AWS brings messaging around modern innovation to Toronto

In addition to discussing the changing nature of innovation today, AWS Vice President Sandy Carter also reminded her CIO audience of an unchanging theme AWS keeps making, that many more Windows applications run on their platform than on Azure.

AWS’ Sandy Carter, with a DeepRacer car

On Monday morning, Sandy Carter, Vice President, Amazon Web Services, was in Toronto, at a CIO breakfast on the theme of Innovation and Disruption. She addressed the way the company is approaching innovation and the lessons customers can learn from that. Carter, whose specific role at AWS is helping companies to leverage their Microsoft assets, also reinforced what for AWS is an old refrain, but one that clearly not enough customers know – that AWS runs more Windows workloads than Azure.

“Most customers assume that AWS is Linux workloads, and expect that Windows workloads go to Azure,” Carter said. “Customers are just not aware of how many Windows workloads are running on Linux – 57 per cent according to IDC.” In contrast, 31 per cent of Windows workloads run on Azure. That disparity reflects both AWS’s first mover advantage as well as the fact that many customers don’t see a necessary link between applications and the underlying infrastructure. AWS has stressed this theme before, notably at last fall’s Re:Invent customer event Many customers aren’t aware of this, however.

Carter also talked about innovation, why its so important to customers, and how AWS believes that the lessons it has learned can assist customers.

“Most customers believe innovation is at the product level, but we see four different types of innovation,” Carter said. “We see it as being around operations, like DevOps, around business models, like Airbnb, and around client experience, such as the creation of a chatbot, as well as product.”

Carter, who is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Melon Silicon Valley University, said research there has found companies in high innovation areas have both a business strategy and an innovation strategy.

“90 per cent of companies in high innovation areas have both strategies,” she noted. “Outside those high innovation areas, only 20 per cent of companies have an innovation strategy.”

That disparity is huge, although it’s not surprising.

“It’s hard enough for companies to do a business strategy,” Carter said. “Innovation strategies are new, and really only have been around for the last five years.” She noted that a show of hands at the Toronto breakfast showed that only about 20 per cent of the attendees there have an innovation strategy.

Carter discussed some of the approaches AWS takes towards its own innovation strategy.

“The hardest thing about innovation is culture,” she said. “In the breakfast, one company said they had an innovation strategy but if you fail, you get a black mark. That doesn’t encourage true innovation.” In contrast, she said that at AWS, if someone hits all their goals, that likely means that the goals were too conservative.

“We also put mechanisms in place to innovate,” she said. “For example, we have an innovation strategy to do a press release before the product comes out. First we put out a press release, then a FAQ – then we write the code. We spend a lot of time up front. The innovation strategy is also tightly linked to business strategy.”

Small teams empowered to take action are another tool that Amazon uses to promote a culture of innovation internally.

Carter also discussed using technology to drive innovation.

“Some companies have done that well. JustEat, an online food ordering company that just moved into Canada, migrated their SQL database to AWS and used it to train machine learning models for Alexa and Amazon Fire.”

Diversity is also a factor in promoting innovation, but Carter noted that it comes in many different flavours, not just the obvious ones of race and gender.

“One company with a team that was diverse by race, by gender and by country was still struggling to innovate, and it turned out that they all graduated from the same MBA school, so they had all been trained to think the same way, and so they weren’t innovating as much as they could,” she said. “It’s not just the way that you look, but the way that you think.”

Carter also highlighted AWS’ DeepRacer cars, 1/18th scale race cars which use gamification to teach reinforcement learning, an advanced machine learning technique which takes a different approach to training models.

“Our vision for machine learning is that every developer and every data scientist should have it, but the one thing that holds them back is that training a learning module is hard,” Carter said. “Reinforcement learning is machine learning that takes a different approach to training in order to model very complex behaviors, without labelled training that require tagging and classification.”

The DeepRacer cars are trained through this reinforcement learning process, with the users developing the skill to train it through autonomous driving. The trained models can then race other ones locally, or take part in the global AWS DeepRacer League.

“Some customers I met today want to do a deep racer event just for their company,” Carter said.  “Amazon is willing to invest in partners and customers with things like DeepRacer, which are part of the future.”

The DeepRacer League will be a featured part of the AWS Summit Toronto that the company is holding in Toronto on Thursday, October 3rd, 2019, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

“Canada is such an amazing opportunity for our partners around cloud,” Carter said. “I would encourage them to come to the AWS Summit and learn more about what we are doing.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *