Amazon AI platform and more

AWS re:Invent 2016 — 5 biggest takeaways

Gabriela Motroc

Three takeaway food packages image via Shutterstock

It’s that time of the year again. Amazon kicked off its 2016 AWS re:Invent developer conference with a handful of announcements, including three new AI products, AWS Snowmobile, AWS Greengrass and more. Let’s take a look at the most important news.

The audience couldn’t catch a break at this year’s AWS re:Invent developer conference as they were bombarded with one piece of news after another. Jeff Barr, Chief Evangelist for the Amazon Web Services, gathered all the announcements under one roof and explained what they are all about in a blog post. Here are the most important announcements:

Amazon AI platform

AWS CEO Andy Jassy revealed that Amazon has thousands of people dedicated to AI and emphasized that the company does “a lot of AI.” Now that the cat is out of the bag, Amazon is going all in with three different tools launched under the Amazon AI umbrella.


According to Barr’s blog post, “this fully-managed service already analyzes billions of images daily. It has been trained on thousands of objects and scenes, and is now available for you to use in your own applications. You can use the Rekognition Demos to put the service through its paces before dive in and start writing code that uses the Rekognition API. All of this power is accessible from a set of API functions (the console is great for quick demos).”

If this image recognition service sounds familiar, you’re not wrong: Amazon follows in the footsteps of Google and Microsoft (to name a few). However, it might have an ace up its sleeve (although no further details were offered): price.


Lex is basically what’s inside Alexa. According to the announcement, developers can use this service to “build chatbots and other types of web & mobile applications that support engaging, lifelike interactions.”

First, you design your conversation in the Lex Console and provide Lex with some sample phrases that are used to build a natural language model. “Then you publish your Amazon Lex bot and let it process text or voice conversations with your users. Amazon Lex is a fully-managed service so you don’t need to spend time setting up, managing, or scaling any infrastructure,” Barr said.

Although at the moment the chatbot you create can only connect with Facebook MessengerSlack and Twilio integration is in the works as well. Lex also works with  AWS Lambda, AWS Mobile Hub, and Amazon CloudWatch. Your code can make use of Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Cognito, and other services.


Polly is a text-to-speech service “designed to address many of the more challenging aspects of speech generation.” For example, this service detects different pronunciations and knows that a pair of homographs are spelled the same but are pronounced quite differently.

However, that’s not all Polly can do: this service works really well with unadorned text, which means that you provide the text and Polly delivers an audio file or a stream which represents the text in an accurate, natural, and lifelike way.

The service currently supports 47 male and female voices spread across 24 languages.

AWS Snowmobile

AWS Snowmobile might come in handy if you need to move large amounts of on-premises data to the cloud. It can store up to 100 PB of data and can help you to move exabytes to AWS in a matter of weeks. In short, “this secure data truck attaches to your network and appears as a local, NFS-mounted volume. You can use your existing backup and archiving tools to fill it up with data destined for Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) or Amazon Glacier.”

AWS Greengrass

This service “builds on AWS IoT and AWS Lambda, and can also access other AWS services, Barr wrote. It is built for offline operation and greatly simplifies the implementation of local processing. Code running in the field can collect, filter, and aggregate freshly collected data and then push it up to the cloud for long-term storage and further aggregation. It can also take action very quickly, even in cases where connectivity to the cloud is temporarily unavailable.

If you are already developing embedded systems for small devices, you will now be able to make use of modern, cloud-aware development tools and workflows. You can write and test your code in the cloud and then deploy it locally. You can write Python code that responds to device events and you can make use of MQTT-based pub/sub messaging for communication.”

Amazon Aurora update

AWS is adding PostgreSQL support to the AWS Aurora database. When you create your Aurora database instance, all you have to do is choose the PostgreSQL option, and specify your database details. Although this update may seem like Amazon is poking Oracle, it remains to be seen if it can steal clients away from the latter.

Amazon Athena

Amazon Athena is a “serverless query service that makes it easy to analyze large amounts of data stored in Amazon S3 using Standard SQL. You simply point Athena at some data stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), identify your fields, run your queries, and get results in seconds. You don’t have to build, manage, or tune a cluster or any other infrastructure, and you pay only for the queries that you run. ”

The list of announcements doesn’t stop here: developers will be able to rent out new virtual machine (VM) instances by the hour in order to run their applications and get (fast) access to low-cost virtual private servers thanks to Amazon Lightsail. Plus, AWS Snowball Edge “expands the scope of the Snowball, adding more connectivity, more storage, horizontal scalability via clustering, new storage endpoints that can be accessed from existing S3 and NFS clients, and Lambda-powered local processing.”

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments