AWS sues US Government for Trump hatred

Amazon has launched a legal challenge against the Department of Defense’s preference to Microsoft Azure, suggesting the decision is linked back to President Trump’s hostility towards CEO Jeff Bezos.

The animosity between the pair has been anything but private, and now it appears the public display of difference is causing complications for the White House. Amazon is suggesting the Department of Defense’s decision to award the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure deal, known by the acronym JEDI, to Microsoft was compromised by the actions of Trump.

“This case demands an expanded AR [administrative record] so that the Court may fully assess AWS’s well-grounded claims of bias and bad faith,” the filing states.

“President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to use his position as President and Commander in Chief to disrupt the orderly administration of government functions-including federal procurements-to advance personal motives. There is no question he did so here.”

Amazon is requesting greater access to internal documentation to further build a case against the US under the assumption the President’s hatred towards Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saw pressure placed on the Department of Defense to award the contract elsewhere. Aside from Amazon and Microsoft, IBM and Oracle were also in the running for the cloud infrastructure and migration services contract.

The contract itself was awarded to Microsoft back in October, though it was not without controversy at the time. Several Senators wrote to President Trump asking the decision to be re-evaluated in favour of splitting the contract to more than one supplier. These pleas were ignored, and AWS even released a statement questioning the logic of the decision on the grounds it believed it was the market leader.

To make matters a bit messier, a Seattle Judge ruled Government employees were unfairly favouring AWS in July. This ruling followed a lawsuit filed by Oracle which claimed there were conflicts of interest with past employees which led to AWS gaining an upper hand due to the way the contract was drawn up.

This has been a scruffy process from start to finish, and thanks to the President’s apparent personal feelings towards Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, it might be extended further.

The conflict between the two has been on-going for years, and AWS is now alleging the President pressured Government officials to ensure the Amazon company did not profit from Government contracts. The President reported ordered former Defense Secretary James Mattis to ‘screw Amazon’ out of the contract. Following these comments, procurement reports allegedly leaned towards Microsoft.

Amazon now claims the Department of Defense committed ‘numerous and compounding prejudicial errors’ which led to the team disfavouring AWS. These errors included relying on an outdated, superseded version of AWS’ proposal, misstating facts from the proposal, downplaying failures in the Microsoft proposal and fabricating areas of superiority in the final stages of evaluation to favour Microsoft.

This is only one incident, though Trump has a history of targeting Amazon and its CEO Jeff Bezos.

Prior to entering the White House, Trump had warned that it would be bad news for Amazon if he assumed power, while the filing aims to prove many of his actions have been used to punish enemies or advance his own personal agenda. The decision to award a $400 million contract to build the controversial wall to Fischer Industries and intervention to prevent the relocation of the FBI headquarters away from the nearby Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington are two more examples offered by AWS to demonstrate inappropriate influence and pressure from the Oval Office.

Another example is the removal of press credentials for CNN’s Jim Acosta just hours after the President branded the reporter a ‘rude, terrible person’. Although these examples are not directly relevant, if AWS is able to prove the President unduly influences Government decisions based on grudges or personal grudges it might be able to gain some traction.

The end game has not been explicitly mentioned in the filing, just that AWS lawyers want to begin a ‘discovery’ process which would be used to fuel future legal action. AWS clearly feels it has something to gain here, either by halting the President’s alleged bias against the firm or forcing the Department of Defense to restart the

Amazon and Microsoft are proving to be a different class in the cloud game

Amazon and Microsoft have unveiled bumper financial results and now it is over to Google to prove it can keep pace with the two clear leaders in the cloud segment.

For years, it was Amazon’s cloud business unit, AWS, which was incomparable to the rest of the cloud segment. No-one could get anywhere near this trailblazer, though Microsoft has closed that gap recently. The question is whether anyone else has? The likes of Google, IBM and Oracle claim to be in the same league, but there is little evidence to support this, but Google has a chance to set the record straight next week.

Amazon and Microsoft have now revealed their numbers for the final three-month period of 2019. The story is not quite complete without Google’s numbers, realistically the only competitor who has a credible claim to be in the same league, but the numbers are eye-watering.

At group level, Amazon increased revenues by 21% during the last quarter, with the cloud business bringing in $9.9 billion, an increase of 23% year-on-year. While net income only increased 19% to $2.6 billion, this was actually 79% of the total net income across the group. The cloud business unit at AWS is a profit machine.

Over at Microsoft, group revenues increased by 14% to $36.9 billion, while net income was up 38% to $11.6 billion. Revenue in the ‘Intelligent Cloud’ unit increased 27% to $11.9 billion with Azure’s revenue up 62% for the quarter. Cloud products and services of course factor into the other Microsoft business units, but the ‘Intelligent Cloud’ group is showing the most aggressive growth.

Business unit Total revenue Growth
Intelligent Cloud $11.9 billion 27%
Productivity and Business Processes $11.8 billion 17%
More Personal Computing $13.2 billion 2%

Although revenues are only one part of the picture, market share estimates also tell another story.

Looking at the most recent estimates from Synergy Research Group, Amazon is leading the cloud segment with 39%, Microsoft sits in second with 19%, Google is on 9% and 5% for Alibaba. Salesforce now has 4% and IBM is on 3%, while no-one else has more than a 2% share. These figures are for the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) segments.

As mentioned before, the landscape is not complete until Google releases its numbers next week, though IBM and Salesforce have released theirs. At IBM, total cloud revenues stood at $6.8 billion, up 21% year-on-year, while Salesforce reported group revenues of $4.5 billion for the last quarter, an increase of 33%. These numbers are attractive, investors might well be pleased, but Microsoft and Amazon look like they are sitting alone in the top tier of the cloud industry.

Another factor to consider are the deal wins.

While Amazon has been hoovering up deals with SMEs and the emerging digital businesses, Microsoft has extensive existing relationships with almost every major corporation in the Western world. The firm claims to currently be working with 95 of the Fortune 100 companies on cloud infrastructure. These companies like the look of Microsoft, thanks to a stronger focus on hybrid-cloud, whereas Amazon has a better reputation for the speed and scale of cloud-only strategies.

During the last period, Microsoft secured the US Department of Defense $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, which will cover 1,700 data centres and the transition of millions of devices from on-premise servers to the cloud. AWS lost out on this deal, but it has got plenty of significant customer wins to boast of; Western Union, media firm Fox, the NFL, pharmaceutical giant Novartis and Best Western Hotels & Resorts.

Interestingly enough, the rapid expansion of these internet giants might well start to encroach potential revenues which have been earmarked for the telcos.

The last few months have not only seen CAPEX investment from the likes of AWS and Microsoft, but also picking up industry executives. An excellent example of this is Alex Clauberg, a former Deutsche Telekom executive.

As the connected world starts to spread to more corners of society and the ‘edge’ develops, there are plenty of opportunities for telcos to make more money from what is quickly becoming a commoditised service. However, there is no guarantee the newly created ‘service’ revenues will be reserved for the telcos themselves. Clauberg’s move is evidence the internet players are attempting to muscle in on telco revenues.

Clauberg is a well-known name in the SDN and NFV sector and is the current Chairman of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP). He was previously VP and CTO at T-Systems International, the global services and consulting arm of DT, but now works as Solutions Architects Leader, at AWS. There is not a huge amount of information as to what this new job actually is, but it is demonstrative of the ambitions of the likes of AWS in the telco world.

These are companies which are growing rapidly in their traditional playing grounds and pushing aggressively to steal profits in places they should be considered secondary. Google still has an opportunity to place itself at the top table of the profitable cloud segment, but it does look like AWS and Microsoft are in a league of their own.

Report: FTC expands scope of Amazon antitrust probe to include AWS

Amazon has been offered an early Christmas present from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by extending an existing antitrust probe to include its burgeoning cloud business.

According to Bloomberg, FTC investigators have begun questioning customers about AWS, allegedly focusing on whether the dominance of AWS is impacting competition in the cloud segments. While this probe does not necessarily mean any action against the company, Amazon executives will not be thrilled at the attention.

As it stands, AWS is the clear market leader in the cloud computing market, largely thanks to being first to market with services but also due to the significant infrastructure footprint it has developed over recent decades. Although estimates vary, AWS has been deemed the market leader, with just below 50% market share, with Google and Microsoft the other players with significant market share.

It is believed the probe is looking at how potential competitors interact with AWS customers and the company itself. One area the probe will address is whether AWS is effectively punishing software companies who work with its cloud rivals and incentivising others to work with AWS exclusively.

This investigation is part of a larger, sweeping trend with greater scrutiny being placed on Big Tech. Amazon’s retail business is at the heart of an existing FTC antitrust probe, while Google, Apple and Facebook are also facing their own competition investigations from a variety of authorities. Some might presume these enquiries are being made as the first steps towards diluting the influence of Big Tech, and in some cases, breaking-up the internet giants.

Although significantly younger than the retail business units of Amazon, AWS has been collecting the lion’s share of profits for the firm in recent years. Amazon was famously known as the technology giant which never generated profits, though that changed in recent years, partly thanks to the rise of AWS.

Looking at the most recent quarterly earnings report, total revenues for Amazon increased to $70 billion for the three months ending September 30, with operating income at $3.1 billion. AWS accounted for $2.2 billion of this operating income on net sales of $8.9 billion for the quarter. Across the year to date, AWS accounts for 61% of the total operating income of Amazon.

Antitrust probes are of course nothing new to Amazon, though a few executives and investors might get a bit twitchy that it is the profit machine which is facing enquiries now.

AWS helps Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI, and SK Telecom with their edge computing

Amazon Web Services has launched AWS Wavelength, which is designed to bring operators and app developers together at the edge of the network.

As the biggest public cloud provider it was only a matter of time before AWS made its edge move and this seems to be a big part of it. A major feature of 5G is low-latency communication, which dramatically reduces the lag between sending and receiving signals. However physical distance still introduces lag, which is where mobile edge computing comes in, but bringing services closer to the end user.

Part of the point of AWS Wavelength is so make it easier for developers to make apps that can exist on the edge of mobile networks, and thus make full use of the low-latency capabilities of 5G. It seems to have got off to a flying start, with Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI, and SK Telecom all having signed up on launch day.

“With Wavelength, we bring 5G and cloud together to give our customers the powerful new capability to run cloud services consistently within a few milliseconds of mobile end-users,” said Matt Garman, VP of Compute Services at AWS. “This is a game changer for developers that is going to unlock a whole new generation of applications and services. We are really excited to see our customers innovate with these unique new capabilities that they did not have access to before.”

“We are first in the world to launch Mobile Edge Compute — deeply integrating Verizon’s 5G Edge platform with Wavelength to allow developers to build new categories of applications and network cloud experiences built in ways we can’t even imagine yet,” said Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon. “Bringing together the full capabilities of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband and AWS, the world’s leading cloud with the broadest and deepest services portfolio, we unlock the full potential of our 5G services for customers to create applications and solutions with the fastest speeds, improved security, and ultra-low latency.”

“With Europe’s largest 5G network across 58 cities and as a global leader in the Internet of Things with over 90 million connections, Vodafone is pleased to be the first telco to introduce AWS Wavelength in Europe,” said Vinod Kumar, CEO of Vodafone Business. “Faster speeds and lower latencies have the potential to revolutionize how our customers do business, and they can rely on Vodafone’s existing capabilities and security layers within our own network.”

“Having the power of the AWS cloud processing and storage services available at the edge of the KDDI 5G network enables us to accelerate IoT innovation for applications like high-definition VR video streaming, visual positioning service, smart factories, autonomous vehicles, and more,” said Makoto Takahashi, President of KDDI. “AWS Wavelength provides Japanese businesses and consumers immediate access to these services over the KDDI 5G network.”

“By combining the strengths of SK Telecom’s 5G network and AWS cloud, we are set to bring innovative changes to all individuals, businesses and industries,” said Ryu Young-sang, Head of the MNO Business at SK Telecom. “This collaboration enables exciting use cases like game streaming, headless robotics, Ultra High Definition interactive media, autonomous driving, and smart factories.”

Developments like this indicate the edge is rapidly becoming a mainstream commercial consideration as the telecoms and IT worlds try to work out whether 5G is worth the hassle. Verizon already has games developer Bethesda and the NFL on board to try out cool new low-latency use-cases and rival AT&T has already announced a similar initiative in partnership with Microsoft. Now let’s see if anyone makes any extra money out of it.

Amazon launches quantum computing service

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced the launch of Braket, a quantum computing service, as well as two research centres for the technology.

This is not to say the world will be revolutionised by quantum computing tomorrow, but the new service allows scientists, researchers, and developers to begin experimenting with computers from quantum hardware providers. As with anything AWS related, the economies of scale afforded through cloud computing services make the prospect of quantum computing more affordable for the ecosystem.

“With quantum engineering starting to make more meaningful progress, customers are asking for ways to experiment with quantum computers and explore the technology’s potential,” said Charlie Bell, SVP of Utility Computing Services at AWS.

“We believe that quantum computing will be a cloud-first technology and that the cloud will be the main way customers access the hardware. With our Amazon Braket service and Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab, we’re making it easier for customers to gain experience using quantum computers and to work with experts from AWS and our partners to figure out how they can benefit from the technology.”

Amazon Braket is a fully managed service is a single development environment which will allow customers to build quantum algorithms, test them on simulated quantum computers. This is the first-step in engaging the ecosystem and democratising a technology which is only accessible (and understood by) a very small number of people around the world.

Alongside the launch of Braket, AWS will also be launching two research centres. The first, the AWS Center for Quantum Computing, which is being established at Caltech, will focus on academic research to further the segment. The second, Amazon Quantum Solutions Lab, will focus on working with customers to make more practical solutions for industry.

Public cloud gathering momentum in India – Gartner

Few countries are speeding towards the digital economy as quickly as India, and it seems the bug is catching as enterprise organizations start to surge spending on the public cloud.

Today’s India is almost unrecognisable from bygone years. With a renewed focus on digital from Government and regulatory agencies, telcos finally spending on networks and consumers demonstrating an incredible appetite for data, India is quickly closing the divide. An increase in public cloud spending only adds further confidence in progress.

“Moving to the cloud and investing in public cloud services have become imperative to the success of digital business initiatives,” said Gartner Analyst Sid Nag.

“It’s no longer a question of ‘why’, but a matter of ‘when’ organizations can shift to the cloud. We have entered the cloud 2.0 era, where organizations are adopting a cloud-first or a cloud-only strategy.”

Those who are of a certain age will remember the excitement which was drummed up around the ‘BRIC’ nations. The acronym described the economic potential of slumbering giants (Brazil, Russia, India and China), four countries with large population that were supposed to be the growth engines for international businesses around the world after growth in domestic markets slowed.

China certainly offered fortunes for those who were strategically savvy enough, while there has been some promise in Russia and Brazil. India was always the nation which undermined the BRICs theory, though it is quickly entering its own digital era.

According to Gartner estimates, public cloud investment from enterprise organisation will increase by 25% over the next 12 months. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) remains the largest segment, representing 42% of all investments, though this is the same journey many ‘developed’ nations took in bygone years. The team estimates SaaS cloud application services will total $1.4 billion over the next 12 months, an increase of 21%.

Segment 2018 2019 2020
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) 284 363 461
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) 900 1,105 1,364
Business-Process-as-a-Service (BPaaS) 172 189 212
Cloud management and security 187 228 274
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) 558 744 996

Figures in millions (US$)

As you can see from the figures above, spending has been steadily increasing year-on-year, though considering the size of India as a country, the potential is significant. However, there might be a challenge on the horizon unless all the cogs click into place.

CIOs across the market are suggesting there could be consolidation in the market as smaller players are replaced by the global power houses of the cloud economy, however with such potential money will have to be spent to ensure the digital infrastructure is in place.

This is where India has traditionally struggled. It was a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, with low ROI discouraging infrastructure investment, though inadequate infrastructure seemed to hobble potential profits. This conundrum does seem to be in the past, though there is still plenty of work to do to increase the data centre footprint, as well as ‘fibering up’ the nation to take advantage of future applications, both consumer and enterprise.

Amazon Web Services announced in May it would open a new Availability Zone in the AWS Asia Pacific (Mumbai) region due to customer demand, Microsoft Azure currently has three Availability Zones in the country and has partnered with Reliance Jio to boost its presence, Google is currently hiring very aggressively in the country, while IBM recently said it was focusing more acutely on SMEs to gain traction.

India still does not compete with the top nations around the world when it comes to digital readiness, but all the pieces do seem to be falling into place. Increased investments in public cloud services and infrastructure is more evidence this country is flying towards the digital economy.

Amazon taunts Oracle over database switch

Amazon’s consumer division has completed the switch of its databases from Oracle to AWS, which took to opportunity to publicly gloat.

In a blog post Chief Evangelist for AWS Jeff Barr did his job and banged on about how great AWS is. The pretext was the completion of the lengthy process of migrating the databases of Amazon’s massive consumer division from Oracle to AWS. According to Barr it has resulted in a 60% reduction in the costs of running Amazon’s databases. He also said other customers have reported a 90% saving, which makes you wonder what Amazon is doing wrong.

“Over the years we realized that we were spending too much time managing and scaling thousands of legacy Oracle databases,” evangelised Barr. “Instead of focusing on high-value differentiated work, our database administrators spent a lot of time simply keeping the lights on while transaction rates climbed and the overall amount of stored data mounted. This included time spent dealing with complex & inefficient hardware provisioning, license management, and many other issues that are now best handled by modern, managed database services.”

What a nightmare eh? Thankfully the migration of 75 petabytes of data went without a hitch, according to Barr, which must be true because he definitely would have evangelised about the problems if there had been any. In case there was any remaining doubt about how rubbish Oracle is compared to AWS he provided this handy graphic.

aws oracle

While we wouldn’t suggest for one second that an Amazon evangelist might in any way favour Amazon, it’s hard to gauge the significance of this moment. Under normal circumstances the loss of one of the biggest companies in the world would have been fairly disastrous news for Oracle. But since Amazon got into the database game it was just a matter of time, so Oracle’s probably not too bothered.

Amazon has managed to bottle fear, but recognition debate remains

While facial recognition technologies are becoming increasingly controversial, it is always worth paying homage to innovation in this field and the real-world applications, when deployed responsibly.

We suspect people aren’t necessarily objecting to the concept of facial recognition technologies, but more to the application and lack of public consultation. You only have to look at some of world’s less appetizing governments to see the negative implications to privacy and human rights, but there are of course some significant benefits should it be applied in an ethically sound and transparent manner.

Over in the AWS labs, engineers have managed to do something quite remarkable; they have managed to bottle the concept of fear and teach its AI programmes to recognise it.

“Amazon Rekognition provides a comprehensive set of face detection, analysis, and recognition features for image and video analysis,” the company stated on its blog. “Today, we are launching accuracy and functionality improvements to our face analysis features.

“With this release, we have further improved the accuracy of gender identification. In addition, we have improved accuracy for emotion detection (for all 7 emotions: Happy, Sad, Angry, Surprised, Disgusted, Calm and Confused) and added a new emotion: Fear.”

When applied correctly, these technologies have an incredibly power to help society. You only have to think about some of the atrocities which have plagued major cities, but also the on-going problems. Human eyes can only see so much, with police and security forces often relying on reports from the general public. With cameras able to recognise emotions such as fear, crimes could be identified while they are taking process, allowing speedier reactions from the relevant parties.

However, there are of course significant risks with the application of this technology. We have seen in China such programmes are being used to track certain individuals and races, while certain forces and agencies in the US are constantly rumoured to be considering the implementation of AI for facial recognition, profiling and tracking of individuals. Some of these projects are incredibly worrying, and a violation of privacy rights granted to the general public.

This is where governments are betraying the promise they have made to the general public. Rules and regulations have not been written for such technologies, therefore the agencies and forces involved are acting in a monstrously large grey area. There of course need to be rules in place to govern surveillance practices, but a public conversation should be considered imperative.

Any time the right to privacy is being compromised, irrelevant as to whether there are noble goals in mind, the public should be consulted. The voters should choose whether they are happy to sacrifice certain privacy rights and freedoms in the pursuit of safety. This is what transparency means and this is exactly what has been disregarded to date.

Facebook is reading minds while Amazon perfects text-to-speech

A Facebook-funded study has achieved a breakthrough in decoding speech directly from brain signals at the same time as AWS has made automated speech more realistic.

The study funded by the creepily-named Facebook Reality Labs was conducted by San Francisco University. Its findings were published yesterday under the heading ‘Real-time decoding of question-and-answer speech dialogue using human cortical activity’. It claims to have achieved breakthroughs in the accuracy of identifying speech from the electrical impulses in people’s brains.

The clever bit doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual reading of these impulses, but in using algorithms and context to narrow down the range of possible sounds attributable to a given piece of brain activity. This helps distinguish between words comprised of similar sets of sounds and thus improve accuracy, with a key piece of context being the question asked. Thus this breakthrough is as much about AI and machine learning as anything else.

At the same time Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced a new feature of its Polly text-to-speech managed service. The specific announcement is relatively minor – the ability to give the resulting speech a newsreader style of delivery – but it marks a milestone in the journey to make machine-generated speech as realistic as possible.

When you combine the potential of these two developments, two eventualities spring to mind. The first is an effected cure for muteness without the need for interfaces such as keyboards, which would be amazing. The second is somewhat more ominous, which is a world in which we can no longer be sure we’re communicating with an actual human being unless we’re face-to-face with them.

The AWS post makes joking reference to HAL 9000 from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but thanks in part to its own efforts and those funded by Facebook, that sort of thing is looking less like science fiction and more like science fact with every passing day.

 

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