Coming to STATION F: The first Mentor's Office powered by AWS!

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I am excited to announce that AWS is opening its first Mentor's Office at STATION F in Paris! The Mentor's Office is a workplace exclusively dedicated to meetings between AWS experts and the startups. STATION F is the world's biggest startup campus. With this special offer starting at the end of June, at the campus opening, AWS increases the support already available to startup customers in France.

All year long, AWS experts will deliver technical and business assistance to startups based on campus. AWS Solutions Architects will meet startup members for face-to-face sessions, to share guidance on how cloud services can be used for their specific use cases, workloads, or applications. Startup members will also have the possibility to meet with AWS business experts such as account managers, business developers, and consultants. They can explore the possibilities of the AWS Cloud and take advantage of our IT experience and business expertise. With these 1:1 meetings, AWS delivers mentoring to startups to help them bring their ideas to life and accelerate their business using the cloud.

AWS will also provide startups with all of the benefits of the AWS Activate program, including AWS credits, training, technical support, and a special startup community forum to help them successfully build their business. For more details about the Mentor's Office at STATION F, feel free to contact the AWS STATION F team.

With this opening, Amazon continues to build out global programs to support startup growth and to speed up innovation. Startups can also apply to other Amazon programs to boost their businesses, such as:

  • Amazon Launchpad, which makes it easy for startups to launch, market, and distribute their products to hundreds of millions of Amazon customers across the globe.
  • Alexa Fund, which provides up to $100 million in venture capital funding to fuel voice technology innovation.

After the launch of AWS in 2006, we saw an acceleration of French startups adopting the cloud. Successful French startups already using AWS to grow their businesses, across Europe and around the world, include Captain Dash, Dashlane, Botify, Sketchfab,Predicsis, Yomoni, BidMotion, Teads, FrontApp, Iconosquare, and many others. They all get benefits from AWS's highly flexible, scalable, and secure global platform. AWS eliminates the undifferentiated heavy lifting of managing underlying infrastructure and provides elastic, pay-as-you-go IT resources.

We have also seen start-ups in France using AWS to grow and become household names in their market segment, such as Aldebaran Robotics (SoftBank Robotics Europe). This startup uses AWS to develop new technologies. They are able to concentrate their engineering resources on innovation, rather than maintaining technology infrastructure, which is leading to the development of autonomous and programmable humanoid robots.

Cloud is also an opportunity for startups to reach security standards that were not accessible before. For example, PayPlug is an online payment by credit card solution enabling e-merchants to enrich the customer experience by reinventing the payment experience. Such a service requires suppliers to get PCI DSS certification for the "Service Provider" level, a very demanding certification level. Using AWS's PCI DSS Level 1 compliant infrastructure, Payplug has been certified by L'ACPR (L'Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de resolution, the French supervisory for prudential and resolution authority) as a financial institution, a major step in their development.

I look forward to meeting the builders of tomorrow at STATION F in the near future.

Go French Startups!

I will be returning this weekend to the US from a very successful AWS Summit in Sydney, so I have ample time to read during travels. This weekend however I would like to take a break from reading historical computer science material, to catch up on another technology I find fascinating, that of functional Magnetic Resonace Imaging, aka fMRI.

fMRI is a functional imagine technology, meaning that it just records the state of the brain at one particular point in time, but the changing state over a period of time. The basic technology records brain activity by measuring changes in blood flow through the brain. The technology relies on the fact that cerebral blood flow and neuronal activation are coupled. When an area of the brain is in use, blood flow to that region also increases.

There have been significant advances in the use of fMRI technology, but mostly in research. It also comes with significant ethical questions: if you can "read" someone's brain, what are you allowed to do what that knowledge?

For my flight back to the US this weekend I will read two papers: one by Peter Bandettini pubslished in NeruImagine about the history of fMRI and one from Poldrack and Farah on the state of the art in fMRI and its applications, published in Nature.

"Twenty years of functional MRI: The science and the stories, Peter A. Bandettini, Neuroimage 62, 575–588 (2012)

"Progress and challenges in probing the human brain", Russell A. Poldrack and Martha J. Farah, Nature 526, 371–379 (15 October 2015)

Today, I am very excited to announce our plans to open a new AWS Region in the Nordics! The new region will give Nordic-based businesses, government organisations, non-profits, and global companies with customers in the Nordics, the ability to leverage the AWS technology infrastructure from data centers in Sweden. The new AWS EU (Stockholm) Region will have three Availability Zones and will be ready for customers to use in 2018.

Over the past decade, we have seen tremendous growth at AWS. As a result, we have opened 42 Availability Zones across 16 AWS Regions worldwide. Last year, we opened new regions in Canada, India, Korea, the UK, and the US. Throughout the next year we will see another five zones, across two AWS Regions, come online in France and China. However, we do not plan to slow down and we are not stopping there. We are actively working to open new regions in the locations our customers need them most.

In Europe, we have been constantly expanding our footprint. In 2007, we opened our first AWS Region in Ireland and since then have opened additional regions, in Germany and the UK, with France still to come. After the launch of the AWS EU (Stockholm) Region, there will be 13 Availability Zones in Europe for customers to build flexible, scalable, secure, and highly available applications. It will also give customers another region where they can store their data with the knowledge that it will not leave the EU unless they move it.

As well as AWS Regions, we also have 24 AWS Edge Network Locations in Europe. This enables customers to serve content to their end users with low latency, giving them the best application experience. This continued investment in Europe has led to strong growth as many customers across the region move to AWS.

Organizations across the Nordics—Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—have been increasingly moving their mission-critical applications to AWS. This has led us to steadily increase our investment in the Nordics to serve our growing base of enterprise, public sector, and startup customers.

In 2011, AWS opened a Point of Presence (PoP) in Stockholm to enable customers to serve content to their end users with low latency. In 2014 and 2015 respectively, AWS opened offices in Stockholm and Espoo, Finland. We have also added teams in the Nordics to help customers of all sizes as they move to AWS, including account managers, solutions architects, business developers, partner managers, professional services consultants, technology evangelists, start-up community developers, and more.

Some of the most successful startups in the world, including Bambora, iZettle, King, Mojang, and Supercell are already using AWS to deliver highly reliable, scalable, and secure applications to customers.

Supercell is responsible for several of the highest grossing mobile games in history, and they rely on AWS for their entire infrastructure. With titles like Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and Hay Day, Supercell has 100 million people playing their games every single day.

iZettle, a mobile payments startup, is also ‘all-in’ on AWS. After finding it cost prohibitive to use colocation centers in local markets where their users are based, iZettle decided to give up hardware. They migrated their IT infrastructure, including mission-critical payments platforms, to AWS in just six weeks. After migrating, database queries that took six seconds now take three seconds in their AWS infrastructure. That’s 100% faster.

Some of the largest, and most well respected, enterprises in the Nordics also depend on AWS to power their businesses, enabling them to be more agile and responsive to their customers. These companies include ASSA ABLOY, Finnair, Husqvarna Group, IKEA, Kauppalehti, Kesko, Sanoma, Scania, Schibsted, Telenor, and WOW Air.

Scania, a world leading manufacturer of commercial vehicles, is using AWS to bring advanced technologies to their trucks, buses, coaches, and diesel engines. AWS is helping them reach their goal of becoming the leader in sustainable transport. Scania is planning to use AWS for their connected vehicle systems, which allows truck owners to track their vehicles, collect real-time running data, and run diagnostics to understand when maintenance is needed to reduce vehicle downtime.

Icelandic low-cost airline carrier WOW air is using AWS for its Internet-facing IT infrastructure, including its booking engine, development platforms, and web servers. In making the switch to AWS, WOW air has saved between $30,000 and $45,000 on hardware, and software licensing. The airline has also been able to scale quickly to cope with spikes in seasonal traffic, cutting application latency and improving the overall customer experience. AWS was crucial to the successful launch of WOW air’s U.S. flights, allowing the airline to expand twelvefold to cope with the spike in traffic that it experienced at the time.

In addition to established enterprises, government organizations, and rapidly growing startups, AWS also has a vibrant ecosystem in the Nordics, including partners that have built cloud practices and innovative technology solutions on AWS. AWS Partner Network (APN) Consulting Partners in the Nordics help customers migrate to the cloud. APN Partners include Accenture, Capgemini, Crayon Group, CSC, Cybercom, Dashsoft, Enfo Group, Evry, Jayway, Nordcloud, Proact IT Group, Solita, Tieto, Wipro, and many others. Among the APN Technology Partners and independent software vendors (ISVs) in the Nordics using AWS to deliver their software to customers around the world are Basware, eBuilder, F-Secure, Queue-it, Xstream, and many others.

The new AWS EU (Stockholm) Region, coupled with the existing AWS Regions in Dublin, Frankfurt, and London, and a future one in France, will provide customers with quick, low-latency access to websites, mobile applications, games, SaaS applications, big data analysis, Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and more. I’m excited to see the new and innovative use cases coming from our customers in the Nordics and across Europe, all enabled by AWS.

This weekend I am travelling to Australia for the first AWS Summit of 2017. I find on such a long trip, to keep me from getting distracted, I need an exciting paper that is easy to read. Last week's 'Deep Learning' overview would have not met those requirements.

One topic that always gets me excited is how to take computer science research and implement it in production systems. There are often so many obstacles that we do not see much of this work happening. For example when building Dynamo, where we put a collection of different research technologies together in production, we struggled with all the assumptions the researchers had made. At times, it makes research unsuitable for production (e.g. real systems do not fail by stopping in a nice and clean way).

In the early nineties, Mendel Rosenblum and John Ousterhout had made a major breakthrough in the design of file systems with "The Design and Implementation of a Log-Structured File System." That alone is an interesting paper to read, but this weekend we will be looking at the actual implementation of an LFS by Margo Seltzer and other members of the BSD team.

It is one of the first papers to describe the implementation of a research system, and measure the result within a production system. I hope you will also enjoy it!

"An implementation of a log-structured file system for UNIX.", Margo Seltzer, Keith Bostic, Marshall Kirk Mckusick, and Carl Staelin. 1993, In Proceedings of the USENIX Winter 1993 Conference Proceedings on USENIX Winter 1993 Conference Proceedings (USENIX'93). USENIX Association, Berkeley, CA, USA, 3-3.

In the past few years, we have seen an explosion in the use of 'Deep Learning' as its software platforms and the supporting hardware mature, especially as GPUs with larger memories become widely available. Even though this is a recent development, 'Deep Learning' has entrenched historical roots, tracing back all the way to the sixties or possibly earlier.

By reading-up on its history, we get a better understanding of the current state of the art of 'Deep Learning algorithms' and the 'Neural Networks' that you build with them.

There is a broad set of papers to read if we want to dive deep into the history. It would take us multiple weekends. Instead, we will be reading an excellent overview paper from 2014 by Jürgen Schmidhuber. Jürgen evaluates the current state of the art in 'Deep Learning' by tracing it back to its roots. Ergo, we get excellent historical context.

Enjoy!

"Deep Learning in Neural Networks: An Overview." Jürgen Schmidhuber, in Neural Networks, Volume 61, January 2015, Pages 85-117 (DOI: 10.1016/j.neunet.2014.09.003)

Amazon today announced a new program that will make it free for tens of thousands of Alexa developers to build and host most Alexa skills using Amazon Web Services (AWS). Many Alexa skill developers currently take advantage of the AWS Free Tier, which offers one million AWS Lambda requests and up to 750 hours of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) compute time per month at no charge. However, if developers exceed the AWS Free Tier limits, they may incur AWS usage fees each month.

Now, developers with a live Alexa skill can apply to receive a $100 AWS promotional credit and can earn an additional $100 per month in AWS promotional credits if they incur AWS usage charges for their skill – making it free for developers to build and host most Alexa skills. Our goal is to free up developers to create more robust and unique skills that can take advantage of AWS services. We can't wait to see what you create.

How It Works

If you have one or more live Alexa skills, you are eligible to receive a $100 AWS promotional credit to be used toward AWS fees incurred in connection with your skills. Additionally, if you continue to incur skill-related AWS charges that exceed the initial $100 promotional credit, you will also be eligible to receive monthly AWS promotional credits of $100. All you need to do is apply once. Apply Now >

Build and Host Alexa Skills with AWS

With the new program, if you exceed the AWS Free Tier due to growth of your skill, or are looking to scale your skill using AWS services, you will be eligible to receive AWS promotional credits to be applied to AWS services such as Amazon EC2, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon DynamoDB, and Amazon CloudFront.

For example, you can use DynamoDB to create more engaging skills that have context and memory. In a game with memory, you could pause for a few hours and then keep going (like the Wayne Investigation, or Sub War). Or, to give your customers a more immersive experience, consider incorporating audio files via Amazon S3 to stream short audio bursts, games, podcasts, or news stories in your skill. Many of our most engaging skills, like Ambient Noise and RuneScape Quests – One Piercing Note, add audio sounds to soothe and voiceovers and sound effects to make the in-game experience more immersive.

Build a Skill Today - Special Offers

Our skill templates and step-by-step guides are a valuable way to quickly learn the end-to-end process for building and publishing an Alexa skill. You can get started quickly with the city guide template or fact skill template, or use the Alexa SDK for Node.js on GitHub to create a custom skill. Plus, if you publish a skill, you'll receive an Alexa dev t-shirt. Quantities are limited. See Terms and Conditions.

Additional Resources

For more information on getting started with developing for Alexa, check out the following resources:

How companies can become magnets for digital talent

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This article titled "Wie Unternehmen digitale Talente anziehen" appeared in German last week in the "Tipps für Arbeitgeber" section of Wirtschaftwoche.

The rise in digital business models is a huge challenge for recruiting and talent selection. The sort of skills businesses need today are in short supply. How companies can prepare themselves to attract the best talents for shaping their digital business.

Digitalization offers almost endless possibilities to communicate faster, work more efficiently, and be more creative – in real-time. But groundbreaking digital business models need pioneers: creators, forward-looking thinkers and inventors who don't hesitate to leave the beaten path, embody ownership, and who understand how to translate customers' wishes into superb new products, services and solutions that evolve with speed. It is a no-brainer, that getting the right talent on board can decisively accelerate a company's digital transformation. At the same time, if your daily corporate practice doesn't fulfill their expectations regarding a vibrant and flexible working culture and a social media-minded environment, digital natives will simply turn their back on you and go elsewhere.

Finding those kind of people is not easy. There are probably only a few companies that can say, they already have a sufficient number of such employees among their staff. Job openings for machine learning scientists, data analytics experts, IT security experts or developers are already difficult to fill, and the demand for this knowledge will increase significantly in the next few years as customers show their demand for digital engagements. The market for digital skills is "hot", in the U.S. as well as in Germany. And these talents are by no means coveted only by companies that always had a digital business model to begin with; suppliers to the automotive industry, financial services companies, and retailers also, urgently need product managers, and technical staff who can quickly make their organizations digitally attractive to their customers. Recruiting and selection in the digital age therefore needs to be tackled in a more strategic way than in the past. So how do you position your company as an attractive employer for digital talent?

Preparing the organization for a new beginning

One way is to eliminate rigid structures, previously the enemy to digital thinking. Digitalization involves, among others, suddenly converging areas that used to be siloed. Take industrial companies. In the past, their sales departments defined specifications according to the customer's wishes, which were then transferred step by step into the manufacturing process. These days, it's expected that everything should happen almost simultaneously. Previously, the top priorities for IT departments were equipping data centers with hardware, purchasing software, and further developing proprietary software. Today, companies take their server capacity and software from the cloud. These changes have to be taken into account when scanning the market for talent. At Düsseldorf-based fashion retailer Peek&Cloppenburg, for example, the business, development and IT functions are increasingly cooperating with each other because they realize that isolated departments and rigid hierarchies can slow down the organization's innovative strength and speed. That is also why employees have more and more room to make decisions themselves. P&C's digital transformation is supported by an in-house consulting team that helps the specialized departments analyze and digitize those processes that strengthen the customer touchpoints.

The freedom to create

Another way to make your company attractive for digital talent is to give them as much creative freedom as possible AutoScout24, a Munich-based online marketplace for car, motorcycle and utility vehicle sales is a digital native company. Recognizing that it needed faster decision making, AutoScout24 started to empower employees who are close to their customers. The company created small and agile cross-functional teams with profit and loss responsibility for their market segments. These measures eliminated dependencies amongst business units, increased self-responsibility, eased communication processes and improved overall organizational alignment.

Showcase your best talent – and give them what they need

It's important to encourage the employees you already have, provide them with resources and let them decide things themselves. They should be able to follow their ideas and feel accountable for them. Offering regular development opportunities can also help you make the most of your talent. In most cases, you won't select a learning offer from a general training catalog, as in the pre-digital era. Development will have to be customized for each individual. That might be a course, the opportunity to lead a project, or gaining new insights by working in another part of the company.

Some companies have created cross-business-unit roles such as the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) in order to connect everything that needs to be thought of in a unified way in the digital world. Their responsibilities include defining future growth areas, spearheading change processes and allocating resources in a new way so that the company is ready to face the digital era and address the ever-changing customer expectation. They need to find allies who possess enough digital know-how to ensure the company can take advantage of the opportunities that stem from new technologies.

Wanted: Employees with a mixed skill set

Another way to attract the best digital talent is to keep an eye out for applicants who bring a diverse mix of skills. We hear again and again, and not only in Germany, how scarce IT experts and engineers are. At the same time, you need to discuss what role a person who designs cars for example, will play in the value chain in a future world in which the car manufacturer will probably earn most of its money with data and mobility services. How this affects the required skills mix needs to be defined and assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Two things are crucial here. First, you need talented individuals who want to be customer-centric and who are able to cross the traditional (internal) customer and IT organizational boundaries in order to truly feel what customers want. In some cases, it could be helpful to even 'embed' your employees at the customerfor a period of time. Secondly, it's clear, that digital business models require experts who view data as an essential element of future value creation — regardless of the specific expertise they bring to the company.

Create room for adventure

Finally, be aware of the impact of your culture. Today's digital talent seeks adventure and a job that gives them meaning. The more comfortable they feel in the workplace, the more willing they will be to work harder for your company's success. And they want to be surrounded by similarly minded colleagues. Companies must ensure their culture can meet these expectations. A company can differentiate itself on culture also by taking a strong stand on issues that are of concern to their employees, and by having a leadership principles that are not just on paper, but reflected within the employees every day. At Amazon, we stand for a culture where failure is explicitly allowed — and even desired — because in our experience the path to transformational innovations can never be straight and failure is a sign of progressive thinking. That's why we need candidates who love to experiment, who are prepared to take other paths, and who are energetic enough to quickly find a way out of a dead-end. Our leadership principles also play a critical role; they describe in detail what is important to us. Everyone can find these values on our website, and they apply to everyone. We expect our employees to focus constantly on the customers' needs and to continuously improve themselves. That can be inconvenient. But to thrive, innovations need a certain tension.

Digitalization is happening fast. That shouldn't be an excuse for taking shortcuts in recruiting. Jeff Bezos once said: " I'd rather interview 50 people and not hire anyone than hire the wrong person ." In the end, only a carefully planned and executed HR strategy will allow a company to achieve the digital transformation and develop it in such a way that it fulfills the company's long-term goals .

Back-to-Basics Weekend Reading: The Foundations of Blockchain

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More and more we see stories appearing, like this one in HBR by MIT Media Lab's Joi Ito and crew. It praises the power of blockchain as a disruptive technology, on par with how "the internet" changed everything.

I am always surprised to see that these far-reaching predictions are made, without diving into the technology itself. This weekend I would like to read about some of the technologies that predate blockchain, as they are its fundamental building blocks.

Blockchain technology first came on the scene in 2008, as a core component of the bitcoin cryptocurrency. Blockchain provides transactional, distributed ledger functionality that can operate without a centralized, trusted authority. Updates recorded in the ledger are immutable, with cryptographic time-stamping to achieve serializability. Blockchain's robust, decentralized functionality is very attractive for global financial systems, but can easily be applied to contracts, or operations such as global supply chain tracking.

When we look at the foundation of blockchain, there are three papers from the nineties that describe different components whose principles found its way into blockchain. The 91 paper by Haber and Stornetta describes how to use crypto signatures to time-stamp documents. The 98 paper by Schneier and Kelsey describes how to use crypto to protect sensitive information in log files on untrusted machines. Finally, the 96 paper by Ross Anderson describes a decentralized storage system, from which recorded updates cannot be deleted.

I hope these will enlighten your fundamental understanding of blockchain technology.

"How to Time-Stamp a Digital Document", Stuart Haber, and W. Scott Stornetta, In Advances in Cryptology – Crypto ’90, pp. 437–455. Lecture Notes in Computer Science v. 537, Springer-Verlag, Berlin 1991.

"Cryptographic Support for Secure Logs on Untrusted Machines", Bruce Schneier, and John Kelsey, in The Seventh USENIX Security Symposium Proceedings, pp. 53–62. USENIX Press, Januar 1998.

"The Eternity Service", Ross J. Anderson. Pragocrypt 1996.

"Everything fails, all the time." A humble computer scientist once said. With all the resources we have today, it is easier for us to achieve fault-tolerance than it was many decades ago when computers began playing a role in critical systems such as health care, air traffic control and financial market systems. In the early days, the thinking was to use a hardware approach to achieve fault-tolerance. It was not until the mid-nineties that software fault-tolerance became more acceptable.

Tandem Computer was one of the pioneers in building these fault-tolerant, mission-critical systems. They used a shared-nothing multi-cpu approach. This is where each CPU had its own memory- and io-bus, and all were connected through a replicated shared bus, over which the independent OS instances could communication and run in lock step. In the late seventies and early eighties, this was considered state of the art in fault-tolerance.

Jim Gray, the father of concepts like transactions, worked for Tandem on software fault-tolerance. To be able to build better systems, he went deep in deconstructing the kind of failures Tandem customers were experiencing. He wrote up his findings in his "Why do Computers Stop" report. For a very longtime, this would be the only study available on reliability in production computer systems.

As important as the study is, the paper additionally covers "What can be done about it." Jim, for the first time, introduces concepts like process-pairs and transactions as the basis for software fault-tolerance. This is one of the fundamental papers of fault-tolerance in distributed systems, and I am going to enjoy reading it this weekend. I hope you will also.

"Why Do Computers Stop and What Can Be Done About It?", Jim Gray, June 1985, Tandem Technical report 85.7

Back-to-Basics Weekend Reading: Byzantine Generals

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In Reliable Distribution Systems, we need to handle different failure scenarios. Many of those deal with message loss and process failure. However, there is a class of scenarios that deal with malfunctioning processes, which send out conflicting information. The challenge is developing algorithms that can reach an agreement in the presence of these failures.

Lamport described that he was frustrated with the attention that Dijkstra had gotten for describing a computer science problem as the story of dining philosophers. He decided the best way to attract attention to a particular distributed systems problem was to present it in terms of a story; hence, the Byzantine Generals.

Abstractly, the problem can be described in terms of a group of generals of the Byzantine army, who camped with their troops around an enemy city. Communicating only by messenger, the generals were required to agree upon a common battle plan. However, one or more of them may be traitors who would try to confuse the others. The problem is: to find an algorithm that ensures the loyal generals will reach an agreement.

It is shown, using only oral messages, this problem is solvable if and only if more than two-thirds of the generals are loyal. So, a single traitor can confound two loyal generals. With unforgeable written messages, the problem is solvable for any number of generals and possible traitors. This weekend, I will be going back in time and reading three fundamental papers that laid-out the problems, and its first solutions. In the SIFT paper, the problem is first described, the "reaching agreement" paper describes the fundamental 3n+1 processor solution, and the last paper reviews and generalizes the previous results.

Maybe you will enjoy them as well. "SIFT: Design and Analysis of a Fault-Tolerant Computer for Aircraft Control" John H. Wensley, Leslie Lamport, Jack Goldberg, Milton W. Green, Karl N. Levitt, P. M. Melliar-Smith, Robert E. Shostak, Charles B. Weinstock, in Proceedings of the IEEE 66, October 5, 1978

"Reaching Agreement in the Presence of Faults" M. Pease, R. Shostak, and L. Lamport, 1980, J. ACM 27, 2 (April 1980), 228-234.

"The Byzantine Generals Problem", Lamport, L.; Shostak, R.; Pease, M. (1982), ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems. 4 (3): 382–401. doi:10.1145/357172.357176.