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Juha Saarinen: The Amazon Web Services tech elephant marches on

3 min read

OPINION:

Cloud computing has already changed everything for IT, and now we’ll see it closer to home as the American tech titans set up shop, I mean data centres, in New Zealand.

Amazon Web Services has said it will drop a colossal $7.5 billion locally, to build a region with multiple data centres. Granted, the investment is over the next decade and a half and we probably won’t see facilities until 2024-25, but that level of commitment for NZ alone means geeks everywhere check out the regular AWS re:Invent conferences carefully, as they’re bound to have something that touches on their fields.

It’s probably fair to say that AWS’s growth has surprised everyone – AWS included. From engineers getting together to demand more autonomy and less middle-management bureaucracy in the early 2000s, AWS has been in Warp drive mode since 2010 in terms of growth as developers flock to the cloud.

Now a separate business unit, AWS is making bags of billions of dollars in revenue. Despite fierce competition from Microsoft’s Azure cloud (which is also destined for New Zealand, physically that is, with data centres), AWS has around a third of a big, US$150b ($222.3b) and growing market.

Andy Jassy who ran AWS even replaced Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the head of the global online retailer.

What’s driving the growth is oodles of digital data. I don’t think anyone knows for sure how many exabytes of data is stored in facilities around the world, estimates based on power consumption notwithstanding, but the wave of device-generated information will get bigger for a long while yet.

Locally outfits are also dipping their toes into the data deluge: AWS had wheeled out Loyalty NZ, which managed FlyBuys, for re:Invent. The FlyBuys programme might seem at odds with the no-fly Covid-19 pandemic, but people still swipe and scan their cards.

Loyalty NZ’s partners manage over 100 million customer contacts a year, which has resulted in 55 terabytes of data currently, a figure growing by two gigabytes a day, from multiple sources. It may not seem like that much – people have devices with one terabyte storage in their pockets now – but Loyalty NZ reckons stuffing the data into the AWS server farms will cut processing times from over a day to just a few hours. And, save the company money and allow for future growth.

AWS lures customers into its fold by going beyond the “running your code on someone else’s computers” which is the first thing corporate bean counters, keen to save money, will look at.

For example, AWS which has always been leaning towards building stuff itself, and open source, designs its own hardware, providing “deconstructed” building blocks that would be difficult to create elsewhere but in the cloud. Customers of the on-demand Elastic Cloud can now select the third generation of an AWS-designed processor, the cartoon-character sounding Graviton. Epic Games of Fortnite fame is a Graviton user.

For machine learning there’s the Trainium chip, and solid-state drive storage systems, again AWS designed.

Want a private 5G network because Wifi just isn’t up to it for your business needs? It’s not ready for New Zealand yet, but yes, AWS is rolling out private 5G that’s deployable in days without hardware or software purchases. This will be one to look out for, with local partnership deals likely coming up.

AWS chief technology officer Werner Vogels is now fiddling with robotics as well, and you can see how hyperscale cloud computing will end up touching everyone’s lives eventually. Like supermarkets stocked by Amazon and digitally run by AWS which is possibly not what Countdown and New World’s owners want to think about, let alone any retail chain operator.

Where that kind of transformation will take us remains to be seen, but anyone in IT would be foolish to not keep up with it, and get some cloud creds on their CVs.

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