Werner Vogels gets back to basics

Today: AWS re:Invent 2023 wraps up with the new laws of cloud infrastructure design, OpenAI resolves its drama, and the latest moves in enterprise tech.

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels speaks on stage at re:Invent 2023.
Amazon CTO Werner Vogels (Credit: AWS)

Welcome to Runtime! Today: AWS re:Invent 2023 wraps up with the new laws of cloud infrastructure design, OpenAI resolves its drama, and the latest moves in enterprise tech.

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The frugal architect

LAS VEGAS — Amazon Chief Technology Officer Werner Vogels was building distributed computing systems before AWS re:Invent was even a concept. A lot of buzzy enterprise technologies have come and gone during those years of incredible growth for AWS and its customers, but he believes there are some fundamental principles of cloud infrastructure design that never go out of style.

After a week on the business end of a generative AI firehose, re:Invent attendees heard Vogels focus instead on controlling costs when building cloud infrastructure during his traditional end-of-the-week keynote Thursday morning. Cost reduction has been the story of the year among AWS customers, but Vogels argued that designing cloud workloads with cost in mind should be a proactive, rather than reactive, architectural strategy for businesses to follow in good times and in bad.

  • "As (the) speed of execution becomes more important, we kind of lost this art, this idea, of architecting for cost," Vogels said.
  • His remarks echoed how AWS customers (and enterprise tech customers in general) thought about building cloud infrastructure during what we now refer to as the zero interest-rate policy years, which came to an abrupt end about a year ago.
  • Startups — collectively were some of AWS's most important customers during those years — suddenly faced a new environment in which money to invest in cloud infrastructure was no longer free, and vendors of all types saw a dramatic pullback in enterprise tech spending.
  • That meant cloud architectural decisions focused on growth above all else still cost a lot of money to run just as demand fell off a cliff.

In response, Vogels unveiled seven "laws" as a guide for "frugal architects" that want to build "cost-aware, sustainable, and modern architectures."

  • "We're not just building technology for technology's sake, we're building technology to support our businesses," he said.
  • The guidelines begin by advising cloud infrastructure designers to "consider cost a non-functional requirement," which means that like security, cost has to be considered at every step of the building process rather tacked on as a functional requirement at some point along the line.
  • Vogels also urged cloud builders to adopt modern practices like observability and to realize that focusing on costs also helps businesses achieve their sustainability goals.
  • "Sustainability is a freight train that is coming your way that you cannot escape and should not escape, and cost is a pretty good approximation for the amount of resources that you've used," he said.

Vogels didn't forget that re:Invent is mostly about the new stuff.

  • He introduced a new service called Cloudwatch Application Signals, which allows customers to set application-performance requirements and automatically track those metrics in a dashboard.
  • He also announced a new web interface for SageMaker Studio, AWS's AI model-building tool, that's easier to use alongside popular developer consoles like Visual Studio Code.
  • And he of course didn't neglect generative AI, but sought to add a little perspective — invoking Plato and Aristotle — to a technology that has fallen victim to a hype machine for the tech history books this year.
  • "AI makes predictions; professionals decide," he said. "They are assistants. They don't make the decision for you. We, as humans, are the ones that make decisions."

But Vogels writes his annual speeches to the developers and operations engineers that are using AWS's tools on a daily basis, rather than the business-side decision makers that often take center stage earlier in the week.

  • "What I want you to take away from this is that, especially if you build something radically new, you may not have an idea about exactly how your customers are going to use your system, and how much resources they're going to use for each operation," he said.
  • "So make sure you can observe that and immediately react to it so that you understand exactly the kind of resources that you are using to serve your customers."

The once and future king

Sam Altman is officially back as CEO of OpenAI, the company announced late Wednesday. Greg Brockman will return to his previous role as president of the most dynamic AI startup shaping the generative AI boom, but as expected, both gentlemen will no longer have a seat on OpenAI's board.

Microsoft, however, did manage to gain a "non-voting observer seat" on the board, which might allow it to avoid surprises like the shock firing of Altman nearly two weeks ago, but comes with less input over its future than it might have hoped. However, like everything else related to this story, OpenAI's nonprofit status makes it all but impossible for Microsoft to have a vote in board decisions, according to The Information.

It won't be clear for some time whether this whole affair will be just a fascinating but minor detail in the history of generative AI, or an opening that OpenAI's rivals were able to seize. It seems likely, however, that this emerging enterprise technology will evolve along a very unique path.

Enterprise moves

Tom Rabaut is the new chief customer officer at Redis, joining the company from Zscaler.

Chad Gold is the new chief financial officer at G2, landing at the enterprise-software reviews company from Salesloft.

The Runtime roundup

Google researchers were somehow able to force ChatGPT to reveal some of its training data by asking it to repeat the word "poem" over and over again.

Salesforce revenue grew just 11% compared with last year, but that was in line with Wall Street's expectations, and stronger-than-expected earnings combined with a solid forecast led to big gains on Thursday.

Snowflake revenue jumped 32%, far more than analysts were expecting, and CEO Frank Slootman implied that the worst of the enterprise tech spending doldrums were over.

The security incident that threw Fidelity National and its real-estate customers into disarray this week has been "contained," according to Techcrunch.

Former Uber CISO Joe Sullivan, convicted on fraud charges related to the reporting of a 2016 security incident, aired his side of the story in an interview with Dark Reading.

Thanks for reading — Runtime is going to take a re:Invent break this weekend — see you Tuesday!

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