keynotes. On Tuesday he will deliver his main opening day presentation, while on Wednesday he will join the head of worldwide channels and alliances, Doug Yeum for a fireside chat.

CTO Werner Vogels will be on stage on Thursday with an in-depth explainer on all the new products. This two hour deep dive is definitely one for the diehard fans of cloud architecture, with all the technical underpinning you crave. For the frugal, get there early — the first 1,000 guests in the keynote line will get a special piece of “swag”, according to the website.

Machine Learning

Last year, machine learning and the AWS Marketplace took precedence and 2019’s event should hold more of the same. Recently, the company announced the launch of the AWS Data Exchange, a new hub for partners to share large datasets that customers can use for their machine learning and analytical programmes.

The customer element is key for AWS, as it often integrates and shares these innovations. Last year, head of Formula 1 Ross Brawn joined Jassy on stage keynote and showcased what his sport had done with AWS Sagemaker and other machine learning services. Interestingly, the basic idea for the prediction models they used came from a London-based startup called Vantage Power that developed the technology to predict the lifespan of electric batteries in buses.

Doubtless there will be some kind of machine learning update, but what it is could depend on what AWS customers have innovated. Last year the company announced a partnership with NFL app Next Gen Stats, the automation of NASCAR’s video library and multiple services with US-based ride-hailing firm Lyft. Vegas is all about gambling, but it’s a safe bet that at least one of these companies will be in attendance to talk through case studies.

AWS goes all-in on quantum computing


Bobby Hellard

3 Dec, 2019

AWS unveiled its plans to aid and accelerate the research of quantum computing at its Re:Invent conference on Monday.

The cloud giant announced three new services for testing, researching and experimenting with the technology.

The first of which was Amazon Bracket, a service that enables scientists, researchers, and developers to begin experimenting with computers from quantum hardware providers in a single place.

To go with Bracket is the AWS Centre for Quantum Computing which brings together quantum computing experts from Amazon, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and other academic research institutions to collaborate on the research and development of new quantum computing technologies.

And finally Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab, which is a program that connects customers with quantum computing experts and consulting partners to develop internal expertise aimed at identifying practical uses of quantum computing. The aim is to accelerate the development of quantum applications with meaningful impact.

There has been significant progress in quantum computing this year, particularly from IBM and Google, with both announcing large investments in the technology. The two made headlines in October after IBM discredited claims made by Google that its 53-qubit Sycamore processor had achieved “quantum supremacy”.

Quantum computing refers to extremely powerful machines capable of processing massive swathes of data due to a reliance on the theory of quantum mechanics in the way they are constructed. For example, Google suggested its processor was able to perform a complex mathematical problem in 200 seconds, while the world’s most-powerful supercomputer would need 10,000 years to complete.

Despite the work of IBM, Google and now AWS, quantum computing is not quite a mainstream technology just yet, but according to AWS evangelist Jeff Barr, that time is coming.

“I suspect that within 40 or 50 years, many applications will be powered in part using services that run on quantum computers,” he wrote in a blog post. “As such, it is best to think of them like a GPU or a math coprocessor. They will not be used in isolation, but will be an important part of a hybrid classical/quantum solution.”

Dead Netflix accounts reactivated by hackers


Bobby Hellard

29 Nov, 2019

Hackers have exploited Netflix’s data retention policies to reactivate cancelled customer subscriptions and steal their accounts.

Former subscribers say they noticed their accounts had been reinstated when they were charged a monthly fee, months after cancellation.

The hackers can log in to dormant accounts and reactivate them without knowing users bank details, according to the BBC.

This is due to the streaming service storing customer data, including billing information, for ten months after cancellation. This is to enable a speedy account recovery should a user wish to rejoin.

However, this is proving to be a benefit for hackers who just need an email address and password to reactivate an account.

Radio 4’s You and Yours programme spoke to Emily Keen who said she cancelled her subscription in April 2019 but was charged £11.99 by Netflix in September. She tried to log in to the account but found that email and password were no longer recognised as the hackers had changed her details and signed her up to the more expensive service option.

Keen contacted Netflix and was assured her card would be blocked and she would receive a full refund, but the streaming service went on to take two further payments in October and November.

Other users that have had their accounts mysteriously reactivated have hit out at the company on Twitter.

“Super disappointed with my @netflix customer service experience,” one user posted on the social media site. “Our account was hacked, supposed to have been deactivated, was reactivated by hacker, and continued to use our credit card. We were told to file chargeback and @netflix would not offer refund.”

Stolen Netflix login details have reportedly been found on sites like eBay, sold as “lifetime” accounts for as little as £3. The same issue was reported for Disney+ accounts just hours after the service launched in the US, with login details serfacing on hacking forums. 

Cloud Pro has approached Netflix for comment.

AT&T and Microsoft launch edge computing network


Bobby Hellard

27 Nov, 2019

Microsoft and AT&T have integrated 5G with Azure to launch an edge computing service for enterprise customers.

The two companies signed a $2 billion deal in July, which involved the migration of AT&T data and workflows to Azure, and introduced plans to accelerate work on 5G and cloud computing.

The first joint announcement to come out of the deal, announced on 26 November, is a pilot launch of an edge computing service called Network Edge Compute, a virtualised 5G core that can deploy Azure services.

It’s available to certain customers, initially in Dallas, but will roll out to some in Los Angeles and Atlanta over the next year.

“With our 5G and edge computing, AT&T is collaborating uniquely with Microsoft to marry their cloud capabilities with our network to create lower latency between the device and the cloud that will unlock new, future scenarios for consumers and businesses,” said Mo Katibeh, EVP and chief marketing officer, AT&T Business.

“We’ve said all year developers and businesses will be the early 5G adopters and this puts both at the forefront of this revolution.”

The collaboration will see AT&T become a “public-cloud first” business, according to Microsoft. The telecoms giant’s migration is well underway and is set to be completed by 2024.

“We are helping AT&T light up a wide range of unique solutions powered by Microsoft’s cloud, both for its business and our mutual customers in a secure and trusted way,” said Corey Sanders, corporate VP of Microsoft Solutions.

“The collaboration reaches across AT&T, bringing the hyper-scale of Microsoft Azure together with AT&T’s network to innovate with 5G and edge computing across every industry.”

It’s also another big deal for Microsoft, which has made its public cloud strategy clear with a number of acquisitions for migration specialists. Most recently the tech giant snapped up Mover, which swiftly followed a deal to buy similarly named Movere.

AWS offloads Alexa processing to the cloud


Bobby Hellard

26 Nov, 2019

AWS has enabled its voice control services to be available on lower-powered devices by offloading the majority of the work to the cloud.

Alexa Voice Services (AVS) is already widely used with its Echo smart speakers and other devices that can be connected to a network or the internet, such as lightbulbs and TVs.

Adding voice controls was costly as Alexa devices had a minimum requirement of at least 100 megabytes of on-device RAM and an ARM Cortex “A” class microprocessor to have enough processing power to handle voice commands. 

That’s no longer the case as the tech giant will use its cloud to handle most of the processing requirements with Alexa Voice Services for IoT, reducing the costs of voice control by up to 50%. The baseline requirement has now been reduced to 1MB of RAM and Arm Cortex M-class microcontrollers.

The move also means that retrieving, buffering and decoding on devices will also be offloaded to its cloud. As such, everything from light switches to thermostats can now be controlled entirely using voice with AVS for IoT.

“We now offload the vast majority of all of this to the cloud,” AWS IoT VP Dirk Didascalou told TechCrunch. “So the device can be ultra dumb. The only thing that the device still needs to do is wake word detection. That still needs to be covered on the device.

“It just opens up the what we call the real ambient intelligence and ambient computing space,” he said. “Because now you don’t need to identify where’s my hub – you just speak to your environment and your environment can interact with you. I think that’s a massive step towards this ambient intelligence via Alexa.”

The cloud giant made a number of IoT announcements aimed at simplifying IoT services for companies deploying large swathes of devices. It revealed added features to AWS IoT Greengrass, for example, which has been given capabilities for Docker. This extends AWS functions to connected devices, allowing businesses to perform data collection and analysis at the edge. The update is with Docker containers, which make it easier to move compute workloads to and from the edge.

Slack claims Microsoft copied its advert in “ok boomer” spat


Bobby Hellard

22 Nov, 2019

Microsoft has been accused of ripping off the advertising of workplace collaboration giant Slack during a promotional video for its Teams platform.

The video in question, released as part of Microsoft’s ‘Unpack the art of teamwork‘ campaign on 13 November, featured rolling purple balls to symbolise how people collaborate across their organisation.

In a Tweet on Thursday, Slack poked fun at the technology giant by highlighting the video bared a striking resemblance to its own promotional material released earlier in the year, which also used rolling balls to demonstrate connected groups.

The first was an advert for Slack’s Frontiers conference published 24 April, which was also used as an intro for the event. In it, different coloured wooden balls are used to depict ways to work as they roll through a number of patterned grooves and tracks. In a second video, which went live 14 August, uses the same wooden balls as begins with a shot of them rolling over a hill. 

Slack posted a short video on Twitter that compared the shots, entitled ‘ok boomer’. 

This is the latest dig in a long-running spat between the two companies that are competing to be the number one workplace communication platform. 

Although the statistics favour Microsoft, Slack has shown plenty of gumption in calling out the tech giant. 

Microsoft has declined to comment on the advertising issue.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has previously criticised Microsoft for its tactic of bundling Teams into Office 365, calling the move “surprisingly unsportsmanlike”.

Microsoft recently revealed that Teams had surpassed 20 million daily active users, increasing by 7 million since July. Part of its success is down to the fact that its available as part of Microsoft Office 365. 

Slack has also seen its own growth, now boasting 12 million daily users as of October