New – Amazon CloudWatch Agent with AWS Systems Manager Integration – Unified Metrics & Log Collection for Linux & Windows

In the past I’ve talked about several agents, deaemons, and scripts that you could use to collect system metrics and log files for your Windows and Linux instances and on-premise services and publish them to Amazon CloudWatch. The data collected by this somewhat disparate collection of tools gave you visibility into the status and behavior of your compute resources, along with the power to take action when a value goes out of range and indicates a potential issue. You can graph any desired metrics on CloudWatch Dashboards, initiate actions via CloudWatch Alarms, and search CloudWatch Logs to find error messages, while taking advantage of our support for custom high-resolution metrics.

New Unified Agent
Today we are taking a nice step forward and launching a new, unified CloudWatch Agent. It runs in the cloud and on-premises, on Linux and Windows instances and servers, and handles metrics and log files. You can deploy it using AWS Systems Manager (SSM) Run Command, SSM State Manager, or from the CLI. Here are some of the most important features:

Single Agent – A single agent now collects both metrics and logs. This simplifies the setup process and reduces complexity.

Cross-Platform / Cross-Environment – The new agent runs in the cloud and on-premises, on 64-bit Linux and 64-bit Windows, and includes HTTP proxy server support.

Configurable – The new agent captures the most useful system metrics automatically. It can be configured to collect hundreds of others, including fine-grained metrics on sub-resources such as CPU threads, mounted filesystems, and network interfaces.

CloudWatch-Friendly – The new agent supports standard 1-minute metrics and the newer 1-second high-resolution metrics. It automatically includes EC2 dimensions such as Instance Id, Image Id, and Auto Scaling Group Name, and also supports the use of custom dimensions. All of the dimensions can be used for custom aggregation across Auto Scaling Groups, applications, and so forth.

Migration – You can easily migrate existing AWS SSM and EC2Config configurations for use with the new agent.

Installing the Agent
The CloudWatch Agent uses an IAM role when running on an EC2 instance, and an IAM user when running on an on-premises server. The role or the user must include the AmazonSSMFullAccess and AmazonEC2ReadOnlyAccess policies. Here’s my role:

I can easily add it to a running instance (this is a relatively new and very handy EC2 feature):

The SSM Agent is already running on my instance. If it wasn’t, I would follow the steps in Installing and Configuring SSM Agent to set it up.

Next, I install the CloudWatch Agent using the AWS Systems Manager:

This takes just a few seconds. Now I can use a simple wizard to set up the configuration file for the agent:

The wizard also lets me set up the log files to be monitored:

The wizard generates a JSON-format config file and stores it on the instance. It also offers me the option to upload the file to my Parameter Store so that I can deploy it to my other instances (I can also do fine-grained customization of the metrics and log collection configuration by editing the file):

Now I can start the CloudWatch Agent using Run Command, supplying the name of my configuration in the Parameter Store:

This runs in a few seconds and the agent begins to publish metrics right away. As I mentioned earlier, the agent can publish fine-grained metrics on the resources inside of or attached to an instance. For example, here are the metrics for each filesystem:

There’s a separate log stream for each monitored log file on each instance:

I can view and search it, just like I can do for any other log stream:

Now Available
The new CloudWatch Agent is available now and you can start using it today in all public AWS Regions, with AWS GovCloud (US) and the Regions in China to follow.

There’s no charge for the agent; you pay the usual CloudWatch prices for logs and custom metrics.

Jeff;


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Amazon EC2 Price Reduction in the Asia Pacific (Mumbai) Region

Whew – I am just getting back in to blogging after a quick recovery from AWS re:Invent!

I’m happy to start things off with yet another AWS price reduction, this one for four instance families in the Asia Pacific (Mumbai) Region. Effective December 1, 2017 we are reducing prices for On-Demand and Reserved Instances as follows:

  • M4 – Up to 15%.
  • T2 – Up to 15%.
  • R4 – Up to 15%.
  • C4 – Up to 10%.

The pricing pages have been updated. Enjoy!

Jeff;

 


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Now Open – AWS China (Ningxia) Region

Today we launched our 17th Region globally, and the second in China. The AWS China (Ningxia) Region, operated by Ningxia Western Cloud Data Technology Co. Ltd. (NWCD), is generally available now and provides customers another option to run applications and store data on AWS in China.

The Details
At launch, the new China (Ningxia) Region, operated by NWCD, supports Auto Scaling, AWS Config, AWS CloudFormation, AWS CloudTrail, Amazon CloudWatch, CloudWatch Events, Amazon CloudWatch Logs, AWS CodeDeploy, AWS Direct Connect, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), Amazon EC2 Systems Manager, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Elasticsearch Service, Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon EMR, Amazon Glacier, AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), Amazon Kinesis Streams, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), AWS Support API, AWS Trusted Advisor, Amazon Simple Workflow Service (SWF), Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, and VM Import. Visit the AWS China Products page for additional information on these services.

The Region supports all sizes of C4, D2, M4, T2, R4, I3, and X1 instances.

Check out the AWS Global Infrastructure page to learn more about current and future AWS Regions.

Operating Partner
To comply with China’s legal and regulatory requirements, AWS has formed a strategic technology collaboration with NWCD to operate and provide services from the AWS China (Ningxia) Region. Founded in 2015, NWCD is a licensed datacenter and cloud services provider, based in Ningxia, China. NWCD joins Sinnet, the operator of the AWS China China (Beijing) Region, as an AWS operating partner in China. Through these relationships, AWS provides its industry-leading technology, guidance, and expertise to NWCD and Sinnet, while NWCD and Sinnet operate and provide AWS cloud services to local customers. While the cloud services offered in both AWS China Regions are the same as those available in other AWS Regions, the AWS China Regions are different in that they are isolated from all other AWS Regions and operated by AWS’s Chinese partners separately from all other AWS Regions. Customers using the AWS China Regions enter into customer agreements with Sinnet and NWCD, rather than with AWS.

Use it Today
The AWS China (Ningxia) Region, operated by NWCD, is open for business, and you can start using it now! Starting today, Chinese developers, startups, and enterprises, as well as government, education, and non-profit organizations, can leverage AWS to run their applications and store their data in the new AWS China (Ningxia) Region, operated by NWCD. Customers already using the AWS China (Beijing) Region, operated by Sinnet, can select the AWS China (Ningxia) Region directly from the AWS Management Console, while new customers can request an account at www.amazonaws.cn to begin using both AWS China Regions.

Jeff;

 

 


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re:Invent Recap – Announcements to Boost Enterprise Innovation with Windows

My colleague Sandy Carter delivered the Enterprise Innovation State of the Union last week at AWS re:Invent. She wrote the guest post below to recap the announcements that she made from the stage.

Jeff;


“I want my company to innovate, but I am not convinced we can execute successfully.” Far too many times I have heard this fear expressed by senior executives that I have met at different points in my career. In fact, a recent study published by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that while 93% of executives depend on innovation to drive growth, more than half are challenged to take innovative ideas to market quickly in a scalable way.

Many customers are struggling with how to drive enterprise innovation, so I was thrilled to share the stage at AWS re:Invent this past week with several senior executives who have successfully broken this mold to drive amazing enterprise innovation. In particular, I want to thank Parag Karnik from Johnson & Johnson, Bill Rothe from Hess Corporation, Dave Williams from Just Eat, and Olga Lagunova from Pitney Bowes for sharing their stories of innovation, creativity, and solid execution.

Among the many new announcements from AWS this past week, I am particularly excited about the following newly-launched AWS products and programs that I announced at re:Invent to drive new innovations by our enterprise customers:

AI: New Deep Learning Amazon Machine Image (AMI) on EC2 Windows
As I shared at re:Invent, customers such as Infor are already successfully leveraging artificial intelligence tools on AWS to deliver tailored, industry-specific applications to their customers. We want to facilitate more of our Windows developers to get started quickly and easily with AI, leveraging machine learning based tools with popular deep learning frameworks, such as Apache MXNet, TensorFlow, and Caffe2. In order to enable this, I announced at re:Invent that AWS now offers a new Deep Learning AMI for Microsoft Windows. The AMI is tailored to facilitate large scale training of deep-learning models, and enables quick and easy setup of Windows Server-based compute resources for machine learning applications.

IoT: Visualize and Analyze SQL and IoT Data
Forecasts show as many as 31 billion IoT devices by 2020. AWS wants every Windows customer to take advantage of the data available from their devices. Pitney Bowes, for example, now has more than 130,000 IoT devices streaming data to AWS. Using machine learning, Pitney Bowes enriches and analyzes data to enhance their customer experience, improve efficiencies, and create new data products. AWS IoT Analytics can now be leveraged to run analytics on IoT data and get insights that help you make better and more accurate decisions for IoT applications and machine learning use cases. AWS IoT Analytics can automatically enrich IoT device data with contextual metadata such as your SQL Server transactional data.

New Capabilities for .NET Developers on AWS
In addition to all of the enhancements we’ve introduced to deliver a first class experience to Windows developers on AWS, we announced that we are including .NET Core 2.0 support in AWS Lambda and AWS CodeBuild, which will be available for broader use early next year. .NET Core 2.0 packs a number of new features such as Razor pages, better compatibility with .NET framework, more than double the number of APIs compared to the previous versions, and much more. With this announcement, you will be able to take advantage of all latest .NET Core features on Lambda and CodeBuild for building modern serverless and DevOps centric solutions.

Simplified Backup for Windows Applications
We recently introduced application consistent snapshots with Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS). This enables you to take VSS snapshots with Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) for your running Windows instances without the need to create custom scripts or to shut down the instances. This removes the overhead associated with backing up your Windows applications.

License optimization for BYOL
AWS provides you a wide variety of instance types and families that best meet your workload needs. If you are using software licensed by the number of vCPUs, you want the ability to further tweak vCPU count to optimize license spend. I announced the upcoming ability to optimize CPUs for EC2, giving you greater control over your EC2 instances on two fronts:

  1. You can specify a custom number of vCPUs when launching new instances to save on vCPU based licensing costs. For example, SQL Server licensing spend.
  2. You can disable Hyper-Threading Technology for workloads that perform well with single-threaded CPUs, like some high-performance computing (HPC) applications.

Using these capabilities, customers who bring their own license (BYOL) will be able to optimize their license usage and save on the license costs.

Server Migration Service for Hyper-V Virtual Machines
As Bill Rothe from Hess Corporation shared at re:Invent, Hess has successfully migrated a wide range of workloads to the cloud, including SQL Server, SharePoint, SAP HANA, and many others. AWS Server Migration Service (SMS) now supports Hyper-V virtual machine (VM) migration, in order to further support enterprise migrations like these. AWS Server Migration Service will enable you to more easily co-ordinate large-scale server migrations from on-premise Hyper-V environments to AWS. AWS Server Migration Service allows you to automate, schedule, and track incremental replications of live server volumes. The replicated volumes are encrypted in transit and saved as a new Amazon Machine Image (AMI), which can be launched as an EC2 instance on AWS.

Microsoft Premier Support for AWS End-Customers
I was pleased to announce that Microsoft and AWS have developed new areas of support integration to help ensure a great customer experience. Microsoft Premier Support is on board to help AWS assist end customers. AWS Support engineers can escalate directly to Microsoft Support on behalf of AWS customers running Microsoft workloads.

Best Practice Tools: HIPAA Compliance and Digital Innovation Workshop
In November, we updated our HIPAA-focused white paper, outlining how you can use AWS to create HIPAA-compliant applications. In the first quarter of next year, we will publish a HIPAA Implementation Guide that expands on our HIPAA Quick Start to enable you to follow strict security, compliance, and risk management controls for common healthcare use cases. I was also pleased to award a Digital Innovation Workshop to one of our customers in my re:Invent session, and look forward to seeing more customers take advantage of this workshop.

AWS: The Continuous Innovation Cloud
A common thread we see across customers is that continuous innovation from AWS enables their ongoing reinvention. Continuous innovation means that you are always getting a newer, better offering every single day. Sometimes it is in the form of brand new services and capabilities, and sometimes it is happening invisibly, under the covers where your environment just keeps getting better. I invite you to learn more about how you can accelerate your innovation journey with recently launched AWS services and AWS best practices. If you are migrating Windows workloads, speak with your AWS sales representative or an AWS Microsoft Workloads Competency Partner to learn how you can leverage our re:Think for Windows program for credits to start your migration.

– Sandy Carter, Vice President, AWS


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AWS Contributes to Milestone 1.0 Release and Adds Model Serving Capability for Apache MXNet

Post by Dr. Matt Wood

Today AWS announced contributions to the milestone 1.0 release of the Apache MXNet deep learning engine including the introduction of a new model-serving capability for MXNet. The new capabilities in MXNet provide the following benefits to users:

1) MXNet is easier to use: The model server for MXNet is a new capability introduced by AWS, and it packages, runs, and serves deep learning models in seconds with just a few lines of code, making them accessible over the internet via an API endpoint and thus easy to integrate into applications. The 1.0 release also includes an advanced indexing capability that enables users to perform matrix operations in a more intuitive manner.

  • Model Serving enables set up of an API endpoint for prediction: It saves developers time and effort by condensing the task of setting up an API endpoint for running and integrating prediction functionality into an application to just a few lines of code. It bridges the barrier between Python-based deep learning frameworks and production systems through a Docker container-based deployment model.
  • Advanced indexing for array operations in MXNet: It is now more intuitive for developers to leverage the powerful array operations in MXNet. They can use the advanced indexing capability by leveraging existing knowledge of NumPy/SciPy arrays. For example, it supports MXNet NDArray and Numpy ndarray as index, e.g. (a[mx.nd.array([1,2], dtype = ‘int32’]).

2) MXNet is faster: The 1.0 release includes implementation of cutting-edge features that optimize the performance of training and inference. Gradient compression enables users to train models up to five times faster by reducing communication bandwidth between compute nodes without loss in convergence rate or accuracy. For speech recognition acoustic modeling like the Alexa voice, this feature can reduce network bandwidth by up to three orders of magnitude during training. With the support of NVIDIA Collective Communication Library (NCCL), users can train a model 20% faster on multi-GPU systems.

  • Optimize network bandwidth with gradient compression: In distributed training, each machine must communicate frequently with others to update the weight-vectors and thereby collectively build a single model, leading to high network traffic. Gradient compression algorithm enables users to train models up to five times faster by compressing the model changes communicated by each instance.
  • Optimize the training performance by taking advantage of NCCL: NCCL implements multi-GPU and multi-node collective communication primitives that are performance optimized for NVIDIA GPUs. NCCL provides communication routines that are optimized to achieve high bandwidth over interconnection between multi-GPUs. MXNet supports NCCL to train models about 20% faster on multi-GPU systems.

3) MXNet provides easy interoperability: MXNet now includes a tool for converting neural network code written with the Caffe framework to MXNet code, making it easier for users to take advantage of MXNet’s scalability and performance.

  • Migrate Caffe models to MXNet: It is now possible to easily migrate Caffe code to MXNet, using the new source code translation tool for converting Caffe code to MXNet code.

MXNet has helped developers and researchers make progress with everything from language translation to autonomous vehicles and behavioral biometric security. We are excited to see the broad base of users that are building production artificial intelligence applications powered by neural network models developed and trained with MXNet. For example, the autonomous driving company TuSimple recently piloted a self-driving truck on a 200-mile journey from Yuma, Arizona to San Diego, California using MXNet. This release also includes a full-featured and performance optimized version of the Gluon programming interface. The ease-of-use associated with it combined with the extensive set of tutorials has led significant adoption among developers new to deep learning. The flexibility of the interface has driven interest within the research community, especially in the natural language processing domain.

Getting started with MXNet
Getting started with MXNet is simple. To learn more about the Gluon interface and deep learning, you can reference this comprehensive set of tutorials, which covers everything from an introduction to deep learning to how to implement cutting-edge neural network models. If you’re a contributor to a machine learning framework, check out the interface specs on GitHub.

To get started with the Model Server for Apache MXNet, install the library with the following command:

$ pip install mxnet-model-server

The Model Server library has a Model Zoo with 10 pre-trained deep learning models, including the SqueezeNet 1.1 object classification model. You can start serving the SqueezeNet model with just the following command:

$ mxnet-model-server 
  --models squeezenet=https://s3.amazonaws.com/model-server/models/squeezenet_v1.1/squeezenet_v1.1.model 
  --service dms/model_service/mxnet_vision_service.py

Learn more about the Model Server and view the source code, reference examples, and tutorials here: https://github.com/awslabs/mxnet-model-server/

-Dr. Matt Wood


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Get Ready for the AWS Serverless Application Repository

Serverless applications have become mainstream more quickly than I ever could have imagined. Every second of every day, countless AWS Lambda functions spring to life on an as-needed basis, take care of some critical business function, and then finish up. Our users tell us that they love the flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of this model.

We want to make sure that every AWS customer moves ahead into the serverless future. After the launch of Lambda, we followed up with the Serverless Application Model (SAM) to further simplify the process of deploying and managing serverless applications on AWS. We have also published serverless reference architectures for web apps, mobile backends, image recognition & processing, real-time file processing, IoT, MapReduce, real-time stream processing, and image moderation for chatbots.

Today I would like to tell you about the next step forward. We want to make it as easy as possible for AWS customers to discover and deploy serverless apps. We also want to strengthen the open source community around Lambda, SAM, and serverless apps, with room for everyone to share, participate, and benefit.

AWS Serverless Application Repository
I’m pleased to be able to give you a peek at the upcoming AWS Serverless Application Repository. Designed for producers and consumers of serverless apps, this AWS Console component supports publishing, discovery, and deployment.

Producers (developers, ISVs, SaaS providers, and AWS partners) can easily publish to the repository. Apps must be in SAM format, accompanied by a SPDX license identifier, with options to share globally (for all AWS customers) or privately (with access controls for individuals and teams). Source code and other application components can be stored in GitHub or another source code repository, and then included via reference; again with control over sharing.

We’re looking forward to your submission. It will join others in progress from Datadog, Here, Splunk, and SignalFx.

For Publishers
If you are already using SAM to build serverless apps, we’re just about ready to start accepting contributions. As a quick refresher, SAM lets you define Amazon API Gateway APIs, Amazon DynamoDB tables, and AWS Lambda functions that are triggered by API actions and uploads to S3. Your serverless app can use third-party libraries as long as they are available under an open source license that has been approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI). You will be able to use resource-based IAM policies to control access to your app—you can keep it private, grant cross-account access on an extremely selective basis, or make it available publicly.

For Consumers
You will be able to find and start using the apps from the Lambda console:

You will also be able to check on the status of each app:

Stay Tuned
All of this functionality will be accessible from the AWS Management Console, AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), and a rich set of APIs. I’ll be sharing more info as it becomes available.

If you are ready to get started, you can Sign up for the Preview!

Jeff;

 


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AWS Cloud9 – Cloud Developer Environments

One of the first things you learn when you start programming is that, just like any craftsperson, your tools matter. Notepad.exe isn’t going to cut it. A powerful editor and testing pipeline supercharge your productivity. I still remember learning to use Vim for the first time and being able to zip around systems and complex programs. Do you remember how hard it was to setup all your compilers and dependencies on a new machine? How many cycles have you wasted matching versions, tinkering with configs, and then writing documentation to onboard a new developer to a project?

Today we’re launching AWS Cloud9, an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for writing, running, and debugging code, all from your web browser. Cloud9 comes prepackaged with essential tools for many popular programming languages (Javascript, Python, PHP, etc.) so you don’t have to tinker with installing various compilers and toolchains. Cloud9 also provides a seamless experience for working with serverless applications allowing you to quickly switch between local and remote testing or debugging. Based on the popular open source Ace Editor and c9.io IDE (which we acquired last year), AWS Cloud9 is designed to make collaborative cloud development easy with extremely powerful pair programming features. There are more features than I could ever cover in this post but to give a quick breakdown I’ll break the IDE into 3 components: The editor, the AWS integrations, and the collaboration.

Editing


The Ace Editor at the core of Cloud9 is what lets you write code quickly, easily, and beautifully. It follows a UNIX philosophy of doing one thing and doing it well: writing code.

It has all the typical IDE features you would expect: live syntax checking, auto-indent, auto-completion, code folding, split panes, version control integration, multiple cursors and selections, and it also has a few unique features I want to highlight. First of all, it’s fast, even for large (100000+ line) files. There’s no lag or other issues while typing. It has over two dozen themes built-in (solarized!) and you can bring all of your favorite themes from Sublime Text or TextMate as well. It has built-in support for 40+ language modes and customizable run configurations for your projects. Most importantly though, it has Vim mode (or emacs if your fingers work that way). It also has a keybinding editor that allows you to bend the editor to your will.

The editor supports powerful keyboard navigation and commands (similar to Sublime Text or vim plugins like ctrlp). On a Mac, with ⌘+P you can open any file in your environment with fuzzy search. With ⌘+. you can open up the command pane which allows you to do invoke any of the editor commands by typing the name. It also helpfully displays the keybindings for a command in the pane, for instance to open to a terminal you can press ⌥+T. Oh, did I mention there’s a terminal? It ships with the AWS CLI preconfigured for access to your resources.

The environment also comes with pre-installed debugging tools for many popular languages – but you’re not limited to what’s already installed. It’s easy to add in new programs and define new run configurations.

The editor is just one, admittedly important, component in an IDE though. I want to show you some other compelling features.

AWS Integrations

The AWS Cloud9 IDE is the first IDE I’ve used that is truly “cloud native”. The service is provided at no additional charge, and you only charged for the underlying compute and storage resources. When you create an environment you’re prompted for either: an instance type and an auto-hibernate time, or SSH access to a machine of your choice.

If you’re running in AWS the auto-hibernate feature will stop your instance shortly after you stop using your IDE. This can be a huge cost savings over running a more permanent developer desktop. You can also launch it within a VPC to give it secure access to your development resources. If you want to run Cloud9 outside of AWS, or on an existing instance, you can provide SSH access to the service which it will use to create an environment on the external machine. Your environment is provisioned with automatic and secure access to your AWS account so you don’t have to worry about copying credentials around. Let me say that again: you can run this anywhere.

Serverless Development with AWS Cloud9

I spend a lot of time on Twitch developing serverless applications. I have hundreds of lambda functions and APIs deployed. Cloud9 makes working with every single one of these functions delightful. Let me show you how it works.


If you look in the top right side of the editor you’ll see an AWS Resources tab. Opening this you can see all of the lambda functions in your region (you can see functions in other regions by adjusting your region preferences in the AWS preference pane).

You can import these remote functions to your local workspace just by double-clicking them. This allows you to edit, test, and debug your serverless applications all locally. You can create new applications and functions easily as well. If you click the Lambda icon in the top right of the pane you’ll be prompted to create a new lambda function and Cloud9 will automatically create a Serverless Application Model template for you as well. The IDE ships with support for the popular SAM local tool pre-installed. This is what I use in most of my local testing and serverless development. Since you have a terminal, it’s easy to install additional tools and use other serverless frameworks.

 

Launching an Environment from AWS CodeStar

With AWS CodeStar you can easily provision an end-to-end continuous delivery toolchain for development on AWS. Codestar provides a unified experience for building, testing, deploying, and managing applications using AWS CodeCommit, CodeBuild, CodePipeline, and CodeDeploy suite of services. Now, with a few simple clicks you can provision a Cloud9 environment to develop your application. Your environment will be pre-configured with the code for your CodeStar application already checked out and git credentials already configured.

You can easily share this environment with your coworkers which leads me to another extremely useful set of features.

Collaboration

One of the many things that sets AWS Cloud9 apart from other editors are the rich collaboration tools. You can invite an IAM user to your environment with a few clicks.

You can see what files they’re working on, where their cursors are, and even share a terminal. The chat features is useful as well.

Things to Know

  • There are no additional charges for this service beyond the underlying compute and storage.
  • c9.io continues to run for existing users. You can continue to use all the features of c9.io and add new team members if you have a team account. In the future, we will provide tools for easy migration of your c9.io workspaces to AWS Cloud9.
  • AWS Cloud9 is available in the US West (Oregon), US East (Ohio), US East (N.Virginia), EU (Ireland), and Asia Pacific (Singapore) regions.

I can’t wait to see what you build with AWS Cloud9!

Randall


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Announcing Alexa for Business: Using Amazon Alexa’s Voice Enabled Devices for Workplaces

There are only a few things more integrated into my day-to-day life than Alexa. I use my Echo device and the enabled Alexa Skills for turning on lights in my home, checking video from my Echo Show to see who is ringing my doorbell, keeping track of my extensive to-do list on a weekly basis, playing music, and lots more. I even have my family members enabling Alexa skills on their Echo devices for all types of activities that they now cannot seem to live without. My mother, who is in a much older generation (please don’t tell her I said that), uses her Echo and the custom Alexa skill I built for her to store her baking recipes. She also enjoys exploring skills that have the latest health and epicurean information. It’s no wonder then, that when I go to work I feel like something is missing. For example, I would love to be able to ask Alexa to read my flash briefing when I get to the office.

 

 

For those of you that would love to have Alexa as your intelligent assistant at work, I have exciting news. I am delighted to announce Alexa for Business, a new service that enables businesses and organizations to bring Alexa into the workplace at scale. Alexa for Business not only brings Alexa into your workday to boost your productivity, but also provides tools and resources for organizations to set up and manage Alexa devices at scale, enable private skills, and enroll users.

Making Workplaces Smarter with Alexa for Business

Alexa for Business brings the Alexa you know and love into the workplace to help all types of workers to be more productive and organized on both personal and shared Echo devices. In the workplace, shared devices can be placed in common areas for anyone to use, and workers can use their personal devices to connect at work and at home.

End users can use shared devices or personal devices. Here’s what they can do from each.

Shared devices

  1. Join meetings in conference rooms: You can simply say “Alexa, start the meeting”. Alexa turns on the video conferencing equipment, dials into your conference call, and gets the meeting going.
  2. Help around the office: access custom skills to help with directions around the office, finding an open conference room, reporting a building equipment problem, or ordering new supplies.

Personal devices

  1. Enable calling and messaging: Alexa helps make phone calls, hands free and can also send messages on your behalf.
  2. Automatically dial into conference calls: Alexa can join any meeting with a conference call number via voice from home, work, or on the go.
  3. Intelligent assistant: Alexa can quickly check calendars, help schedule meetings, manage to-do lists, and set reminders.
  4. Find information: Alexa can help find information in popular business applications like Salesforce, Concur, or Splunk.

Here are some of the controls available to administrators:

  1. Provision & Manage Shared Alexa Devices: You can provision and manage shared devices around your workplace using the Alexa for Business console. For each device you can set a location, such as a conference room designation, and assign public and private skills for the device.
  2. Configure Conference Room Settings: Kick off your meetings with a simple “Alexa, start the meeting.” Alexa for Business allows you to configure your conference room settings so you can use Alexa to start your meetings and control your conference room equipment, or dial in directly from the Amazon Echo device in the room.
  3. Manage Users: You can invite users in your organization to enroll their personal Alexa account with your Alexa for Business account. Once your users have enrolled, you can enable your custom private skills for them to use on any of the devices in their personal Alexa account, at work or at home.
  4. Manage Skills: You can assign public skills and custom private skills your organization has created to your shared devices, and make private skills available to your enrolled users.  You can create skills groups, which you can then assign to specific shared devices.
  5. Build Private Skills & Use Alexa for Business APIs:  Dig into the Alexa Skills Kit and build your own skills.  Then you can make these available to the shared devices and enrolled users in your Alexa for Business account, all without having to publish them in the public Alexa Skills Store.  Alexa for Business offers additional APIs, which you can use to add context to your skills and automate administrative tasks.

Let’s take a quick journey into Alexa for Business. I’ll first log into the AWS Console and go to the Alexa for Business service.

 

Once I log in to the service, I am presented with the Alexa for Business dashboard. As you can see, I have access to manage Rooms, Shared devices, Users, and Skills, as well as the ability to control conferencing, calendars, and user invitations.

First, I’ll start by setting up my Alexa devices. Alexa for Business provides a Device Setup Tool to setup multiple devices, connect them to your Wi-Fi network, and register them with your Alexa for Business account. This is quite different from the setup process for personal Alexa devices. With Alexa for Business, you can provision 25 devices at a time.

Once my devices are provisioned, I can create location profiles for the locations where I want to put these devices (such as in my conference rooms). We call these locations “Rooms” in our Alexa for Business console. I can go to the Room profiles menu and create a Room profile. A Room profile contains common settings for the Alexa device in your room, such as the wake word for the device, the address, time zone, unit of measurement, and whether I want to enable outbound calling.

The next step is to enable skills for the devices I set up. I can enable any skill from the Alexa Skills store, or use the private skills feature to enable skills I built myself and made available to my Alexa for Business account. To enable skills for my shared devices, I can go to the Skills menu option and enable skills. After I have enabled skills, I can add them to a skill group and assign the skill group to my rooms.

Something I really like about Alexa for Business, is that I can use Alexa to dial into conference calls. To enable this, I go to the Conferencing menu option and select Add provider. At Amazon we use Amazon Chime, but you can choose from a list of different providers, or you can even add your own provider if you want to.

Once I’ve set this up, I can say “Alexa, join my meeting”; Alexa asks for my Amazon Chime meeting ID, after which my Echo device will automatically dial into my Amazon Chime meeting. Alexa for Business also provides an intelligent way to start any meeting quickly. We’ve all been in the situation where we walk into a meeting room and can’t find the meeting ID or conference call number. With Alexa for Business, I can link to my corporate calendar, so Alexa can figure out the meeting information for me, and automatically dial in – I don’t even need my meeting ID. Here’s how you do that:

Alexa can also control the video conferencing equipment in the room. To do this, all I need to do is select the skill for the equipment that I have, select the equipment provider, and enable it for my conference rooms. Now when I ask Alexa to join my meeting, Alexa will dial-in from the equipment in the room, and turn on the video conferencing system, without me needing to do anything else.

 

Let’s switch to enrolled users next.

I’ll start by setting up the User Invitation for my organization so that I can invite users to my Alexa for Business account. To allow a user to use Alexa for Business within an organization, you invite them to enroll their personal Alexa account with the service by sending a user invitation via email from the management console. If I choose, I can customize the user enrollment email to contain additional content. For example, I can add information about my organization’s Alexa skills that can be enabled after they’ve accepted the invitation and completed the enrollment process. My users must join in order to use the features of Alexa for Business, such as auto dialing into conference calls, linking their Microsoft Exchange calendars, or using private skills.

Now that I have customized my User Invitation, I will invite users to take advantage of Alexa for Business for my organization by going to the Users menu on the Dashboard and entering their email address.  This will send an email with a link that can be used to join my organization. Users will join using the Amazon account that their personal Alexa devices are registered to. Let’s invite Jeff Barr to join my Alexa for Business organization.

After Jeff has enrolled in my Alexa for Business account, he can discover the private skills I’ve enabled for enrolled users, and he can access his work skills and join conference calls from any of his personal devices, including the Echo in his home office.

Summary

We’ve only scratched the surface in our brief review of the Alexa for Business console and service features.  You can learn more about Alexa for Business by viewing the Alexa for Business website, reading the admin and API guides in the AWS documentation, or by watching the Getting Started videos within the Alexa for Business console.

You can learn more about Alexa for Business by viewing the Alexa for Business website, watching the Alexa for Business overview video, reading the admin and API guides in the AWS documentation, or by watching the Getting Started videos within the Alexa for Business console.

Alexa, Say Goodbye and Sign off the Blog Post.”

Tara 


Source: New feed

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Keeping Time With Amazon Time Sync Service

Today we’re launching Amazon Time Sync Service, a time synchronization service delivered over Network Time Protocol (NTP) which uses a fleet of redundant satellite-connected and atomic clocks in each region to deliver a highly accurate reference clock. This service is provided at no additional charge and is immediately available in all public AWS regions to all instances running in a VPC.

You can access the service via the link local 169.254.169.123 IP address. This means you don’t need to configure external internet access and the service can be securely accessed from within your private subnets.

Setup

Chrony is a different implementation of NTP than what ntpd uses and it’s able to synchronize the system clock faster and with better accuracy than ntpd. I’d recommend using Chrony unless you have a legacy reason to use ntpd.

Installing and configuring chrony on Amazon Linux is as simple as:


sudo sudo yum erase ntp*
sudo yum -y install chrony
sudo service chronyd start

Alternatively, just modify your existing NTP config by adding the line server 169.254.169.123 prefer iburst.

On Windows you can run the following commands in PowerShell or a command prompt:


net stop w32time
w32tm /config /syncfromflags:manual /manualpeerlist:"169.254.169.123"
w32tm /config /reliable:yess
net start w32time

Leap Seconds

Time is hard. Science, and society, measure time with respect to the International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF), which is computed using long baseline interferometry of distant quasars, GPS satellite orbits, and laser ranging of the moon (cool!). Irregularities in Earth’s rate of rotation cause UTC to drift from time with respect to the ICRF. To address this clock drift the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems (IERS) occasionally introduce an extra second into UTC to keep it within 0.9 seconds of real time.

Leap seconds are known to cause application errors and this can be a concern for many savvy developers and systems administrators. The 169.254.169.123 clock smooths out leap seconds some period of time (commonly called leap smearing) which makes it easy for your applications to deal with leap seconds.

This timely update should provide immediate benefits to anyone previously relying on an external time synchronization service.

Randall


Source: New feed

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T2 Unlimited – Going Beyond the Burst with High Performance

I first wrote about the T2 instances in the summer of 2014, and talked about how many workloads have a modest demand for continuous compute power and an occasional need for a lot more. This model resonated with our customers; the T2 instances are very popular and are now used to host microservices, low-latency interactive applications, virtual desktops, build & staging environments, prototypes, and the like.

New T2 Unlimited
Today we are extending the burst model that we pioneered with the T2, giving you the ability to sustain high CPU performance over any desired time frame while still keeping your costs as low as possible. You simply enable this feature when you launch your instance; you can also enable it for an instance that is already running. The hourly T2 instance price covers all interim spikes in usage if the average CPU utilization is lower than the baseline over a 24-hour window. There’s a small hourly charge if the instance runs at higher CPU utilization for a prolonged period of time. For example, if you run a t2.micro instance at an average of 15% utilization (5% above the baseline) for 24 hours you will be charged an additional 6 cents (5 cents per vCPU-hour * 1 vCPU * 5% * 24 hours).

To launch a T2 Unlimited instance from the EC2 Console, select any T2 instance and then click on Enable next to T2 Unlimited:

And here’s how to switch a running instance from T2 Standard to T2 Unlimited:

Behind the Scenes
As I described in my original post, each T2 instance accumulates CPU Credits as it runs and consumes them while it is running at full-core speed, decelerating to a baseline level when the supply of Credits is exhausted. T2 Unlimited instances have the ability to borrow an entire day’s worth of future credits, allowing them to perform additional bursting. This borrowing is tracked by the new CPUSurplusCreditBalance CloudWatch metric. When this balance rises to the level where it represents an entire day’s worth of future credits, the instance continues to deliver full-core performance, charged at the rate of $0.05 per vCPU per hour for Linux and $0.096 for Windows. These charged surplus credits are tracked by the new CPUSurplusCreditsCharged metric. You will be charged on a per-millisecond basis for partial hours of bursting (further reducing your costs) if you exhaust your surplus late in a given hour.

The charge for any remaining CPUSurplusCreditBalance is processed when the instance is terminated or configured as a T2 Standard. Any accumulated CPUCreditBalance carries over during the transition to T2 Standard.

The T2 Unlimited model is designed to spare you the trouble of watching the CloudWatch metrics, but (if you are like me) you will do it anyway. Let’s take a quick look at a t2.nano and watch the credits over time. First, CPU utilization grows to 100% and the instance begins to consume 5 credits every 5 minutes (one credit is equivalent to a VCPU-minute):

The CPU credit balance remains at 0 because the credits are being produced and consumed at the same rate. The surplus credit balance (tracked by the CPUSurplusCreditBalance metric) ramps up to 72, representing the credits that are being borrowed from the future:

Once the surplus credit balance hits 72, there’s nothing more to borrow from the future, and any further CPU usage is charged at the end of the hour, tracked with the CPUSurplusCreditsCharged metric. The instance consumes 5 credits every 5 minutes and earns 0.25, resulting in a net charge of 4.75 VCPU-minutes for each 5 minutes of bursting:

You can switch each of your instances back and forth between T2 Standard and T2 Unlimited at any time; all credit balances except CPUSurplusCreditsCharged remain and are carried over. Because T2 Unlimited instances have the ability to burst at any time, they do not receive the 30 minutes of credits given to newly launched T2 Standard instances. Also, since each AWS account can launch a limited number of T2 Standard instances with initial CPU credits each day, T2 Unlimited instances can be a better fit for use in Auto Scaling Groups and other scenarios where large numbers of instances come and go each day.

Available Now
You can launch T2 Unlimited instances today in the US East (Northern Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Northern California), US West (Oregon), Canada (Central), South America (São Paulo), Asia Pacific (Singapore), Asia Pacific (Sydney), Asia Pacific (Tokyo), Asia Pacific (Mumbai), Asia Pacific (Seoul), EU (Frankfurt), EU (Ireland), and EU (London) Regions today.

Jeff;

 


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