With two brand new regions being launched out of India and South Korea in this year, it is clear that Amazon Web Services (AWS) intends to grow in the region. We spoke to Nick Walton, the head of AWS in the South East Asian region, to see how cloud adoption is shaping up in this part of the world alone, and how AWS intends to serve the demand there.
We asked first: are there any noticeable trends in the types of businesses moving to the public cloud?
“The growth is coming from similar kinds of customers, different groups, different segments, very similar to what we’re seeing globally,” said Walton. There is also a lot of startup activity in Singapore, he noted, with growing maturity and momentum evidenced in the enterprise and small and mid-sized businesses segments.
What about new AWS services?
Amazon cloud customers will know that not all AWS services are offered in Asia Pacific cloud regions, with new or beta services often released in the US cloud regions first. For instance, both the suitcase-sized Snowball and the supersized AWS Snowmobile sneakernet services are not available in Singapore. Will they be made available here eventually?
“We don’t support Snowball in Singapore yet. It depends on how much demand we see; there are some customers who have expressed interest. One of our jobs is to enable fixed parity, rolling out services consistently to all our regions globally,” he said.
Walton pointed to the latest round of price cuts to underscore the company’s move towards greater consistency across various regions. He said: “The price drops in Singapore were pretty substantial, [around] 25 percent for EC2 prices. It’s probably closer to other regions now after the price cuts.”
Costs aside, Walton was also quick to add that cloud-bestowed agility and the ability to experiment or innovate quicker are important benefits that customers see in the AWS cloud. This probably explains why Walton is unfazed about the intensifying pressure from rival cloud platforms and private cloud technologies such as hyper converged infrastructure.
“We’re surprised it’s taken our competition so long to recognize there is substantial opportunity here. We feel the advantage we have is in terms of the experience that we’ve built [with the AWS platform],” he said. “We continue to focus on innovation. We’ve continued to focus on what our customers are trying to achieve.”
The road to innovation
Yet it must be remembered that the cloud itself is not a destination, but merely a means to an end. And at least one chief information officer (CIO) sees the cloud as an enabler of innovation.
“As you start to think about the next generation of performance, the next generation of reliability, the next generation of security, [the] cloud looks very attractive,” said David Gledhill, the CIO and group head of operations at Singapore-based DBS Bank from the sidelines of the re:Invent conference last month.
One of the largest banks in Southeast Asia, DBS earlier this year inked an agreement with AWS to leverage its cloud to create a hybrid environment to complement its traditional data center. Gledhill said the decision to invest in the cloud is really about reliability and the agility to do more.
He drew attention to the highly redundant nature of a typical AWS regions, which are tightly meshed clusters of data centers known as availability zones that can be deployed in mutually supporting roles. Gledhill said: “We don’t have the same availability zones like Amazon has.”
“We were sort of limited by the constraints of our data center, which people have accepted,” he said; in contrast, the cloud allows for the creation of new services that pushes the boundaries of what is possible with traditional IT. This isn’t wistful thinking either, and Gledhill pointed to the bank’s DBS PayLah! mobile wallet as a commercial service that leveraged some capabilities of the cloud.
The cloud gives you the opportunity to play with things that you would never possibly imagined to do before, because you were constrained by the ability to scale and experiment.
David Gledhill, DBS Bank
“[The cloud] gives you the opportunity to play with things that you would never possibly imagined to do before, because you were constrained by the ability to scale [and] experiment,” he said.
But what of security? Gledhill doesn’t think that cloud and security is a zero-sum game. It all boils down to taking the same controls traditionally used to secure non-cloud IT infrastructure, he explained, and ensuring that they are properly implemented in the cloud to secure it.
“How can the traditional controls that we already have be moved to into the cloud? From a security perspective, there is equivalent lock down capability in the cloud,” he noted. “Arguably, it will be more secure there, because the way that AWS implements security, manages it, they’ve just get better at those over time.”
For all its flexibility, Gledhill readily acknowledged that not everything could be made to run in the cloud. This is because existing systems built on traditional infrastructure may make use of proprietary hardware and databases that are not cloud friendly, severely curtailing their use in the cloud.
“The issue is the architecture of the core platforms that we have. Our biggest priority is to make those platforms cloud ready,” Gledhill said.
The final transition to a cloud-only deployment can only happen when vendors of key systems start engineering them to support the cloud, he notes. This is likely an issue faced by enterprises, and explains why AWS partnered with virtualization juggernaut VMware to offer the latter’s software defined data center (SSDC) offering on the AWS cloud.
The complex cloud
One can hardly accuse AWS of a lack of innovation, given the large number of new features and capabilities that are regularly rolled out. The already huge and growing pool of features increases its complexity however, which AWS is addressing with an emphasis on training.
“A big part of our focus is on training. We’re spending a lot of time looking at how to help enable our customers and partners to better understand and leverage AWS,” said Walton, who told DCD that more than 1,400 had attended one of the AWS training days called AWSome Day in Singapore this year.
Elsewhere, AWS revamped its management console last month with a cleaner default layout, and launched a new service called Lightsail with a simplified console for customers who just need a virtual private server. If you would hear it from Walton though, at least some of AWS’s inherent complexity is a direct result of its sophistication.
“A lot of the [cloud] experience we have… it’s more difficult to emulate than people can think. The maturity of our APIs is often not recognized, [and offers] an ability to automate things in a way that is difficult with other providers. We’re confident that the benefits of that kind of product is pretty compelling,” he said.
Then again, tapping into features that only AWS offers could be a Pandora’s box for organizations not keen to put all their eggs into a single cloud platform, even one as large as AWS. Gledhill observed that AWS does offer capabilities that other clouds don’t support: “Do we go with a single vendor or provider? My view is that we will never.”
Of course, Gledhill sees the cloud as nothing more than an enabler, and the onus ultimately rests on organizations to transform to take full advantage of what it can offer.
“The other shift is organizational. How you change the mindset to make [DBS] feel like a 22,000-employee startup? Because if you don’t achieve that, moving to the cloud doesn’t bring you very far,” he said.