AWS Roundup: IoT buttons hit the enterprise, Directory launch and more

January was slow, but we still got some new functionality

Amazon Web Services got off to a slow start in January, taking its time to sleep off the New Year’s festivities. But the cloud provider got up to speed by the end of the month, launching a handful of new products for its customers to work with.

Last year, the cloud provider launched 1,017 new features, according to the fourth-quarter earnings report Amazon released last month. Here’s the breakdown of what you need to know about Amazon’s January news:

IoT Buttons dash into the enterprise

Last year, Amazon launched Dash buttons to consumers, small devices that people could program to reorder household products from the online retailer with a press. Now, the company is letting enterprises create their own.

The AWS IoT Button Enterprise Program will give businesses access to the same hardware, along with tools to build custom functionality for a fleet of buttons.

Businesses will need to purchase at least 10,000 of the buttons in one go and can put their own artwork on them. The buttons are automatically provisioned to work with AWS services, so they can be easily set up to do things like kick off a Lambda function or put an object in an S3 bucket.

The idea behind the buttons is to let businesses make it easier for customers to perform repetitive actions, like ordering a pizza or requesting customer service.

Developers can also buy a few generic IoT buttons from Amazon’s retail site to let them prototype the functionality they would want to build for a larger deployment, before shelling out for thousands of the devices.

WorkSpaces virtual desktops get free SSDs and cost optimization

Amazon’s WorkSpaces cloud virtual desktop service got more appealing for free last month. The company announced that all newly-launched virtual desktops will use SSD volumes as their attached storage by default for no additional charge.

Existing WorkSpaces can be rebuilt to take advantage of the new, faster storage. Doing so means that Amazon will restore the virtual data drive using a WorkSpace’s last available automatic snapshot, and restore the virtual system drive. Importantly, that means any changes to the system drive will be erased as a result of a rebuild, so administrators should be careful.

In addition to that, Amazon launched a WorkSpaces Cost Optimizer that tries to automatically find the most cost-effective billing options for each virtual desktop environment. It’s deployed through a CloudFormation template and uses a number of AWS services to determine and automatically toggle a WorkSpace between hourly and monthly billing, based on what’s cheapest.

Administrators can deploy the Cost Optimizer as-is or take apart the template that AWS has created, see how it works, and even modify it for their own needs. It’s not free, of course, because it uses AWS services to determine what changes to make.

Amazon Cloud Directory helps store hierarchical data

AWS launched a new managed service that’s aimed at helping businesses store strongly typed data in its data centers, with the service appropriately named Amazon Cloud Directory. It’s designed to replace existing systems that use Active Directory Lightweight Directory Service or an LDAP-based system.

Cloud Directory supports storing data in multiple hierarchies, such as a user directory that has location, project and management chain information.

AWS already uses Cloud Directory as the foundation for services like its Cognito cloud identity management offering and Organizations, which helps with the creation of multiple connected Amazon cloud accounts.

Cloud Directory is now generally available from AWS’s Northern Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, Sydney, Ireland, and Singapore cloud regions. Users pay for the amount of data stored in a Cloud Directory, the number of read operations and the number of write operations.

MySQL to Aurora migrations get even easier

AWS really wants users to migrate their relational database workloads from MySQL to its Aurora database engine. But getting data from a constantly-updating, mission-critical application to into a new database is a tough proposition.

That’s why the cloud provider launched a new feature that creates a live, synchronized Aurora read replica from a MySQL database running in AWS’s managed Relational Database Service (RDS). Users set it up by opening the AWS Management Console, selecting an RDS MySQL database, and clicking on the “Create Aurora Read Replica” button.

After that, AWS will do the work in the background to copy up to 6TB of data from the MySQL database to the replica. Users can track the progress of that replication using the AWS console.

Once the replica lag reaches zero (an Aurora replica is in sync with its corresponding MySQL database) it’s possible to promote the copy to a full database cluster, and then switch an application over to use the new source. At least in theory, that should help minimize downtime.

The feature is another enhancement to Aurora, which AWS executives will proudly point out is the cloud provider’s fastest-growing service, ever. This news comes after Amazon added beta support for using Aurora with PostgreSQL databases at its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas last November.

All of the major cloud providers got off to a slow start at the opening of the year, but don’t expect 2017 to be a snooze: Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all made substantial announcements since then.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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