Features, Insight, Interviews

The sky’s the limit for cloud infrastructure with AWS

Mark Schwartz, Enterprise Strategist and Evangelist, AWS spoke with Daniel Shepherd, Deputy Editor, tahawultech, at AWS Cloud Day about the potential of GenAI, advances in cloud migration and advances in infrastructure modernisation we should look forward to.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m part of team called enterprise strategy, which is comprised of former c-suite executives for large public and private sector enterprises, we’ve all been through digital transformation as AWS customers. We try to help the executives of large organisations with the things that are often not issues, like cultural change, organisational structure, governance models, business cases and investment strategies. Before I joined AWS, I was the CIO of US Citizenship and Imigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), my only government experience as before that I was in the private sector as the CEO of a small software company. In addition, I’ve published five books on digital transformation and leading IT.

Q1: Could you please explain to our readers a little about what Gen AI is and how we might see it implemented in the Middle East?

Generative AI is a way of using foundational, general-purpose models such as large language models to then fine tune them for creative applications. As we’re still at the beginning of Generative AI’s lifecycle we can’t anticipate all the things organisations will use it for and instead aim to treat it as an extremely powerful tool at the disposal of these organisations. We’ve had technologies like machine learning (ML) for a while, in Amazon’s case around 25 years, and it forms the groundwork of things like our recommendation engines and robot routing for our fulfilment centres to pick items off the shelves. ML has been getting better over the years and Generative AI is helping draw a lot of people’s attention to just how powerful ML has become.

Q2: Security and compliance are often top of mind for enterprise strategy, how are they essential elements for a successful cloud migration?

Security was paramount to us back in the DHS and it was a defining moment for us when we realised we could build a much more powerful security posture for ourselves in the cloud than we could in our physical data centres. AWS gave us these tools. For example, policy enforcement and production could all be automated, we could continuously monitor what was in the cloud and automatically generate reactions to anything we observed on our networks. Access control also become very refined allowing us to put in place very specific controls about who could do perform certain actions in a cloud. Something important that I learned later concerns the Nitro architecture, a very powerful way that AWS builds its infrastructure. We design our own microchips and the architecture of our processors in such a way that we separate the customer workloads running on one chip from the network/control activities onto a separate chip. The customer workloads are on a provably secure enclave kept separate from everything else. In the cloud you can not only continuedly assure security, but you can audit compliance through automation helping to make enterprises more effective.

Q3: Can you talk a little bit about how changing organisational culture is a crucial challenge faced by many Middle Eastern organisations?

With any organisation doing a big modernisation or transformation it should be taken as a given that they don’t have the right culture. Culture forms around patterns of success and whatever makes people successful becomes instituted in the culture of the business, which is not a new observation and I often like to cite Edgar Schein who wrote a lot about organisation culture. The idea behind a digital transformation is that you create new ways for people to be successful and what made you successful in the past isn’t necessarily going to work tomorrow. As soon as people understand this they begin to self-structure and change their organisation around that. I would say that culture changes because of the output from the transformation process and it almost always involves incentivising people differently. This incentive doesn’t have to be financial, its more about the definition of success and what success looks like for your role and once people understand that’s changing, they become engaged in finding the best way to get there. The second thing that leadership needs to do in a cultural transformation is remove impediments because large organisations get good at making sure things don’t change via methods of governance or control. Often a leader must step in and take responsibility to get impediments out of the way for the people so they can change.

Q4: As enterprise infrastructure continues to advance how important is it that employees are sufficiently upskilled/reskilled to face business challenges?

There are often a lot of people who need to be reskilled and to think differently about how to use the new tools at their disposal to accomplish business objectives. Training and certification programs can be very helpful, but the broader organisation needs to understand how they can use those tools to generate business value or mission value in the case of government organisations. It’s often not sitting in a classroom and receiving training that makes the difference in skills, its often working alongside people who already have the skills that helps. Sometimes working in an environment where it is normal to do the new thing helps culture to change. Working with a partner organisation, third party integrator or AWS professional services help expose employees to new ways of doing things and how they have become normal practises today.

Q5: Lastly, could you speak a little about how vital cost optimisation is to business modernisation?

After COVID-19 pent-up demand was released, inflation was low, and money was cheap to invest. Many companies invested aggressively in growing because the prospects looked so good. However, the growth expectations were somewhat overstated, and companies retracted thinking that they needed to be more careful with their investments. This all led to cost optimisation being a big topic for organisations worldwide when considering their general cost structure and spending. What’s amazing about the cloud is that you can align your spending with your revenues or company’s growth. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic some companies had to shrink and if they were using the cloud, they could shrink their infrastructure accordingly or if they were going to grow the cloud could help them scale upwards. If your revenues are growing, you can grow to support it and if they’re shrinking you can likewise align your spending with your revenues. On the other hand, companies that aren’t using the cloud will have to project in advance how much they’ll need which is always speculative as you don’t really know if you’re going to grow. The cloud helps to take a lot of risk out of speculative projections about what capacity you’ll need, and you can also get access to tools for innovation such as ML and computing services. We believe cloud is the new normal and in the future new technologies are going to emerge in the cloud and not in people’s data centres individually. Once organisations get used to the flexibility that the cloud gives them it becomes hard to meet those same characteristics outside of the cloud.

Before we wrap up is there anything else you want to leave us with?

We at AWS are very excited at having this new UAE region launched because this is an area with so much ongoing innovation and so many potential possibilities.

Mark Schwartz: Mark joined AWS as an Enterprise Strategist and Evangelist in July 2017. In this role, Mark works with enterprise technology executives to share experiences and strategies for how the cloud can help them increase speed and agility while devoting more of their resources to their customers. Mark has extensive experience as an IT leader in the government, private sector, and the non-profit world, and with organisations ranging from start-ups to large scale.

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