AWS re:Invent 2020 Recap

Author: Jacob Picart
hexpattern-2
hexpattern-2

From the dozens of new announcements at 2020’s AWS re:Invent, by far the two categories with the most announcements have been in the areas of compute and machine learning. While attempting to summarize those here would not do them justice, I’d like to highlight three of the most interesting and eye-popping ones as we begin 2021. As a technologist, my choices below may seem to appeal only to techies, but there’s a business and use-case behind [most of] them, and which I believe for those of you in management or overseeing budgets may find helpful. If you find any of the following topics of interest, I encourage you to visit the reference links at the end of this post to learn more.

1. Apple and EC2 Compatibility

One announcement that caught me by complete surprise was the introduction of an Apple iMac Mini as EC2. Yes, I said Apple and EC2 in the same sentence. Why it was a surprise? If you know your Apple history, then you know they tend to control their entire supply chain, from hardware to software and everything in between & more. In fact, since Apple pulled the plugged on Mac clones in the 90s, the only way you could reliably run macOS was using Apple hardware – Hackintosh’s aside – and virtualization was not legally allowed. So, when I first learned EC2 Mac instances would be available in select AWS regions, I was ecstatic! Finally, we are able to run virtual Mac OSes in the cloud…but the devil’s in the details. To be clear, EC2 Mac is NOT a virtualized macOS instance; AWS has gone through and racked and stacked physical Mac Mini hardware in their datacenters and integrated it with their Nitro System. What this means is that you can now “spin up” macOS as EC2 in your VPC. Whoa! Never thought that would be possible, but then again, I never thought I’d see Microsoft SQL Server running on Linux. Now for the fine print: apparently, the licensing only allows for the use of macOS on EC2 for ‘development’ purposes, so your mileage may vary. Regardless, the die has been cast, which makes AWS the first cloud service provider to offer a complete ecosystem of Windows, Linux, & Mac platforms to their customers.

Figure 1 – Mac Mini as EC2 in AWS Datacenter (image clipped from Peter DeSantis keynote)

2. Updates to AWS Outposts

Last year, I shared the news about AWS Outposts going GA and how this managed solution would help address replacing aging hardware, easily extending the cloud to your premises and meeting data residency requirements, etc. That Outposts was a full 42U rack; delivered, professionally installed, and integrated into your environment. Well, this year the Outposts family has grown and there are two new form factors, both in 1U and 2U sizes. These “pizza boxes” are suitable for locations such as branch offices, retail, health clinics, hospitals, and cell sites that are space-constrained and need access to low-latency compute capacity. Furthermore, both sizes will be able to run EC2, ECS, and EKS workloads locally—and as you might recall, once an Outposts is deployed, it shows up as another Availability Zone in your AWS Console, reducing your management overhead. What’s exciting about this update is that it’s much more cost effective to deploy Outposts now, especially in smaller environments, and since the hardware is managed, you don’t need to worry about replacing failed hardware. The use cases are plentiful here, so make sure to read more at the link below.

Figure 2 – AWS Outposts smaller form factors (image clipped from Andy Jassy keynote)

3. Gateway Load Balancer

Lastly, I wanted to mention Gateway Load Balancer (GWLB). This is sort of a big deal – maybe I’m being a bit biased here, since I was a former network engineer and anytime there’s a new update to networking services, my ears perk up. But, let me explain. Prior to GWLB, one of the architectures for deploying third-party firewall appliances (e.g. Palo Alto) would call for multiple VPCs, including an ingress, egress, and a security VPCs, to name a few. This architecture can sometimes be referred to as an ELB sandwich; it worked and had its use cases, but not without its issues, since it would typically require multiple firewall appliances (increased costs), limited network throughout (1.25Gbps IPsec), and reduced visibility by forcing source address translation (SNAT).

Well, now with the new GWLB announcement, those issues will be gone by eliminating the need for VPCs (now you only need a single central/security VPC), which reduces licensing costs and increases network throughput via VPC attachments (goodbye, IPsec tunnels). Additionally, the management overhead is greatly reduced and the architecture becomes less complex. This is one those announcements that if you don’t catch and understand at first, you’ll miss out on it initially and potentially cause a prolonged cloud networking effort, or worse: a failed implementation.

Figure 3 – AWS Gateway Load Balancer (image credit from GWLB link below)

There are so many new services coming from AWS that I’ve barely scratched the surface in this post. Everything from new compute instances, faster block & object storage, GPUs, networking, SageMaker updates for machine learning pipelines, managed visualization offerings, more Local Zones, as well as telephony updates within the Connect suite—it’s just too much to cover in a single post. What’s abundantly clear is that AWS, once again, has clearly elevated its game and its competitors should take note.

The ‘cloud wars’ are heating up as COVID-19 has accelerated the push to a 21st century economy, one where businesses are reducing their real-estate footprint, remote workforces are becoming the norm, and cloud adoption has become a must. Fortunately, since InterVision is your strategic service provider, we are well-positioned to help our clients navigate these challenges. Last year alone, we deployed countless remote workforce solutions for clients as many shifted to work-from-home setups. We leveraged the power of the cloud to deliver these solutions quickly and effectively.

With so many services and competing offerings, cloud can seem like a matrix of complexity, but InterVision’s solution architects and cloud engineers have both the certifications and experience to help you on your cloud journey. Don’t go at it alone, and don’t delay. More than ever, your organization should be starting a cloud adoption strategy to embrace the technological leap that cloud provides. Contact us here to learn more.

 

References:

All re:Invent news: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-reinvent-announcements-2020/

GWLB: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/networking-and-content-delivery/introducing-aws-gateway-load-balancer-supported-architecture-patterns/

PAN & GWLB: https://blog.paloaltonetworks.com/network-security/vm-series-integration-with-aws-gateway-loadbalancer/

EC2 Mac: https://aws.amazon.com/about-aws/whats-new/2020/11/announcing-amazon-ec2-mac-instances-for-macos/