Amazon’s Glen Robinson on AWS, Cloud computing, the role of solution architects and data security

ITProPortal interviewed Glen Robinson, Manager, Solutions Architecture at Amazon Web Services. Glen is in charge of managing teams that build large scale solutions. As such he is very well placed to talk about the various challenges that await enterprises looking to embrace cloud computing.

We also suggest that you read through the interview we had with the director of Amazon Web Services for UK and Ireland, Iain Gavin, a few weeks ago. Worth noting that Amazon is currently actively looking for a Solutions Architect.

Amazon CTO and VP, Werner Vogels, spoke recently of how cloud computing is set to drive innovation and business success. Have you seen examples of this in the UK?

Absolutely. With cloud computing businesses are no longer constrained by infrastructure or capital outlay required to get a project off the ground, which can stifle innovation. With the cloud there are no up-front costs, companies can fail fast and, as they pay only for what they use, they can stop paying for infrastructure when they are finished rather than being left with excess hardware at the conclusion of a project.

An example of this in the UK is media discovery company Shazam. Shazam was able to offer a service to support an advertising campaign around the NFL Superbowl which demanded, at peak, 200 Amazon EC2 cluster compute instances as well as a NoSQL data store able to handle 500,000 IOPS. Procuring infrastructure for this specific project was simply not an option but with the AWS cloud they were able to provision these resources on-demand, for the duration of the advertising campaign, and then turn it off and stop paying for it when the game had finished.

One of the big announcements to come out of the recent AWS Summit was that Amazon RedShift is now available in Europe. What does RedShift have to offer?

Amazon Redshift is AWS’ managed data warehouse solution that offers an elastically scalable, highly durable, cost effective data warehousing solution that integrates with existing business intelligence tools. For businesses with existing data warehouse technology, Amazon Redshift offers significant cost savings. Businesses can use Amazon Redshift for a cost of around $1,000 per terabyte of data per year, a tenth of the cost of traditional data warehousing solutions. It also opens up opportunities for businesses that don’t have an existing data warehouse or have found the high price point being a barrier to entry. With its low cost model and scalability to grow with your business, we’re seeing lots of interest from organisations in the UK.

Can you elaborate on some of the other services AWS has launched recently? Which ones are proving most popular amongst your customers?

I work mainly with our enterprise customers and they are making good use of our security features such as the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). This allows customers to not only add familiar security controls around their AWS solution, but also securely link it back to their existing environments creating a hybrid architecture. This allows workload migrations easier, as well as utilisation of monitoring and authentication services that already exist in their data centers. Amazon VPC enables new services such as the AWS Cloud HSM (Hardware Security Module) to be used which gives customers control over private key management. Also, one of our latest whitepapers includes detail on Windows Server Failover Clustering which is only possible in Amazon VPC and has been very popular for running MS SQL or MS Exchange on AWS.

As a solutions architect, what type of issues do you help AWS’ customers tackle?

Solutions Architects at AWS work with our customers to ensure they have a great experience on our platform. We dive into customer’s architectures and map them to fit with AWS to ensure they achieve their business objectives. We get to advise on the most exciting and innovative projects our customers are building and are constantly exposed to new technologies and developing new skills. We get to consolidate these learning’s into whitepapers and share with all of our customers which are available on our website. We are constantly looking for likeminded people to join our team and help our customers realise what is possible with their business ideas when infrastructure is no longer a constraint.

Security is an issue that regularly crops up around the Cloud. How does AWS ensure that its customers’ data is protected?

Security is AWS’ number one priority and we encourage our customers to also ensure it is theirs. Customers get to benefit from the fact that Amazon’s scale allows significantly more investment in security policing and countermeasures than almost any large company could afford themselves. . We have many security certification’s ranging from ISO 27001 to PCI DSS level 1. We also remind customers that security with AWS is a shared responsibility where AWS provides tools to ensure our customers can secure their environment, such as Amazon VPC to secure the network, security groups which are local Amazon EC2 firewalls, Identity and Access management which allows a ‘least privileged access’ model to be employed to different users of AWS.

It is up to our customers to ensure they update and patch their operating systems and to secure their applications that run on top of the AWS infrastructure. It is also important to note that with AWS, customers have full control over their data, they own the data, not us. They choose which location to store the data and it doesn’t move unless the customer decides to move it. They can also encrypt their data at rest and in motion and regardless of whether customers choose to encrypt or not, we never look at their data.

How do you think cloud computing or companies’ use of the cloud will evolve in the future?

At AWS we listen to our customers. We give them multiple channels to feedback to us and tell us what they think we should be working on next. As a result we iterate quickly on this feedback and then let our customers tell us what they think and what they would like to see next. Into the future we anticipate that customers will want to see more services and features, which we are keen to keep delivering. In 2012 alone we launched 159 significant features and services so expect to see more of this from AWS. Into the future another thing I can guarantee is that the price of cloud services will continue to drop. We have lowered our prices 31 times since launching the services in 2006 and you can expect to see this pattern to continue into the future.