Amazon Web Services, Your Entry Into the Cloud Revolution

Cristian Duque, Vincent Quah and E-Learn Team
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Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a fast and reliable cloud technology. By creating powerful, simple-to-deploy services, AWS has brought the cloud services into mainstream. Blackboard has begun a global mission to educate new and existing customers about their newest offering, Blackboard Learn on AWS offering. From a high-performing learning management system (LMS), to research and innovation, the cloud provide many opportunities for educational technology.

To set things off, the Asia-Pacific region was chosen as one of the focal points for this initiative. On an interview with Vincent Quah, AWS Business Lead for Education, Research and Not-for-Profit in this diverse territory —which includes India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand— he reveals details and the benefits in store for customers, and his unique vantage points to understanding the Education customer both locally and globally.

The Sophisticated Asia-Pacific Educational Technology Customer

Talk to us about the AWS customer. How has their interest and relationship to the cloud evolved in recent years?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

Cloud has become the new normal as organizations of every size are now deploying new applications to the cloud by default, and looking to migrate as many of their existing applications as they can as quickly as possible. The question isn’t “if” anymore, it’s really just “how fast can we move to the cloud?” and “what are we going to move first?” To-date, we have millions of active customers ranging from startups, small-and-medium companies, large enterprises, government agencies, non-profits organizations to education institutions. Examples of use cases include: The Michael J. Fox Foundation, The University of Chicago, Stanford University and The University of Western Australia, just to name a few.

What has made customers more open to the cloud?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

There are five reasons organizations are moving so quickly to the AWS cloud.

The first is agility. AWS lets customers quickly spin up resources as they need them, deploying hundreds or even thousands of servers in minutes. This means they can very quickly develop and roll out new applications, and it means teams can experiment and innovate more quickly and frequently. If an experiment fails, you can always de-provision those servers without risk.

The second reason is cost savings. AWS allows customers to trade capital expense for variable expense, paying for IT as they consume it. And, the variable expense is much lower than what customers can do for themselves because of AWS’s economies of scale. For example, San Francisco State University has found out that by using AWS, they were able to greatly reduce their turnaround time for scientific query as well as to help them save their computing cost by 20 times.

The third reason is elasticity. Customers used to over provision to ensure they had enough capacity to handle their business operations at the peak level of activity. Now, they can provision the amount of resources that they actually need, knowing they can instantly scale up or down along with the needs of their business, which also reduces cost and improves the customer’s ability to meet their user’s demands.

The fourth reason is the breadth of functionality that exists in AWS. We have more than any other cloud provider.and we continue to add new capabilities and new services at an accelerating pace. In 2016, we launched more than 1000 new significant services and features. Customers benefit from this continual evolution, innovation and iteration, because they get the newest features and enhancements instantly.

The fifth reason is that AWS enables customers to deploy their applications and services globally in minutes. AWS has the concept of a Region, which is a physical location around the world where we clusters of data centers. Using AWS, customers can leverage 16 geographic Regions worldwide to expand their services.

What are the most common education customers?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

Every institution’s journey to the cloud is different. However, there are some broad trends that we have noticed:

Most of them start with something simple, like a website project for development and testing. Once they gain understanding and familiarity with AWS, they begin to explore more specific types of projects. Mobile application development is particularly popular on the cloud. They will then go on to migrate their current on-premises core applications to the cloud, or develop new cloud-native services by leveraging more than 90 AWS cloud services to accelerate their app development,. Eventually, they consolidate their datacenters and move all-in to AWS to take advantage of the agility of the cloud.

Our range of education customers is wide. We have a lot of educational technology companies using AWS which includes Blackboard, as well as education institutions such as the University of Chicago and the University of Western Australia. We have many case studies that our customers can access on our website. We also have K-12 institutions education publishers. Macmillan Learning from India, for example, is running its API (Application Programming Interface) solution on AWS. It’s a very wide range of customers.

What can you tell us about the countries in your region?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

There is a correlation on clear public policies around how governments and institutions view cloud computing. Two good examples would be the Australian government and the Philippines government on their cloud policy documentation.

The Bureau of Custom of the Philippines was able to develop and complete the production deployment of their Advanced Manifest System in just three months, validating its ability to comply with the government’s Customs Modernization and Tariffs Act (CMTA) obligations and paving the way for other government departments and agencies to adopt AWS Cloud services.

AWS, the Default Blackboard Infrastructure Provider

It was announced that AWS will become a cloud infrastructure provider for Blackboard services. What does it mean for a Blackboard customer?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

The global infrastructure of AWS will make it very easy for Blackboard to deliver services anywhere in the world. Our years of experience and focus on operation performance means customers can expect high reliability.

Another aspect that is very important is security. AWS makes available a number of security capabilities that allow Blackboard to take advantage of these capabilities and deliver learning services to their customers that will help secure and protect their data.

It’s very easy for Blackboard to add customers to their learning platform so they can experience their services supported by AWS right away. This gives them access to an infrastructure that is highly available.

How is AWS making sure its infrastructure is ready to handle education and learning customers, in your region and the world?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

We have 16 AWS Regions across the world. In each Region, we have a concept of “Availability Zones,” which refer to clusters of data centers in separate distinct locations within a single AWS Region that are engineered to be operationally independent of other Availability Zones, with independent power, cooling, physical security, and are interconnected via a low latency network. AWS customers focused on running high availability applications can architect their applications to run in multiple Availability Zones to achieve even higher resilience. There are currently a total of 44 Availability Zones globally. Tens of thousands of government agencies, education institutions, and nonprofit organizations around the world are using AWS.

Vincent Quah’s Vantage Points

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.
Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

How did you end up in the educational and non-commercial side of the business?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

I started my working life as a university researcher. I was a trained microbiologist and geneticist. I have always been interested in teaching, learning, education and research.

When I had a chance to move to the private sector, I started off as an instructional designer. I got more involved with technology in teaching and learning, finally driving the business for the education sector.

Do you interact with customers on a day-to-day basis?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

Absolutely! We are obsessed with helping customers and innovating on behalf of customers. It’s very important for me to understand what they are trying to achieve or the challenges they are working to overcome, and help them solve their specific problems. That’s what we care about: helping our customers meet their missions and goals.

We regularly share information about our best practices, tools and resources with customers and new prospects. It’s important for me to make sure they understand how to optimize the use of AWS. With more experienced customers, we go into actual project details, working with them to leverage our advanced technology.

"Innovation is not only about having brilliant ideas, but also about building new ideas upon previous ones."

Do you have a final recommendation for customers of educational technologies interested in the cloud?

Vincent Quah in Amazon office Singapore. Photo: AFP Danial Hakim.

Innovation is not only about having brilliant ideas, but also about building new ideas upon previous ones. These ideas must be expressed in tangible ways and cloud computing is a great testbed to develop all types of innovation.

I believe universities are called to be innovation role models, facilitating an environment where experimentation of new ideas can take place without any fear of failure as the cost of failure is very low with the cloud. This allows customers to try out any many experiments as they want, so that they can learn from the lesson.

Cloud is now the new normal. That’s why so many universities are already using AWS in so many innovative ways.

* Vincent Quah, Business Lead, Education, Research, Not for Profit, Asia-Pacific, Amazon Web Services.

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