AWS announces a slew of new Lambda features

Posted by on 29 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

AWS launched Lambda in 2015 and with it helped popularize serverless computing. You simply write code (event triggers) and AWS deals with whatever compute, memory and storage you need to make that work. Today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, the company announced several new features to make it more developer friendly, while acknowledging that even while serverless reduced complexity, it still requires more sophisticated tools as it matures

It’s called serverless because you don’t have to worry about the underlying servers. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you, serving whatever resources you need to run your event and no more. It means you no longer have to worry about coding for all your infrastructure and you only pay for the computing you need at any given moment to make the application work.

The way AWS works is that it tends to release something, then builds more functionality on top of a base service as it sees increasing requirements as customers use it. As Werner Vogels pointed out in his keynote on Thursday, developers debate about tools and everyone has their own idea of what tools they bring to the task every day.

For starters, they decided to please the language folks introducing support for new languages. Those developers who use Ruby can now use Ruby Support for AWS Lambda. “Now it’s possible to write Lambda functions as idiomatic Ruby code, and run them on AWS. The AWS SDK for Ruby is included in the Lambda execution environment by default,” Chris Munns from AWS wrote in a blog post introducing the new language support.

If C++ is your thing, AWS announced C++ Lambda Runtime. If neither of those match your programming language tastes, AWS opened it up for just about any language with the new Lambda Runtime API, which Danilo Poccia from AWS described in a blog post as “a simple interface to use any programming language, or a specific language version, for developing your functions.”

AWS didn’t want to stop with languages though. They also recognize that even though Lambda (and serverless in general) is designed to remove a level of complexity for developers, that doesn’t mean that all serverless applications consist of simple event triggers. As developers build more sophisticated serverless apps, they have to bring in system components and compose multiple pieces together, as Amazon CTO Werner Vogels explained in his keynote today.

To address this requirement, the company introduced Lambda Layers, which they describe as “a way to centrally manage code and data that is shared across multiple functions.” This could be custom code used by multiple functions or a way to share code used to simplify business logic.

As Lambda matures, developer requirements grow and these announcements and others are part of trying to meet those needs.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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AWS launches a managed Kafka service

Posted by on 29 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Kafka is an open-source tool for handling incoming streams of data. Like virtually all powerful tools, it’s somewhat hard to set up and manage. Today, Amazon’s AWS is making this all a bit easier for its users with the launch of Amazon Managed Streaming for Kafka. That’s a mouthful, but it’s essentially Kafka as a fully managed, highly available service on AWS. It’s now available on AWS as a public preview.

As AWS CTO Werner Vogels noted in his AWS re:Invent keynote, Kafka users traditionally had to do a lot of heavy lifting to set up a cluster on AWS and to ensure that it could scale and handle failures. “It’s a nightmare having to restart all the cluster and the main nodes,” he said. “This is what I would call the traditional heavy lifting that AWS is really good at solving for you.”

It’s interesting to see AWS launch this service, given that it already offers a very similar tool in Kinesis, a tool that also focuses on ingesting streaming data. There are plenty of applications on the market today that already use Kafka, and AWS is clearly interested in giving those users a pathway to either move to a managed Kafka service or to AWS in general.

As with all things AWS, the pricing is a bit complicated, but a basic Kafka instance will start at $0.21 per hour. You’re not likely to just use one instance, so for a somewhat useful setup with three brokers and a good amount of storage and some other fees, you’ll quickly pay well over $500 per month.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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Asana, a work management platform, nabs $50M growth round at a $1.5B valuation

Posted by on 29 November, 2018

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Asana, a service that teams and individuals use to plan and track the progress of work projects, is doubling down on its own project: to shape “the future of work,” in the words of co-founder and CEO Dustin Moskovitz. The startup, whose products are used by millions of free and paying users, today is announcing that it has raised another $50 million in funding — a Series E that catapults Asana into unicorn status with a $1.5 billion valuation — to invest in international and product expansion.

Asana has been on a funding tear: It raised $75 million just 11 months ago at a $900 million post-money valuation, bringing the total this year to $125 million, and $213 million since being founded in 2008.

Led by Generation Investment Management — the London firm co-founded by former US Vice President Al Gore that also led that Series D in January — this latest round also includes existing investors 8VC, Benchmark Capital and Founders Fund as well as new investors Lead Edge Capital and World Innovation Lab.

Asana has lately been focused on international growth — half of its new sales are already coming from outside the US — and expanding its product as it inches toward profitability. These are the areas where its latest investment will go, too.

Specifically, it plans to open an AWS-based data center in Frankfurt in the first half of next year, and it will set down more roots in Asia-Pacific, with offices in Sydney and Tokyo. It is also hiring in both markets. Asana has customers in 195 countries and six languages, and it looks like it’s homing in on these two regions because it’s seeing the most traction there.

On the product side, the company has been gradually adding machine learning, predictive and other AI features and it will continue to do that as part of a “long-term vision for marrying computer and human intelligence to run entire companies.”

“Our role is to help leaders understand where their attention can be most useful and what to be focused on,” Moskovitz, pictured right with co-founder Justin Rosenstein, said to me in an interview earlier this month when describing the company’s AI push.

The funding caps off an active year for Asana.

In addition to raising $75 million in January, it announced 50,000 paying organizations and “millions” of free users in September. It also introduced new products and features, such as a paid tier, Asana for Business, for larger organizations managing multiple projects; Timelines for drilling into sequential tasks and milestones; and its first steps into AI, services that start to anticipate what users need to see first and prioritise, based on previous behaviour, which team the user is on, and so on:

Asana has been close to profitability this year, although it doesn’t look like it has quite reached that point yet. Moskovitz told me that in fact, it has held on to most of its previous funding (that’s before embarking on this next wave of ambitious expansions, though).

“We have so much money in the bank that we have quite a lot of options [and are in a] strong position so choose what makes the most sense strategically,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate with investors. The prime thing is vision match: do they think about the long-term future in the same way we do? Do they have the same values and priorities? Generation nailed that on so many levels as a firm.”

How Asana fits into the mix with Slack, Box and others

Asana’s growth and mission both mirror trends in the wider world of enterprise IT and collaboration within it.

Slack, Microsoft Teams, Workplace from Facebook and other messaging and chat apps have transformed how coworkers communicate with each other, both within single offices and across wider geographies: they have replaced email, phone and other communication channels to some extent.

Meanwhile, the rise of cloud-based services like Dropbox, Box, Google Cloud, AWS and Microsoft’s Azure have transformed how people in organizations manage and ultimately collaborate on files: the rise of mobile and mobile working have increased the need for more flexible file management and access.

The third area that has been less covered is work management: as people continue to multitask on multiple projects – partly spurred by the rise in the other two collaboration categories – they need a platform that helps keep them organised and on top of all that work. This is where Asana sits.

“We think about collaboration as three markets,” Moskovitz said, “file collaboration, messaging, and work management. Each of these has a massive surface area and depth to them. We think it’s important that all companies have tools that they use from each of these big buckets.”

It is not the only one in that big bucket.

Asana alternatives include Airtable, Wrike, Trello and Basecamp. As we have pointed out before, that competitive pressure is another reason Asana is on the path to continue growing and making its service more sticky.

Indeed, just earlier this month Airtable raised $100 million at a $1.1 billion valuation. Airtable has a different approach – its platform can be used for more than project management – but it’s most definitely used to build templates precisely to track projects.

You might even argue that Airtable’s existing offering could present a type of product roadmap for what might be considered next for Asana.

For now, though, Asana is building up big customers for its existing services.

The product initially got its start when Moskovitz and Rosenstein – as respectively as co-founder and early employee of Facebook – built something to help their coworkers  at the social network manage their workloads. Now, it has a range of users that include a number of other tech firms, but also others.

London’s National Gallery, for example, uses Asana to plan and launch exhibitions and business projects; the supermarket chain Tesco’s digital campaigns; Sony Music, which also uses it for marketing management but also to track a digitization project for its back music catalog; Uber, which has managed some 600 city expansions through Asana to date.

“At Generation Investment Management, we’re grounded in the philosophy that through strategic investments in leading, mission-driven companies we can move towards a more sustainable future,” said Colin le Duc, co-founder and partner, Generation Investment Management, in a statement.

“We see Collaborative Work Management as a distinct and rapidly expanding segment, and Asana has the right product and team to lead the market. Through Dustin and the team, Asana is changing how businesses around the world collaborate, epitomizing what it means to deliver results with a mission-driven ethos.”

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS is bringing the cloud on prem with Outposts

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

AWS has always been the pure cloud vendor, and even though it has given a nod to hybrid, it is now fully embracing it. Today in conjunction with VMware, it announced a pair of options to bring AWS into the data center.

Yes, you read it correctly. You can now put AWS into your data center with AWS hardware, the same design they use in their own data centers. The two new products are part of AWS Outposts.

There are two Outposts variations — VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts and AWS Outposts. The first uses the VMware control panel. The second allows customers to run compute and storage on premises using the same AWS APIs that are used in the AWS cloud.

In fact, VMware CEO Pat  Gelsinger joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy onstage at AWS re:Invent for a joint announcement. The two companies have been working together for some time to bring VMware to the AWS cloud. Part of this announcement flips that on its head, bringing the AWS cloud on prem to work with VMware. In both cases, AWS sells you their hardware, installs it if you wish, and will even maintain it for you.

This is an area that AWS has lagged, preferring the vision of a cloud, rather than moving back to the data center, but it’s a tacit acknowledgment that customers want to operate in both places for the foreseeable future.

The announcement also extends the company’s cloud-native-like vision. On Monday, the company announced Transit Gateways, which is designed to provide a single way to manage network resources, whether they live in the cloud or on prem.

Now AWS is bringing its cloud on prem, something that Microsoft, Canonical, Oracle and others have had for some time. It’s worth noting that today’s announcement is a public preview. The actual release is expected in the second half of next year.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS Textract brings intelligence to OCR

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

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One of the challenges just about every business faces is converting forms to a useful digital format. This has typically involved using human data entry clerks to enter the data into the computer. State of the art involved using OCR to read forms automatically, but AWS CEO Andy Jassy explained that OCR is basically just a dumb text reader. It doesn’t recognize text types. Amazon wanted to change that and today it announced Textract, an intelligent OCR tool to move data from forms to a more useable digital format.

In an example, he showed a form with tables. Regular OCR didn’t recognize the table and interpreted it as a string of text. Textract is designed to recognize common page elements like a table and pull the data in a sensible way.

Jassy said that forms also often change and if you are using a template as a work-around for OCR’s lack of intelligence, the template breaks if you move anything. To fix that, Textract is smart enough to understand common data types like social security numbers, dates of birth and addresses and it interprets them correctly no matter where they fall on the page.

“We have taught Textract to recognize this set of characters is a date of birth and this is a social security number. If forms change Textract won’t miss it,” Jassy explained

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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AWS announces new Inferentia machine learning chip

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

AWS is not content to cede any part of any market to any company. When it comes to machine learning chips, names like Nvidia or Google come to mind, but today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas, the company announced a new dedicated machine learning chip of its own called Inferentia.

“Inferentia will be a very high throughput low-latency, sustained performance very cost-effective processor,” AWS CEO Andy Jassy explained during the announcement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research says that while Amazon is far behind, this is a good step for them as companies try to differentiate their machine learning approaches in the future.

“The speed and cost of running machine learning operations — ideally in deep learning — are a competitive differentiator for enterprises. Speed advantages will make or break success of enterprises (and nations when you think of warfare). That speed can only be achieved with custom hardware, and Inferentia is AWS’s first step to get in to this game,” Mueller told TechCrunch. As he pointed out, Google has a 2-3 year head start with its TPU infrastructure.

Inferentia supports popular frameworks like INT8, FP16 and and mixed precision. What’s more, it supports multiple machine learning frameworks including Tensorflow, Caffe2 and ONNX.

Of course, being an Amazon product, it also supports data from popular AWS products such as EC2, Sagemaker and the new Elastic Inference Engine announced today

While the chip was announced today, AWS CEO Andy Jassy indicated it won’t actually be available until next year.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS launches a managed blockchain service

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

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It was only a year ago that AWS CEO Andy Jassy said that he wasn’t all that interested in blockchain services. Clearly something has changed over the course of the last year because today, the company is launching two new blockchain services: Quantum Ledger Database and Amazon Managed Blockchain.

As the name implies, AWS Managed Blockchain is a managed blockchain service. It supports Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric.

“This service is going to make it much easier for you to use the two most popular blockchain frameworks,” said AWS CEO Andy Jassy. He noted that companies tend to use Hyperledger Fabric when they know the number of members in their blockchain network and want robust private operations and capabilities. AWS promises that the service will scale to thousands of applications and will allow users to run millions of transactions (though the company didn’t say with what kind of latency).

Support for Hyperledger Fabric is available today. Ethereum support is launching a few months from now.

Getting started with Managed Blockchain is a matter of using the AWS Console and configuring nodes, adding members and deploying applications.

“When we heard people saying ‘blockchain,’ we felt like there was their weird conveluting and conflating what they really wanted,” said Jassy. “And as we spent time working with customers and figuring out the jobs they were really trying to solve, this is what we think people are trying to do with blockchain.”

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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AWS launches new time series database

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

AWS announced a new time series database today at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas. The new product called DynamoDB On-Demand is a fully managed database designed to track items over time, which can be particularly useful for Internet of Things scenarios.

“With time series data each data point consists of a timestamp and one or more attributes and it really measures how things change over time and helps drive real time decisions,” AWS CEO Andy Jassy explained.

He sees a problem though with existing open source and commercial solutions, which says don’t scale well and hard to manage. This is of course a problem that a cloud service like AWS often helps solve.

Not surprising as customers were looking for a good time series database solution, AWS decided to create one themselves. “Today we are introducing Amazon DynamoDB on-demand, a flexible new billing option for DynamoDB capable of serving thousands of requests per second without capacity planning,” Danilo Poccia from AWS wrote in the blog post introducing the new service.

Jassy said that they built DynamoDB on-demand from the ground up with an architecture that organizes data by time intervals and enables time series specific data compression, which leads to less scanning and faster performance.

He claims it will be a thousand times faster at a tenth of cost, and of course it scales up and down as required and includes all of the analytics capabilities you need to understand all of the data you are tracking.

This new service is available across the world starting today.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
AWS Lake Formation makes setting up data lakes easier

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

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The concept of data lakes has been around for a long time, but being able to set up one of these systems, which store vast amounts of raw data in its native formats, was never easy. AWS wants to change this with the launch of AWS Lake Formation. At its core, this new service, which is available today, allows developers to create a secure data lake within a few days.

While “a few days” may still sound like a long time in this age of instant gratification, it’s nothing in the world of enterprise software.

“Everybody is excited about data lakes,” said AWS CEO Andy Jassy in today’s AWS re:Invent keynote. “People realize that there is significant value in moving all that disparate data that lives in your company in different silos and make it much easier by consolidating it in a data lake.”

Setting up a data lake today means you have to, among other things, configure your storage and (on AWS) S3 buckets, move your data, add metadata and add that to a catalog. And then you have to clean up that data and set up the right security policies for the data lake. “This is a lot of work and for most companies, it takes them several months to set up a data lake. It’s frustrating,” said Jassy.

Lake Formation is meant to handle all of these complications with just a few clicks. It sets up the right tags and cleans up and dedupes the data automatically. And it provides admins with a list of security policies to help secure that data.

“This is a step-level change for how easy it is to set up data lakes,” said Jassy.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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AWS tries to lure Windows users with Amazon FSx for Windows File Server

Posted by on 28 November, 2018

This post was originally published on this site

Amazon has had storage options for Linux file servers for some time, but it recognizes that a number of companies still use Windows file servers, and they are not content to cede that market to Microsoft. Today the company announced Amazon FSx for Windows File Server to provide a fully compatible Windows option.

“You get a native Windows file system backed by fully-managed Windows file servers, accessible via the widely adopted SMB (Server Message Block) protocol. Built on SSD storage, Amazon FSx for Windows File Server delivers the throughput, IOPS, and consistent sub-millisecond performance that you (and your Windows applications) expect,” AWS’s Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post introducing the new feature.

That means if you use this service, you have a first-class Windows system with all of the compatibility with Windows services that you would expect such as Active Directory and Windows Explorer.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy introduced the new feature today at AWS Re:Invent, the company’s customer conference going on in Las Vegas this week. He said that even though Windows File Server usage is diminishing as more IT pros turn to Linux, there are still a fair number of customers who want a Windows compatible system and they wanted to provide a service for them to move their Windows files to the cloud.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it provides a path for Microsoft customers to use AWS instead of turning to Azure for these workloads. Companies undertaking a multi-cloud strategy should like having a fully compatible option.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Posted Under: Tech News
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