AWS' 3-Part Formula for Driving Agility in the Cloud

It has often been said that there is strength in numbers. At the NYC AWS Summit, AWS CTO Werner Vogels flexed Amazon’s collective cloud muscles by pointing out that AWS has 10x the cloud capacity in use than all of the other cloud providers put together. I guess there are exceptions to that old "strength in numbers" aphorism. 

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Many may point to AWS’ first mover advantage as the primary reason for the disparity between AWS and its competition. And while in large part this accounts for their market share dominance, it would be remiss to exclude one of the fundamental reasons that AWS enjoys its preeminent position in the cloud services market--their ability to provide speed and agility to businesses of all sizes. 

 

During his keynote address, Vogels emphasized that the “new normal” for many businesses is to use the cloud to move more quickly than ever before. As he put it, “…lower [IT] costs may be the sizzle, but agility is the steak.” 

 

Vogel stated that there are three essential components for providing true agility in the cloud:

  1. Procurement speed - most people are familiar with this one. With the swipe of a credit card and a few clicks of a mouse, end-users can provision a bevy of cloud infrastructure resources (minutes) and services to meet their specific application needs without having to wait for their internal IT department to purchase, integrate, and provision (weeks or months) those same resources. 
  2. Mixture of resources - Production workloads come in all shapes and sizes and there is a continual need to optimize these workloads. Vogel claims that given the 7 different AWS instance types available, any workload can run on AWS. And importantly, it is simple and quick to switch instance types if a particular workload, for example, becomes too compute- or I/O-intensive.

 

7 different AWS Instance Types
General purpose (M4)
Compute-optimized (C4)
Memory-optimized (R3)
GPU-optimized(G2)
Storage-optimized(D2)
I/O-optimized (i2)
Low cost, burst-able performance (T2)


3. Ability to experiment - This is where it gets really interesting. Vogel’s pointed out that agility is really all about experimentation. Businesses need a computing architecture that provides a continuous feedback loop where customer inputs can be analyzed in real time so that client facing applications can be modified to better meet the demands of those customers. In short, in order to be truly agile, everything throughout the infrastructure must be instantly programmable so that businesses can iteratively innovate. 

The upscale fashion retailer, Nordstrom, is an example of how businesses that have formerly relied on traditional IT infrastructure have embraced the AWS cloud as a vehicle for accelerating business agility.

 

Keith Homewood, Nordstrom’s IT Director, provided a real world example of this “ability to experiment.” Prior to using AWS, Homewood stated that it would take an inordinate amount of time to make changes to their web and mobile applications to respond to customer demands. In his words, “..it would require a cast of thousands to make changes..”. But now, by using AWS’ Code Deploy software, Homewood claims that Nordstrom application developers routinely make several changes to their systems throughout the course of the business day. This allows them to respond much faster to the needs of customers and the requests of business and store associates.

 

The result: a greatly enhanced customer experience. 

 

The “Nordstrom Recommendation” web and mobile application is another pertinent example of how business agility can be significantly accelerated in the AWS cloud to deliver real-time, on-demand capabilities to business applications. Homewood claims that AWS’ Kinesis and Lambda technologies have reduced the response time of the Nordstrom Recommendation application from 15 minutes to seconds.

 

This means Nordstrom customers can get an instantaneous personalized online shopping experience. Moreover, according to Homewood, these AWS technologies have reduced Nordstrom’s EC2 instance costs by 2 orders of magnitude while delivering a greatly enhanced end-user experience. 

 

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Homewood has helped oversee the creation of a cloud center of excellence at Nordstrom, dubbed “Team Cloud.” It consists of 4 people supporting over 50 application teams that are utilizing AWS to develop, maintain, and deploy new business applications. Homewood emphasized that this team is a “supportive” team and not a “support” team.

 

The distinction is critical. Rather than spending time troubleshooting problems and fighting fires, Nordstrom’s Team Cloud can focus their energies on supporting application innovation and improving the customer Nordstrom shopping experience, while letting AWS do all the infrastructure "heavy lifting" on the back end. 

 

An interesting footnote is that Nordstrom is now on the cusp of going "all-in" to the AWS cloud. While AWS has yet to gain significant traction with enterprise accounts, Nordstrom serves as an interesting case study that may prove compelling for other traditional businesses to hop on the AWS agility bandwagon. 

 

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Topics: Cloud Services & Orchestration