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AWS adopts home-brewed KVM as new hypervisor

Out with Xen, in with 'core KVM technology' for new C5 instances and future VMs too


AWS has revealed it has created a new hypervisor based on KVM, not the Xen hypervisor on which it has relied for years.

The new hypervisor was unveiled as a virtual footnote in news of new EC2 instance type called the "C5" powered by Intel's Skylake Xeons. AWS's FAQ about the new instances notes "C5 instances use a new EC2 hypervisor that is based on core KVM technology."

That's explosive news, because AWS has long-championed the Xen hypervisor. The Xen Project has drawn strength from the fact the mightiest public cloud uses its open-source wares. Citrix makes much of its Xen Server running a close cousin of AWS's hypervisor.

More interesting still is AWS's news that “going forward, we’ll use this hypervisor to power other instance types.” The internet giant's post teases us with plans to “share additional technical details in a set of AWS re:Invent sessions.”

Which sounds a lot like AWS is giving Xen the flick.

The new hypervisor goes a long way towards explaining why AWS is the last of the big clouds to run Intel's new Skylake Xeon CPUs, because AWS has also revealed the new C5 instances run on what it describes as “a custom processor, optimized for EC2.”

Intel and AWS both say this is a custom 3.0 GHz Xeon Platinum 8000-series processor. Chipzilla has offered a few press-release-grade details of the CPU, saying it worked with AWS on "optimized AI/deep learning engines with the latest version of the Intel Math Kernel Library" and that "MXNet and other deep learning frameworks are highly optimized to run on Amazon EC2 C5 instances."

Intel's done custom Xeons before, offering them to Oracle, among others. AWS buys CPUs by the boatload so it is no surprise Intel's done so again.

The move to KVM is more surprising, but AWS does whatever is needed to tune its cloud for optimal performance. If that means building a hypervisor and making sure it hooks into custom Xeons, so be it.

Whatever it reveals in three weeks, AWS is now saying the C5 instances and their new hypervisor are all about faster throughput, as the new VMs beat its previous best for network and bandwidth connecting to the cloudy concern's elastic block store (EBS).

Here's what AWS has to say in the FAQ:

The new hypervisor for Amazon EC2, introduced with the launch of C5 instances, is a component that primarily provides CPU and memory isolation for C5 instances. VPC networking and EBS storage resources are implemented by dedicated hardware components that are part of all current generation EC2 instance families.

It is built on core Linux Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) technology, but does not include general purpose operating system components.

In other words, network and storage is done elsewhere, rather than in the hypervisor, which concentrates on carving up CPU and memory resources:

The new EC2 hypervisor provides consistent performance and increased compute and memory resources for EC2 virtualized instances by removing host system software components ... This hardware enables the new hypervisor to be very small and uninvolved in data processing tasks for networking and storage.

Eventually all new instance types will use the new EC2 hypervisor, but in the near term, some new instance types will use Xen depending on the requirements of the platform.

Instances running on the new EC2 hypervisor support a maximum of 27 additional PCI devices for EBS volumes and VPC ENIs. Each EBS volume or VPC ENI uses a PCI device. For example, if you attach 3 additional network interfaces to an instance that uses the new EC2 hypervisor, you can attach up to 24 EBS volumes to that instance.

All the public facing APIs for interacting with EC2 instances that run using the new EC2 hypervisor will remain the same. For example, the “hypervisor” field of the DescribeInstances response, which will continue to report “xen” for all EC2 instances, even those running under the new hypervisor. This field may be removed in a future revision of the EC2 API.

You should check the FAQ for the full impact of AWS moving to its new hypervisor. Here's the stats-fest for the new KVM-based C5 instances:

Instance Name vCPUs RAM in GiB EBS* Bandwidth Network Bandwidth
c5.large 2 4 Up to 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.xlarge 4 8 Up to 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.2xlarge 8 16 Up to 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.4xlarge 16 32 2.25 Gbps Up to 10 Gbps
c5.9xlarge 36 72 4.5 Gbps 10 Gbps
c5.18xlarge 72 144 9 Gbps 25 Gbps

Each vCPU is a single thread on the physical CPU Amazon's acquired.

C5 instances are available now in AWS's US East, US West (Oregon), and EU regions, as on-demand or spot servers. The biz promises additional regions will offer them soon. ®

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AWS says it will cloudify your mainframe workloads

Buyer beware, say analysts, technical debt will catch up with you eventually

AWS is trying to help organizations migrate their mainframe-based workloads to the cloud and potentially transform them into modern cloud-native services.

The Mainframe Modernization initiative was unveiled at the cloud giant's Re:Invent conference at the end of last year, where CEO Adam Selipsky claimed that "customers are trying to get off their mainframes as fast as they can."

Whether this is based in reality or not, AWS concedes that such a migration will inevitably involve the customer going through a lengthy and complex process that requires multiple steps to discover, assess, test, and operate the new workload environments.

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AWS sent edgy appliance to the ISS and it worked – just like all the other computers up there

Congrats, AWS, you’ve boldly gone where the Raspberry Pi has already been

Amazon Web Services has proudly revealed that the first completely private expedition to the International Space Station carried one of its Snowcone storage appliances, and that the device worked as advertised.

The Snowcone is a rugged shoebox-sized unit packed full of disk drives – specifically 14 terabytes of solid-state disk – a pair of VCPUs and 4GB of RAM. The latter two components mean the Snowcone can run either EC2 instances or apps written with AWS’s Greengrass IoT product. In either case, the idea is that you take a Snowcone into out-of-the-way places where connectivity is limited, collect data in situ and do some pre-processing on location. Once you return to a location where bandwidth is plentiful, it's assumed you'll upload the contents of a Snowcone into AWS and do real work on it there.

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Now Amazon debuts an AI programming assistant – CodeWhisperer

Did they get GitHub Copilot to write it?

Amazon at its re:Mars conference in Las Vegas on Thursday announced a preview of an automated programming assistance tool called CodeWhisperer.

Available to those who have obtained an invitation through the AWS IDE Toolkit, a plugin for code editors to assist with writing AWS applications, CodeWhisperer is Amazon's answer to GitHub Copilot, an AI (machine learning-based) code generation extension that entered general availability earlier this week.

In a blog post, Jeff Barr, chief evangelist for AWS, said the goal of CodeWhisperer is to make software developers more productive.

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AWS buys before it tries with quantum networking center

Fundamental problems of qubit physics aside, the cloud giant thinks it can help

Nothing in the quantum hardware world is fully cooked yet, but quantum computing is quite a bit further along than quantum networking – an esoteric but potentially significant technology area, particularly for ultra-secure transactions. Amazon Web Services is among those working to bring quantum connectivity from the lab to the real world. 

Short of developing its own quantum processors, AWS has created an ecosystem around existing quantum devices and tools via its Braket (no, that's not a typo) service. While these bits and pieces focus on compute, the tech giant has turned its gaze to quantum networking.

Alongside its Center for Quantum Computing, which it launched in late 2021, AWS has announced the launch of its Center for Quantum Networking. The latter is grandly working to solve "fundamental scientific and engineering challenges and to develop new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks," the internet souk declared.

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Elasticsearch server with no password or encryption leaks a million records

POS and online ordering vendor StoreHub offered free Asian info takeaways

Researchers at security product recommendation service Safety Detectives claim they’ve found almost a million customer records wide open on an Elasticsearch server run by Malaysian point-of-sale software vendor StoreHub.

Safety Detectives’ report states it found a StoreHub sever that stored unencrypted data and was not password protected. The security company’s researchers were therefore able to waltz in and access 1.7 billion records describing the affairs of nearly a million people, in a trove totalling over a terabyte.

StoreHub’s wares offer point of sale and online ordering, and the vendor therefore stores data about businesses that run its product and individual buyers’ activities.

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Oracle cloud growth up 19% but it's still a market minnow

Acquisition of health data specialist Cerner adds $15.8b to Big Red's debt

Oracle has impressed the markets with strong revenue growth for cloud infrastructure and applications-as-a-service.

However, Oracle is still struggling to gain a larger share of the global cloud market, where it lags behind AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Big Red's total revenue for Q4, which ended May 31, hit $11.8 billion, up 5 per cent on the same period a year ago. Total cloud revenue, including infrastructure and software-as-a-service, reached $2.9 billion, up 19 percent. Cloud ERP Fusion revenue increased 20 percent while NetSuite ERP cloud revenue grew 27 per cent.

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Amazon can't channel the dead, but its deepfake voices take a close second

Megacorp shows Alexa speaking like kid's deceased grandma

In the latest episode of Black Mirror, a vast megacorp sells AI software that learns to mimic the voice of a deceased woman whose husband sits weeping over a smart speaker, listening to her dulcet tones.

Only joking – it's Amazon, and this is real life. The experimental feature of the company's virtual assistant, Alexa, was announced at an Amazon conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Rohit Prasad, head scientist for Alexa AI, described the tech as a means to build trust between human and machine, enabling Alexa to "make the memories last" when "so many of us have lost someone we love" during the pandemic.

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Price hikes, cloud expansion drive record datacenter spending

High unit costs and fixed capex budgets propelling enterprises cloudwards

The major hyperscalers and cloud providers are forecast to spend 25 percent more on datacenter infrastructure this year to $18 billion following record investments in the opening three months of 2022.

This is according to Dell’Oro Group research, which found new cloud deployments and higher per-unit infrastructure costs underpinned capex spending in Q1, which grew at its fastest pace in nearly three years, the report found.

Datacenter spending is expected to receive an additional boost later this year as the top four cloud providers expand their services to as many as 30 new regions and memory prices trend upward ahead of Intel and AMD’s next-gen processor families, Dell’Oro analyst Baron Fung told The Register

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AWS launches fresh challenges to on-prem hardware vendors

Offers alternative to vanilla servers and recruits world's biggest tech distributors to push hybrid storage appliance

Amazon Web Services has launched two significant challenges to on-prem hardware.

One is the addition of Dedicated Hosts to its on-prem cloud-in-a-box Outposts product.

Outposts see AWS drop a rack full of kit, or individual servers, onto customers' premises. AWS manages that hardware, which is designed to run its own cloud services such as the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) on-prem.

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Amazon finally opens doors to its serverless analytics

Still managing app servers by hand? What is this, 2012?

If you want to run analytics in a serverless cloud environment, Amazon Web Services reckons it can help you out all while reducing your operating costs and simplifying deployments.

As is typical for Amazon, the cloud giant previewed this EMR Serverless platform – EMR once meaning Elastic MapReduce – at its Re:Invent conference in December, and only opened the services to the public this week.

AWS is no stranger to serverless with products like Lambda. However, its EMR offering specifically targets analytics workloads, such as those using Apache Spark, Hive, and Presto.

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