UPDATED 16:28 EDT / NOVEMBER 30 2023


Amazon CTO Werner Vogels architects a more frugal future for the enterprise cloud

Werner Vogels, vice president and chief technology officer at Amazon.com Inc., has a message for business: It’s time to become frugal architects when it comes to managing cloud costs.

Drawing from his nearly 20 years of experience in building the massive cloud platform that runs the largest online retail business in U.S., Vogels (pictured) used his keynote address at AWS re:Invent in Las Vegas on Thursday to hold a class on cost optimization and measurement.

“We as technologists live a world that is moving so fast that we always need to continue to learn,” Vogels said. “Sit back, take out your notepads and start making notes today.”

Architecting for cost

That Vogels chose his opportunity on the keynote stage to address the subject of expenses spoke to both the current economic climate and the rising spend on cloud computing. Earlier this month, Gartner Inc. issued a forecast that cloud end-user spending would reach $678 billion in 2024, a sharp increase from the $563 billion spent this year.

As successful as Amazon Web Services Inc. has become in leading the public cloud market, it is also mindful that the very industry it helped define has created a cost freight train that is only gaining momentum with growing adoption of technologies such as generative AI.

“There was so much art in building these systems and living within the constraints you have,” Vogels said. “The cloud removed all of those constraints. Suddenly the most important thing was to move fast, get the products out. As speed of execution becomes more important, we lost this art of architecting for cost and keeping cost in mind. As builders, we really need to start thinking about this.”

Vogels outlined key principles for becoming “The Frugal Architect,” a set of self-described “laws” that have been posted on a new website dedicated to the subject. These involve creating systems that align cost to the business, observing key operational networks in the infrastructure to avoid unknown expenses and pursuing incremental optimization.

“I try to hammer this down with startups,” Vogels said. “What is the revenue model you are going to have? They need to build architectures that follow this model. Make sure the dimensions on which you make revenue are always aligned with your costs.”

And a focus on costs has benefits beyond saving money, he noted. It also saves energy, and that’s a rising concern given how much energy these new AI models take.

“Cost is a close proxy for sustainability,” he said. “This is something that’s on my mind and should be on yours too.” Vogels cited the example of WeTransfer, a Dutch file transfer service firm that achieved a 78% reduction in carbon emissions from server use in 2022 using AWS.

Tools for cloud monitoring

AWS took steps on Thursday to provide new tools that enterprises can employ to follow the Amazon CTO’s advice. The company announced a myApplications offering in the AWS Management Console that will let users more easily manage and monitor the cost, health and security posture of applications on AWS.

The cloud giant also released Amazon Cloud Watch Application Signals, a solution designed to let customers automatically instrument applications to maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

“The business needs to understand AWS costs,” Vogels said. “Start becoming smart. Reduce the amount of resources that you really need for your application.”

One dilemma confronting many organizations is that the amount of resources required to drive applications has escalated significantly with the rising tide of interest in generative AI. In addition to addressing the cost implications of this development in the cloud computing world, Vogels offered his thoughts on AI and a need for simplicity.

“There is new AI and old-fashioned AI,” Vogels noted. “You should keep in mind that not everything needs to be done with these large language models. AI makes predictions, professionals decide.”

Vogels identified several global organizations that have been using basic AI tools for years to fulfill their missions, including the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines that has relied on machine learning and vision management technology to automate the process for finding optimal seeds to grow rice.

He also cited his experience as a young computer scientist working with a local hospital to build a model that could evaluate brain scan images for signs of patient hemorrhage.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” Vogels said. “If you are using machine learning, you should still be a frugal architect.”

Predicting the future

In what has become an annual tradition on the morning of his keynote, Vogels also posted his “Tech Predictions for 2024 and Beyond.” Not surprisingly, generative AI led his list with a forecast that large language model training on culturally diverse data will achieve a more nuanced understanding of complex societal changes.

AI also figures prominently in a second prediction that intelligence-powered assistants will evolve from basic code generators into teachers and collaborators that can provide support through the entire software development lifecycle.

Rounding out this year’s list was a forecast that investment in “femtech” will surge, creating an inflection point for women’s healthcare as data unlocks improved patient outcomes. Vogels also predicted that technology education will evolve from what was bespoke on-the-job training into industry-led skills-based learning for many.

Another tradition that accompanies Vogels’ appearance at re:Invent is his choice of t-shirt attire onstage. This year’s selection featured the Street Sweeper Social Club, an American rap rock supergroup that was formed eight years ago by a guitarist from the band Rage Against The Machine.

Perhaps this was only fitting, given the video production elements playing off scenes from the 1999 sci-fi classic “The Matrix,” that were sprinkled throughout his keynote presentation on Thursday.

“To predict the future, observe the present,” Vogels said.

Photos: AWS, Robert Hof/SiliconANGLE

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