Amazon Web Services and the culture of the cloud

23 July 2019 | Natalie Bannerman

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Jean-Philippe Poirault, global head of telecoms at AWS, speaks to Natalie Bannerman about the biggest trends, the culture shift required of cloud computing and the three pillars that separate AWS from the crowd.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) remains the market leader in the public cloud market, retaining close to a 32-35% share. But how has AWS managed to remain the leader in the cloud space and what exactly does AWS do that its competitors don’t?

Speaking to Jean-Philippe Poirault (pictured), global head of telecom at AWS, he says there are three pillars that set AWS apart from its peers.

Three pillars

First, he says, they are unusually customer- focused.

“A lot of companies say this. Very few walk that walk,” he explains. “Most of the big technology companies are competitor- focused, they look at what the competitors are doing and try to one-up them.”

Second he says is that they are pioneers.

“Most large technology companies have lost their will and DNA to invent. They acquire most of their innovation. It’s a strategy that can work, it’s just not ours.”

Poirault says that AWS likes hire builders, who look at customer experiences that are flawed and then figure out how to reinvent those.

“In a space that’s moving as fast as the cloud is, to be partnered with the company that has the most functionality, that’s iterating the quickest, has the largest community, had the vision for cloud from the start without having to patch together acquisitions, that’s very attractive.”

The last pillar is that AWS is unusually long-term oriented. “You won’t see our folks show up at customers’ doors a day before the end of the quarter or the day before the end of the year and try to harass them into a sale, not to be seen again for a year,” he explains.” We’re trying to build relationships and a business that lasts longer than all of us in this room.”

With a career spanning over 20 years in the wider telecoms and tech sector, Poirault has cemented his position as a thought leader in the cloud market and is therefore well versed on the latest trends and innovations.

Hybrid cloud is one, as it increasingly becomes the norm, as businesses transition between legacy networks to more cloud-based connectivity. But an argument could be made that its potential is only just being realised. Poirault however, thinks to the contrary, believing that all operations will eventually happen in entirely in the cloud.

“While we believe in the fullness of time, the vast majority of companies will run almost all of their IT workloads in the cloud,” he explains. “We see our role in hybrid as working with and for our customers to develop integrations between their existing infrastructure and AWS, so our customers can easily use AWS as a seamless extension to their existing infrastructure investments.”

The sister piece to that discussion is the adoption of multi-cloud convergence and it seemingly hitting a tipping point. If the cloud is a major catalyst to how enterprises will do business in an evolving digital economy, what exactly determines what the right cloud is?

According to Poirault, most enterprises start-off thinking that they will split their workloads in the cloud evenly between two or three providers but once they begin to understand the practicalities of doing so, very few end up going down this route.

“Most predominantly pick one provider,” he says. “The reasons that they don’t spread it evenly are a few-fold. This forces them to standardise on the lowest common denominator, and these platforms are in widely different spots at this point in time.”

He also points out that it’s a big transition to go from on-premises to the cloud. So if you force teams not only to make that transition, but then on top of it to have to be fluent in multiple cloud platforms, it’s tough. “Development teams hate it and it’s pretty wasteful in terms of resources,” he says.

So what does it boil down to for the enterprises? In a nutshell, its reliability. They need to be able to count on their digital infrastructure, applications and services regardless of what else is going on around them Poirault says.

Additionally, he believes that enterprises increasingly expect cloud providers to not just meet basic infrastructure requirements, but to enable them to do more with their data.

“For cloud providers, this is an opportunity to tap into the power of analytical technologies, such as AI, and help businesses better understand their customers and launch new services,” he says. “Cloud providers therefore need to have agility at the core of what they do, enabling enterprises to quickly scale out new services, to bring new ideas to market, and to adapt to changing conditions by rolling up and down.”

One of the more talked about aspects of the public cloud is security and visibility. AWS has seemingly managed to successfully navigate this aspect of cloud computing, even in multi-cloud environments.

Securing the cloud

Unsurprisingly security is a top priority for AWS with the company adopting the same security isolations that are used in a traditional data centre. These include physical data centre security, separation of the network, isolation of the server hardware and isolation of storage.

“We have a shared responsibility model with the customer; AWS manages and controls the components from the host operating system and virtualisation layer down to the physical security of the facilities in which the services operate, and AWS customers are responsible for building secure applications,” he explains.

In addition, the company provides a wide variety of best practices documents, encryption tools, and other guidance its customers can use in delivering application-level security measures.

On the wholesale side of things, carriers are in the midst of a transformation across all business domains, which include digital, IT and network.

“For wholesalers, the transformation of the network and a move to software- defined networking is an opportunity to enable their customers to provide their businesses with the tools to get more out of their network – especially when it comes to using data to develop powerful insights and better services,” says Poirault.

He points out that wholesalers have created flexible networking infrastructure with zero touch provisioning that is easily configurable, that can be adapted without having to change lots of equipment, and that simplifies access to data throughout the network. This flexibility is key for their customers whose business demands change frequently.

Shift in culture

As much as the cloud is a technological change there is also an internal cultural shift that occurs as well.

“Moving to the cloud requires a new way of thinking. When technology is available on-demand, old world innovation and procurement cycles of weeks, or in most cases months, don’t work,” he explains.

The remedy from AWS is to establish an AWS Cloud Center of Excellence when working with large enterprise business. This is a dedicated business unit within the organisation that is focused on helping with the cultural changes needed to get the most from the cloud.

“This can be everything from setting up governance frameworks, so cloud consumption can happen in line with an organisations regulatory obligations, through to developing training and certification programs to up-skill all employees on AWS technologies and new ways of thinking,” continues Poirault.

In addition, the company also offers Digital Innovation Training for its customers, which are workshops that help enterprise businesses to move faster, increase their decision making, and reduce the cost of experimentation.

“At Amazon, Jeff Bezos has always said: ‘If you’re going to take bold bets, they’re going to be experiments and if they’re experiments, you don’t know ahead of time if they’re going to work. Experiments are, by their very nature, prone to failure. But a few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work.’ This is one of the foundational principals of Amazon and something we teach customers about, when moving to the cloud,” he adds.

Global Infrastructure Map Networks AWS

The AWS Cloud is available in 66 zones across 21 regions around the world, with
plans for 12 more availability regions in Bahrain, Cape Town, Jakarta, and Milan.

Emerging trends

Looking ahead data and emerging technologies like AI, Machine Learning and 5G will play a big part in the future cloud trends in the wholesale space.

“There’s been a huge explosion in the volume of data transmitted across networks over the past decade or so, and we expect a further exponential explosion of connected things – and therefore data – driven by Industrial IoT, 5G and the need for edge cloud computing,” he says.

For 2019 he predicts that wholesale carriers will increasingly deploy AI and Machine Learning systems in a bid to automate and optimise operations while also capturing, analysing and monetizing the data travelling across its networks.

Moreover, AI and Machine Learning create models that can accurately predict when network usage is likely to spike or drop. Laying the foundation for powerful auto-provision tools that can effectively allocate bandwidth and network capacity. Wholesalers can also deploy these technologies to create fault prediction capabilities that can anticipate when equipment might break or malfunction.

As 5G becomes available more broadly available, the need for edge computing becomes increasingly important. As carriers seek to accelerate their digital transformation, they are investing in building out consumer use cases that leverage the unique low latency characteristics of 5G.

“Throughout 2019, AWS has been in deep collaboration with several leading carriers to understand the challenges they will face in deploying edge cloud,” adds Poirault. “And, in traditional AWS fashion, we will work backwards from the customer to develop the services to meet that need.”

When it comes to the Internet of Things (IoT), Poirault anticipates that ten years from now, most company’s on-premises footprint will not be servers - virtually all be in the cloud – instead, it will consist of connected devices.

“These sensors are typically not very large, with a small amount of CPU and a small amount of disk. The cloud therefore plays a disproportionately important role in IoT deployments, as it supplements these devices to provide computing power and storage space,” he says. “Given the sheer diversity of potential IoT deployments across many verticals, it’s important that cloud providers can provide lots of functionality at the edge to address these needs, and we’ve placed a lot of importance on that at AWS.”

Ultimately, cloud computing has a huge role to play in these emerging technologies. It provides a platform to democratise emerging technology, as it enables businesses to tap into these without having to build all the complex infrastructures in-house.

There is a huge opportunity for cloud providers to help businesses establish use cases for these technologies and expand them into new areas.

Recently the company ventured into another much talked about emerging technology. In May 2019, AWS announced the availability of its Amazon Managed Blockchain, a managed service that simplifies the ability to create and manage scalable blockchain networks.

Customers typically create blockchain networks using frameworks like Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum, but setting up the networks using these frameworks is difficult and time consuming. Each member of a blockchain network has to provision hardware, install software, create and manage certificates for access control, and configure network settings.

Additionally, there is a lot of work involved in scaling the network. “Amazon Managed Blockchain is a fully managed blockchain service that makes it easy and cost effective for customers to create and manage secure blockchain networks that can scale to support thousands of applications running millions of transactions,” Poriault says.

“Customers simply choose their preferred framework, add network members, and configure the member nodes that process transaction requests. Amazon Managed Blockchain takes care of the rest, creating a blockchain network that can span multiple AWS accounts and configuring the software, security and network settings.”

Build and innovate

The plan for AWS and its ventures in the cloud is to simply build and innovate.

“Innovation is in our DNA, and our structure and approach to product development and delivery is fundamentally different from other IT vendors,” Poirault says. “We’ve never rolled something out from day one as an unmitigated success - you have to keep iterating and listening to customers around what they care about and keep building it.”

With such offerings as AI-based service Amazon SageMaker to analyse network data and Amazon Simple Storage Service that enables wholesalers to reduce the costs of data storage and retention, 2019 will be a continuation of these efforts to meet the needs of its customer at AWS according to Poirault.

“In a sense, 2019 will be much like any other year for AWS – another year to get closer to customers, to better understand their needs and to develop new ways to fulfil and anticipate them.”

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