With the big announcement last week between AWS and VMware, I know a number of folks have been wanting to learn more about the underlying hardware that currently powers the AWS Cloud including VMware Cloud on AWS and eventually the new VMware Cloud on AWS Outposts offering. Historically, AWS has not shared much information about their own hardware platform, but have started to talk more openly about their systems in the last two years.
At reInvent 2018, I had attended an awesome deep dive session Powering Next-Gen EC2 Instances: Deep Dive into the Nitro System by Anthony Liguori, a Sr. Principal Engineer who lead both the Nitro and Outposts development. This was a great talk providing some insights into the development of Nitro and the various components that makeup the system such as the Nitro cards, which provides hardware offload for both Storage and Networking and new in this years session, the Nitro Security Chip, which actually reminds me of the new Apple T2 Security Chip. Below is the recording for those that were not able to attend, definitely recommend a watch!
Another session that I had attended, which I think is also relevant to better understand the Nitro platform was Introducing Amazon EC2 A1 Instances Based on the Arm Architecture. Although this session focused on the newly announced A1 ARM instance type, it also highlights a very important fact that AWS can now design their own silicon and deliver unique new capabilities without being restricted by what the rest of the industry is doing or what hardware is currently available in the market. The acquisition of Annapurnla Labs, a fabless semi-conductor, was a great move by AWS. This was the team behind the development of both the Nitro Network and Storage adapter as well as Nitro Security Chip and now the A1 ARM instance type. This is simliar to the Apple model, where AWS can design their own chips in-house and then outsource the actual fabrication of the chips to a third-party, which removes a ton of risks from running and operating their own foundry.
An interesting thing that stood out to me during the ARM session was that AWS could reduce the cost of certain workloads with their new A1 Instance type. Their claim was that for general purposes workloads, those that can take advantage of multiple CPUs, a cost reduction up to 45% is possible. The application did not have to be ARM specific nor did it require a re-write and customers were encourage to profile their application to understand if they could benefit from the new platform and reduce their overall cost. The session also included a presentation by SmugMug, a customer who had early access to A1 provide some insights on their actual savings which was 40%. I had not heard of SmugMug before, but apparently they had acquired Flickr recently and they saw huge benefits in their image processing when using the new A1 Instance type. I suspect this is only the beginning for AWS an Annapurna Labs and you will start to see more hardware instance types that will be optimized for specific types of workloads.
With AWS entering the datacenter hardware infrastructure business, I think they will be a serious contender in the market and challenge the industry as a whole in how server hardware, not just compute but also storage and networking is designed, built and delivered. I am looking forward to all the new innovations that will be in result to a new player in the market. Definitely some exciting times ahead!
Here are some additional reInvent 2018 sessions that I was not able to attend in person but had watched after the conference and gives some additional details about Nitro platform and chip designs:
- Amazon EC2 Foundations (CMP208)
- Amazon on Amazon: How Amazon Designs Chips on AWS (MFG305) (32:24 starts talking about the actual chip design at AWS)
Here are two additional reInvent 2017 sessions that is also worth checking out if you enjoyed Anythony's session this year as well as the introduction of the VMware Cloud on AWS offering from last year:
- C5 Instances and the Evolution of Amazon EC2 Virtualization (CMP332)
- Amazon EC2 Bare Metal Instances (CMP330)