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Becoming a tech ninja at the AWS summit

An article today from our guest blogger, CIO of Retail and Trading, Dave Turner:
We're becoming tech ninjas…at the AWS Summit London

So, what's all the fuss about?

I was fortunate enough to attend the Amazon Web Services (AWS) summit in London a couple of weeks ago to take a look at the latest cloud services offering from the cloud business arm of the retail giant Amazon.com.

So before I tell you what I discovered and why William Hill better take note, let me stop and explain what cloud services are. In a nutshell they provide on-demand compute power, database storage, content delivery, machine learning, data analysis tools, API gateway, DNS web services to name but a few of the features that help businesses all around the world scale and grow. And we're not just talking about startups, we're talking large multi-nationals including some of the largest banks in the world. The key part of all of this is "on-demand" -want to spin up an application in multiple regions around the world with high availability and that can automatically scale to meet peak demand? Well in AWS this can take minutes rather than the traditional months procuring and sizing infrastructure and so that's the reason I am here…to see how AWS can help us in our ambitions to be an agile business.

It is undisputable that on-demand cloud services are a key enabler in the business agility and digital transformation journey. Any startup in the last 3 years would not know anything else -they were born in the cloud. However, for the longer established enterprises like William Hill moving to public cloud is a journey -we just to need to arrive there quickly if we want to take advantage and achieve a quicker speed to market.

As a technologist you can't help but be impressed by the AWS story. A $22bn revenue company with 49% year on year growth that was established 12 years ago. They have in excess of 1.7 million servers in 16 regions worldwide. The bit that impresses me the most is the growth -Dr Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon.com in his keynote tells 5,000 of us crammed into the auditorium at London ExCeL plus the additional 7,000 streaming in real-time that in 2017 they delivered over 1,400 new features and 90% of these are driven by customer requests. Listening to customers and then building the right tools to help remove friction for customers is what their 30,000 strong workforce do everyday of the year.

The one part of Dr Vogel's keynote that really resonates with me is the phrase "you are all builders and we are creating tools for you, the builders". And this is such an important point -we build for our customers the functionality and features that allow us to differentiate from our competitors. So we need to focus as much of our time as possible on building for customers not on the plumbing or running of the infrastructure that does not allow us to differentiate -sure we need it to be highly available, we need it be able to scale and preferably to auto scale on-demand but that is what AWS provides and when you listening to the vast array of clients running their organisations on AWS you know it works.

To see the keynote for yourself:

So why should we care?

Well we want to be an agile business -get product in the hand of the customer quickly. Having on-demand cloud will gives us:

  1. much greater flexibility
  2. quicker time to market
  3. ability to experiment without huge upfront capital expenditure
  4. better quality and accuracy by allowing us to automate more

So what I learnt in the technical sessions are:

  • Traditional 3-tier architectures are dead. They over complicated things and are fast becoming the new monoliths. Quite a sobering thought given that little over 10 years ago 3 tier was the way to go -but let's face it application servers are overly complex and create bloat. We need to "pick and mix" and take just the bits we need.
  • Development has changed radically -there is no server in the new world.
  • Serverless services are on the rise. I attended the 2017 Summit and serverless was a small part of the keynote. This year is was at the forefront. Take the architecture for the start-up iRobot (below)… not a server in sight. My advice if you're not experimenting with serverless, start now.

So the message is try and decompose the building blocks -so you use only what you need, rather than massive front-end and application servers. Rethink your Development…

Oh, and check out Cloud 9 the new IDE from AWS.

Why should you care?

It has native support for AWS Lambda (serverless). You can write Lambda code, test it and deploy it from the IDE. And as the name suggests the IDE is in the cloud so you can do it from anywhere you can access the internet.

But what is also cool is the ability to work on the same code with other developers in real-time -so effectively paired programming but without been sat together. You can all be sat in different parts of the world remotely working together in real-time.

Data is the New Oil

The other key topic worthy of mention is Data -"data is the new oil" as far as digital businesses are concerned. If you're not looking at machine learning and data analytics as part of your strategy then you need to rethink…

This is big and it's happening fast. The world of data analytics is going to be radically different.

So traditional business intelligence has always given you the ability to look backwards. Data warehousing , monthly reporting -yes, we still need this but in the world of agile business we need to be more real-time. So real-time analytics comes into play -interested in what is happening right now then start building that real-time business dashboard and consider Kinesis and Elastic Search.

And then to glimpse into the future -make use of all that historic data to make predictions about the future. And this is where machine learning comes into play. Take a look at Netflix -75% of movies watched on Netflix are all from recommendations. So their recommendation engine has to be spot on -they use machine learning to identify patterns/ behaviours to ensure that content delivered to their customers is relevant.

I can think of many areas of our business that would benefit here -both for our customers and offering a more personal experience but also for business insight such as using historic trading data and training our trading models to become more accurate.

Check out https://www.babylonhealth.com/if you want to see what machine learning can do.

If you haven't already experimented with AWS why not get a test account -ask your Head of Technology and have a play. Why not power your next hackathon/ hack day using AWS to solve a business problem or create a new customer experience. Why not build a "Bet Bot" or "Service Desk Chat Bot" and demo to your business owners.

If you'd like to find out more about AWS services or machine learning, serverless, digital assistants and conversational interface just drop me an email at david.turner@williamhill.co.uk or better still slack me -davidturner.

Happy computing,