Leading up to AWS Summit Singapore, we’re sharing our conversation with keynote speaker Olivier Klein about his work with emerging technology and about the overlap between “emerging technology” and “cloud security.”
You’re the “Head of Emerging Technologies in the APAC region” on your team at AWS. What kind of work do you do?
I continuously explore new technologies. By “technologies”, I don’t only mean AWS services, but also technologies that exists in the wider market. My goal is to understand how these developments can help our customers chart the course of their own digital transformation. There’s a lot happening—including advances in AWS offerings. I’m seeing evolution in terms of core AWS compute, storage and database services all the way up to higher-level services such as AI, machine learning services, deep learning, augmented or virtual reality, and even cryptographically verifiable distributed data stores (such as blockchain). My role involves taking in all these various facets of “emerging technology” and answering the question: how do these innovations help our customers solve problems or improve their businesses? Then I work to provide best practices around which type of technology is best at solving which particular type of challenge.
Given the rapid pace of technological development, how do you keep track of what’s happening in the space?
My approach is two-fold. First, there’s the element of exploring new technologies and trying to wrap my own head around them to see how they can be useful. But I’m guided by the Amazon way of approaching a challenge: that is, I work backward from the customer. I try to closely monitor the types of challenges our customers are facing. Based on what I’ve seen first-hand, plus the feedback I’ve received from the rest of my team and from Solutions Architects out in the field on what customers are struggling with, I figure out which technologies would help address those pain points.
I’m a technologist; I get excited by technology. But I don’t believe in using new technologies just for the sake of using them. The technology should solve for a particular business outcome. For example, two of my recent areas of focus are artificial intelligence and machine learning. A lot of companies are either already using some form of machine learning or AI, or looking into it. But it’s not something you should do just for the sake of doing it. You need to figure out the specific business outcomes you want to achieve, and then decide which kinds of technology can help. Maybe machine learning is part of it. In the space of computer vision and natural language processing I’ve seen a lot of recent advancement that allows you to tackle new use cases and scenarios. But machine learning won’t always be the right kind of technology for you. So my primary focus is on helping customers makes sense of what types of tech they should be using to address specific scenarios and solve for specific business outcomes.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
It’s really exciting to see how technology can come to life and solve interesting problems at scale across many different industries, and for customer of all sizes, from startups to medium-sized businesses to large enterprises. They all face interesting challenges and it’s rewarding to be able to assist in that problem-solving process.
How would you describe the relationship between “emerging tech” and “cloud security”?
Security is a changing landscape. Earlier, I mentioned that machine learning and AI are an area of emerging tech that I focus on and that a lot of customers are getting on top of. I think similar trends are happening in the cloud security space. Traditionally, if you think of “security,” you probably think about physical boundaries, firewalls, and boxes that you need to protect. But when you move to the cloud, you have to rethink that model—the cloud offers all sorts of new capabilities. Take for example Amazon Macie, a service that allows you to use machine learning to understand data access patterns, to classify your data, to understand which data sets have personally identifiable information, and to potentially serve as a protection mechanism to ensure your data privacy.
More broadly, a cloud environment fundamentally changes what you’re able to do with security: Everything is programmable. Everything can be event-driven. Everything is code. An entire infrastructure can be put together as code. By this, I mean that you have the ability to detect and understand changes within your environment as they happen. You can have automated rules, automated account configurations, and machine learning algorithms that verify any kind of change. These systems can not only make your environment fully auditable, they can prevent changes as they’re happening, whether that’s a potential threat or an alteration to the environment that could carry security risk. Before this, securing your environment meant going through approvals, setting and configuring servers, routers and firewalls, and putting a lot of boundaries around them. That approach can work, but it doesn’t scale well, and it doesn’t always accommodate this new world where people want to experiment and be agile without compromising on security.
Security remains the most important consideration—but if you move to the cloud, you have a plethora of services that enable to you to create a controlled environment where any activity can immediately be checked against your security posture. Ultimately, this allows security professionals to become enablers. They can help people build effectively and securely, instead of the more traditional model of, “Here’s a list of all the things you can’t do.”
What are some of the most common misperceptions that you encounter about cloud security?
The cloud takes away the heavy lifting traditionally associated with security, and I’ve found that for some people, this is a difficult mental shift. AWS removes the entire problem of the physical boundaries and protections that you need to put in place to secure your servers and your data centers, and instead allows you to focus on securing and building applications.
Physical environments tend to foster a more reactive way of thinking about security. For example, you can log everything, and if something goes wrong, you can go back and check the logs to see what happened—but because there are so many manual interactions involved, it’s probably not a fast process. You’re always a little behind. AWS enables you to be much more proactive. For example, you might use AWS CloudTrail, which logs any kind of activity in your account against the entire AWS platform, and you might combine CloudTrail with AWS Config, which allows you to look at any configurational change within your environment and track it over a period of time. Combined, these services allow you to say, “If any change within my environment matches X set of rules, I want to be notified. If the change is compliant with the rules that I’ve set up, great—carry on. If it isn’t, I want to immediately revoke or remove the change, or maybe revoke the permissions or the credentials of the individual responsible for the change.” And we can give you a bunch of predefined rule sets that are ready to be compliant with certain scenarios, or you can build your own. Compare this to a physical data center: If someone goes and cuts a cable, how do you look into that? How long does it take? On AWS, any change can immediately be verified against your rule sets. You can immediately know what happened and can immediately and automatically take action. That’s a fundamental game changer for security—the ability to react as it happens. This difference is something that I really try to emphasize for our customers.
In your experience, how does the cloud adoption landscape differ between APAC and other markets?
In the Asia Pacific market, we have a lot of new companies starting to pop up and build against the entire global ecosystem, and against an entire global platform from their regions, which I think is really exciting. It’s a very fast-moving market. One of the key benefits of using AWS products and services is the tremendous agility that you get. You have the ability to build things fairly easily, create platforms and services at very large scale across multiple geographies, build them up, tear them down, and experiment with them using a plethora of services. I think in 2018, on average, we had three to five new capabilities made available to any developer—to any builder out there—every single day. That’s a fundamental game changer in the way you build systems. It’s really exciting to see what our customers are doing with all the new services and features.
What are some of the challenges—security or otherwise—that you see customers frequently face as they move to the cloud?
I think it comes back to that same challenge of showing customers that they don’t just need to take an existing model—whether their security infrastructure or anything else—and move it into a cloud environment without making any changes. You can do that, if you want. We provide you with many migration and integration services to do so effectively. But I really encourage customers to ask themselves, “How can I re-architect to optimize the benefits I’m getting from AWS for the specific use cases and applications I’m building?”
I believe that the true benefits of cloud computing come if you build in a way that’s either cloud-native or optimized for best practices. AWS allows you to build applications in a very agile, but also very lean manner. Look at concepts such as containerization, or even the idea of deploying applications that are completely serverless on top of AWS—you basically just deploy the code pieces for your application, we fully run and manage it, and you only pay for the execution time. Or look at storage or databases: traditionally, it might have made sense to put everything into a relational database. But if you want to build in a really agile, scalable, and cost-effective manner, that might not be the best option. And again, AWS provides you with so many choices: you can choose a database that allows you to look at relations, a database that allows you to run at hyper-growth scale across multiple geographies at the same time, a database for key value pair stores, graph-relation or timeseries focused databases, and so on. There are many different ways you can build on AWS to optimize for your particular use case. Initially it might be hard to wrap your head around this new way of building modern applications, but I believe that the benefits in terms of agility, cost effectiveness, and sheer possible hyperscale without headaches are worth it.
You’re one of the keynote speakers at the Singapore Summit. What are some themes you’ll be focusing on?
I’ll be speaking on the first day, which is what we call the Tech Fest. My keynote will primarily focus on the technology behind AWS products and services, and on how we build modern applications and modern data architectures. By that, I mean that we’ll take a look into what modern application architectures look like, how to effectively make use of data and how to build highly-scalable applications that are portable. In the Asia Pacific region, there’s a strong interest in mobile-first or web-first design. So how do we build effectively for those platforms? I’ll use my talk to look at some of the elements of distributed computing: how do you effectively build for a global, large-scale user base? How does distributed computing work? How do you use the appropriate AWS services and techniques to ensure that your last mile, even in remote areas, is done correctly?
I’ll also talk about the concept of data analytics and how to build effective data analysis on top of AWS to get meaningful insights, potentially in real-time. Beyond insights, we’ll have a look at using AI and machine learning to further create better customer experiences. Then I’ll wrap up with a look into robotics. We’ll have a variety of different interesting live demos across all of these topics.
What are you hoping that your audience will do differently as a result of your keynote?
One of the things I want people to take away is that, while there are numerous options for exactly how you build on AWS, there are some very common patterns for applying best practices. Don’t just build your applications and platforms in the old, traditional way of monolithic applications and physical blocks of services and firewalls. Instead, ask yourself, “How do I design modern-day application architectures? How do I make use of the information and data I’m collecting to build a better customer experience? How do I choose the best tools for my use case?” These are all things that we’ll talk about during the keynote. The workshops and bootcamps during the rest of the event are then designed to give you hands-on experience figuring out how to make use of various AWS services and techniques so that you can build in a cloud-native manner.
What else should visitors to Singapore take the time to do or see while they’re there?
I used to live in Singapore (although I currently live in Hong Kong). So if you’re visiting, one thing you should definitely check out is the hawker centers, which are the local food courts, and where you can try some great local delicacies. One of my personal favorites is a dish called bak kut teh. If you’re into an herbal soup experience, you should check it out. And if you’ve never been to Singapore, go to the Marina Bay, take a picture with the Merlion, which is the national symbol of Singapore, and enjoy the wonderful landscape and skyline.
You have an advanced certification with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors. Where is your favorite place to dive?
I live very close to some of the Southeast Asian seas, which have wonderful dive spots all over. It’s hard to pick a favorite. But one that stands out is a place called Sipadan. Sipadan was one of my most amazing dive experiences: I did one of those morning dives where you go out on the boat, the sun is just about to come up, you jump into the sea, and the entire marine world wakes up. It’s a natural marine park, so even if you don’t scuba dive and just snorkel, there’s probably no place you can go to see more fish, and sharks, and turtles.
If you’ve never tried scuba diving, I’d recommend it. Snorkeling is great, but scuba diving gives you a fundamentally different experience. It’s much more calming. While snorkeling, you hear your breathing as you swim around. But if you scuba dive, and you’ve got good control of your buoyancy, you can just hover in the water and quietly watch aquatic life pass around you. With quiet like that, marine life is less afraid and approaches you more easily.
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