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AWS wants to rule the world – TechCrunch

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AWS, once a nice little side hustle for Amazon’s eCommerce business, has grown over the years into a behemoth that’s on a $27 billion run rate, one that’s still growing at around 45 percent a year. That’s a highly successful business by any measure, but as I listened to AWS executives last week at their AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, I didn’t hear a group that was content to sit still and let the growth speak for itself. Instead, I heard one that wants to dominate every area of enterprise computing.

Whether it was hardware like the new Inferentia chip and Outposts, the new on-prem servers or blockchain and a base station service for satellites, if AWS saw an opportunity they were not ceding an inch to anyone.

Last year, AWS announced an astonishing 1400 new features, and word was that they are on pace to exceed that this year. They get a lot of credit for not resting on their laurels and continuing to innovate like a much smaller company, even as they own gobs of marketshare.

The feature inflation probably can’t go on forever, but for now at least they show no signs of slowing down, as the announcements came at a furious pace once again. While they will tell you that every decision they make is about meeting customer needs, it’s clear that some of these announcements were also about answering competitive pressure.

Going after competitors harder

In the past, AWS kept criticism of competitors to a minimum maybe giving a little jab to Oracle, but this year they seemed to ratchet it up. In their keynotes, AWS CEO Andy Jassy and Amazon CTO Werner Vogels continually flogged Oracle, a competitor in the database market, but hardly a major threat as a cloud company right now.

They went right for Oracle’s market though with a new on prem system called Outposts, which allows AWS customers to operate on prem and in the cloud using a single AWS control panel or one from VMware if customers prefer. That is the kind of cloud vision that Larry Ellison might have put forth, but Jassy didn’t necessarily see it as going after Oracle or anyone else. “I don’t see Outposts as a shot across the bow of anyone. If you look at what we are doing, it’s very much informed by customers,” he told reporters at a press conference last week.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy at a press conference at AWS Re:Invent last week.

Yet AWS didn’t reserve its criticism just for Oracle. It also took aim at Microsoft, taking jabs at Microsoft SQL Server, and also announcing Amazon FSx for Windows File Server, a tool specifically designed to move Microsoft files to the AWS cloud.

Google wasn’t spared either when launching Inferentia and Elastic Inference, which put Google on notice that AWS wasn’t going to yield the AI market to Google’s TPU infrastructure. All of these tools and much more were about more than answering customer demand, they were about putting the competition on notice in every aspect of enterprise computing.

Upward growth trajectory

The cloud market is continuing to grow at a dramatic pace, and as market leader, AWS has been able to take advantage of its market dominance to this point. Jassy, echoing Google’s Diane Greene and Oracle’s Larry Ellison, says the industry as a whole is still really early in terms of cloud adoption, which means there is still plenty of marketshare left to capture.

“I think we’re just in the early stages of enterprise and public sector adoption in the US. Outside the US I would say we are 12-36 months behind. So there are a lot of mainstream enterprises that are just now starting to plan their approach to the cloud,” Jassy said.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy says that AWS has been using its market position to keep expanding into different areas. “AWS has the scale right now to do many things others cannot, particularly lesser players like Google Cloud Platform and Oracle Cloud. They are trying to make a point with the thousands of new products and features they bring out. This serves as a disincentive longer-term for other players, and I believe will result in a shakeout,” he told TechCrunch.

As for the frenetic pace of innovation, Moorhead believes it can’t go on forever. “To me, the question is, when do we reach a point where 95% of the needs are met, and the innovation rate isn’t required. Every market, literally every market, reaches a point where this happens, so it’s not a matter of if but when,” he said.

Certainly areas like the AWS Ground Station announcement, showed that AWS was willing to expand beyond the conventional confines of enterprise computing and into outer space to help companies process satellite data. This ability to think beyond traditional uses of cloud computing resources shows a level of creativity that suggests there could be other untapped markets for AWS that we haven’t yet imagined.

As AWS moves into more areas of the enterprise computing stack, whether on premises or in the cloud, they are showing their desire to dominate every aspect of the enterprise computing world. Last week they demonstrated that there is no area that they are willing to surrender to anyone.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

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Geico security breach exposed customers’ driver’s license numbers

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A letter submitted by insurance company Geico to the California attorney general’s office details a data breach that took place earlier this year, exposing customers’ driver’s license numbers. The letter doesn’t include certain pertinent details such as how many people were potentially impacted by the security issue, though it did note the numbers may be used as part of unemployment benefits fraud.

The letter, which was first spied by TechCrunch, is dated April 9 and explains that the security incident took place from January 21 to March 1. During that time, the hacker(s) used customer data “acquired elsewhere” to get access to Geico subscribers’ driver’s license numbers using the company’s online sales system.

The company’s letter explains that it believes “this information could be used to fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits” in the customers’ names. For this reason, Geico customers who receive any unexpected mail from their state’s unemployment agency are encouraged to check it for signs of fraud taking place in their name.

Geico notes that it secured its website when it learned about the issue and that it investigated the cause of the breach. The company’s letter says that Geico has “implemented — and continues to implement — additional security enhancements to help prevent future fraud and illegal activities on our website.”

The company hasn’t yet published a security breach note on its website, but the letter is written to customers and explains that they will be offered a year’s subscription to IdentityForce for identity theft protection. The letter, it seems, includes a one-time code the customers can use to activate the free data monitoring service.

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Nextdoor app targets toxic behavior with anti-racism warning

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Nextdoor, the app that allows neighbors to connect with each other and share details about their communities, is introducing a new feature that will detect and warn against potentially racist content. The company announced the new feature today, explaining that it will ask users to reconsider their posts before sharing them if certain offensive language is detected.

If you’ve ever used Nextdoor, you’re likely familiar with some of the drama that can take place on community boards — as well as abusive behavior that not only ruins the experience for everyone, but that can also be harmful to people living in the community. Nextdoor’s new feature aims to reduce those messages.

The company says that it has rolled out an anti-racism prompt that will appear in the app when certain phrases are detected. Though the user won’t be blocked from posting, they will be asked to consider editing their content before publishing it to ensure it doesn’t violate the company’s policy and bring harm to users.

For example, Nextdoor has banned the use of the phrase ‘White Lives Matter’ and doesn’t allow the use of ‘Blue Lives Matter’ or ‘All Lives Matter’ if the post aims to ‘undermine racial equality.’ Users will see the warning starting this week on mobile devices.

This isn’t the first time Nextdoor has introduced a prompt designed to reduce problematic content on its platform. Back in 2019, Nextdoor introduced a warning called the ‘Kindness Reminder’ that spots ‘offensive language’ and encourages the user to edit their post or comment before sharing it.

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Facebook plans huge audio push with Soundbites, podcasts, and tools

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Facebook has announced some big plans related to audio and its place on the company’s primary social media platform. Starting later this year, the company plans to introduce multiple changes for its users, including the addition of sound creation tools backed by artificial intelligence and a new audio format the company calls Soundbites.

Podcasts are quite popular at the moment, and so it makes sense that Facebook would want to get in on the audio market. According to the company, it has ‘seen the continuing rise of audio on’ Messenger and WhatsApp, both of which enable users to record short voice clips rather than typing out messages.

Facebook plans to build upon this feature in a way that makes it both easier and more fun, it said in an announcement on Monday. This can include the ability to send the audio equivalent of reaction GIFs, such as a sound clip of cricket chirping to get your point across to someone.

These will be joined by some larger efforts, the first of which will be what Facebook calls ‘a sound studio in your pocket.’ Put simply, the company plans to introduce audio creation tools on mobile, making it possible for users to produce ‘magically great’ audio using AI tech. What would be the point of this?

Facebook says users can, for example, create background audio for their Stories, including the use of content from the company’s Sound Collection. Joining these tools will be Facebook’s new Soundbites audio format, which will be reserved for short audio clips — someone could, for example, share a Soundbite of them telling a joke rather than typing it out.

Likewise, Facebook says you’ll soon be able to play podcasts directly in its app, including in the background with your phone’s screen turned off. The feature will include podcast episodes and show recommendations made based on the user’s expressed interests, plus users will be able to follow and share shows.

Finally, Facebook says it will soon test Live Audio Rooms, a groups feature that will enable communities of people to participate in live audio sessions. This feature will enter testing this summer, while the podcasts will arrive ‘in the next few months,’ the same timeframe in which the company plans to start testing its Soundbites format.

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