AWS re:Invent, Las Vegas, 2019

I am attending my first AWS re:Invent conference, Las Vegas December 2-6, 2019.

The conference is enormous, with over 60,000 attendees who command most of the big resorts on the strip.

Yesterday I participated in a Security Certification Bootcamp (proper name AWS Certification Exam Readiness: Security – Specialty) and this morning I wrote the certification exam proper; three hours long, 65 questions, and I had 3 minutes to spare at the end. Let’s face it, the exam is hard, and requires studying. I was successful, but it required steady studying over the last 3 months. The AWS certification exams are challenging, but one does learn a lot. As an academic the hardness of the exams is a good thing as it says that this material has a legitimate role to play in academia, especially as we make it accessible to our students, and deploy it toward our research.

How did I prepare? In addition to reading the requisite white papers (such as Introduction to AWS Security Processes and AWS Best Practices for DDoS Resiliency), I was fortunate enough to have access to the Cloud Guru training in security. Their 10 to 15 minute lessons in all the topics are easy to absorb, and the summaries and quizzes are a good preparation for the exam.

I have been teaching Cybersecurity for over a decade, but the AWS security exam is not about foundations of Cybersecurity — it is about how to use AWS tools in order to achieve security objectives; this kind of knowledge arises not from learning principles or cryptography (although that does help too!), but rather from in-depth familiarity with AWS tools, such as CloudTrail, Inspector, Macie, Athena, CloudWatch, KMS, and many many others. My plan now is to incorporate this knowledge into our CI class in Cybersecurity, COMP 524, so that students will have knowledge of fundamentals as well as an understanding of security in the (relatively new) paradigm of cloud computing. COMP 524 students will have the additional benefit of covering the content of the certification

I should also say that even though foundational knowledge such as cryptography is not tested directly, it is nevertheless helpful. For example, a good portion of the exam relates to keys, specifically AWS KMS. It is much easier to remember when symmetric keys are used (e.g., S3 encryption with AES256) rather than asymmetric keys (i.e., public keys, e.g., key pairs to SSH into EC2) when one actually understand the difference between the two. Or, for example, why hashing of encrypted logs in S3 can help with data integrity measures for backups.

The Bootcamp that I took the day before was perhaps the least helpful toward success in the exam. I would suggest to take the bootcamp at the beginning of your studies toward passing the certification exam, as a quick bird-eye overview of what needs to be mastered. I sat through the bootcamp listening to what I knew already, without the possibility of going more in depth (we had 4 hours total), and without the audience being able to ask questions, as the instructor was rushing to cover the material.

Quick Tip: AWS is uncanny in its rolling out of new tools and features, most really captivating and useful. However, keep in mind that a tool or feature that is younger than 6 months will likely not make it to the exam. As I understand, the exam process is too exacting to be done quickly, and hence it take some time before new material is incorporated.

Tech jobs: Python programming language and AWS skills demand has exploded

Python’s rapid rise is often attributed to the growth in data science and the current interest in machine learning and artificial intelligence, aided by a wealth of third-party Python packages and developer tools.

Indeed’s interactive graph shows that demand for developers with knowledge of AWS has also boomed over the past five years. Today, some 14% of job listings require knowledge of AWS.

Source: Tech jobs: Python programming language and AWS skills demand has exploded | ZDNet

AWS training at CI in the Spring 2020

For questions please contact: jeff.ziskin@csuci.edu (805-437-2653)

In the Spring 2020 I am going to teach two classes on Amazon Web Services (AWS), under the auspices of the AWS Academy, both open to the public:

  1. Cloud Foundations: from January 11 to January 25, with two in-person meetings (Saturday January 11 and Saturday January 25), and online otherwise.
  2. Cloud Architecting: from March 7 to March 21, with two in-person meetings (Saturday March 7 and Saturday March 21), and online otherwise.

We are following exactly the AWS curriculum, and students will be provided AWS Educate cloud accounts with credits for the duration of the classes, as well as vouchers for writing the corresponding certification exams.

America’s Got Talent, Just Not Enough in IT – WSJ

Six-figure bonuses, outsize equity stakes and the flexibility to work from just about anywhere: These are some of the perks companies are offering information-technology workers as they compete for talent in a tight labor market, job seekers and recruiters say.“

Recruiters are feeling the pressure, from the chief executive officer down to the hiring manager, and are working extremely hard to find that tech talent,” said James Atkinson, vice president of quantitative analytics and data science at research and advisory firm Gartner Inc.

Gartner estimates that most large U.S. companies are competing to fill many of the same technology roles, including computer and information research scientists, systems managers, analysts, engineers and software architects. “Nearly a third of the most critical roles, like tech talent, are left unfilled after five months, costing millions in lost productivity on the table for each company every year,” Mr. Atkinson said.

Demand for these workers is growing as companies world-wide seek an edge over competitors by using technology such as cloud computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence. Global spending on these and other enterprise IT tools is expected to reach $3.79 trillion this year, up 1.1% from 2018, Gartner said.

In the first half of 2019, tech job postings in the U.S. rose 32% from a year earlier, according to federal employment data analyzed by IT trade group CompTIA. In the past three months, U.S. employers had about 918,000 unfilled IT jobs, CompTIA said.

While some companies are racing to train existing staff in high-demand skills, others are buying smaller tech ventures to acquire IT workers.

Some of the biggest companies are adding to their arsenal of tools to secure the right employees, said Michael Solomon, co-founder and managing partner at 10x Ascend, an advisory firm for senior technology job seekers.

Source: America’s Got Talent, Just Not Enough in IT – WSJ

Winter class at CI in Cloud Computing

Last week we sent a Qualtrics survey to our Computer Science and IT students to gage the demand for a Cloud Foundations class this winter session (December 21 to January 19).

This class would be taught online, as a COMP 490, using the resources we have at our disposal as part of the AWS Academy. The class would count as an elective, with cost-free AWS accounts for students, as well as vouchers to take the certification exam from AWS (for those who want to do so).

This class would be a good preparation especially for those students who will be looking for jobs, as “Cloud Computing” skills have ranked #1 on LinkedIn and other sites over the last 5 years!

Given the resounding interest in the class as shown on the Qualtrics survey:

we have decided to offer the class if there indeed is enough enrollment and the class is approved. The provisional web site for the class is here.

Energy consumption of data centers

The music video for “Despacito” set an Internet record in April 2018 when it became the first video to hit five billion views on YouTube. In the process, “Despacito” reached a less celebrated milestone: it burned as much energy as 40,000 U.S. homes use in a year. 

Computer servers, which store website data and share it with other computers and mobile devices, create the magic of the virtual world. But every search, click, or streamed video sets several servers to work — a Google search for “Despacito” activates servers in six to eight data centers around the world — consuming very real energy resources.

fortune.com/2019/09/18/internet-cloud-server-data-center-energy-consumption-renewable-coal/

KES 2020

Excited about KES 2020, which is going to take place in Verona, Italy, September 16-18, 2020.

From the conference’s web site: The conference will be held across the Beautiful University Pole Santa Marta Campus only 1km from the historical centre of Verona. Verona is a city in northern Italy’s Veneto region, with a medieval old town built between the meandering Adige River. It’s famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. A 14th-century residence with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard is said to “Juliet’s House”.

For more information visit: http://kes2020.kesinternational.org/

KES 2019

September 4-6, 2019, we attended a very enjoyable and informative KES 2019 conference in Budapest. We presented 3 papers at the conference, co-authored with CI graduate and undergraduate students (see this post for details).

AWS Imagine edu conference

Seattle, July 8-11, 2019

AWS IMAGINE: A Better World, A Global Education Conference

I am attending the AWS Imagine education conference in Seattle. This is a conference hosted by AWS for educators who are interested in offering an AWS based Cloud Computing track at their institutions. I am happy that in the keynote by Andrew Ko, the CSU was mentioned as one of the partner university system: at CI we are offering Cloud Computing with AWS tools to our students, and we are also leveraging the resources of AWS for research. The San Luis Obispo (SLO) campus has been working with AWS tools as well (see Cal Poly Launches World’s First University-Based Cloud Innovation Center Powered by Amazon Web Services). I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Lupo, the chair of Comp Sci at SLO; other CSU campuses, such as Northridge, have also worked with AWS.

Education is built on AWS slide

Partnering with AWS: Community Colleges (CC) have already partnered with AWS in some states. At the conference we heard from Sharron Morrissey from the Virginia Community College System, where AWS was introduced comprehensively in the entire system. The Virginia CCs are able to capitalize on the fact that Amazon chose Arlington (Virginia) as the site for its 2nd headquarters, and the preponderance of data-centers in Virginia. We also heard from Monty Sullivan, the president of the Louisiana Community Colleges system, who spoke about “educational institutions are not any more in the business of furnishing diplomas, but rather they are the gateway into the job market”. Finally, we heard from Sheneui Weber who spoke about the CCs in California, and their thriving partnership with AWS: she cited a study showing that there are about unfilled 30,000 jobs in Cloud Computing in LA County and Orange County, and 5,000 of those jobs specifically mention AWS.

Amazon Fiona building

On Monday, at the Amazon Fiona building, I attended an excellent workshop conducted by the AWS Educate team on how to integrate the AWS curriculum in different degrees – my interest was to explore the possibility of introducing AWS into the Computer Science program (or the IT program) at CI. Some of the resources that AWS offers could also be deployed in our Mechatronics Engineering program (such as AWS Robomaker). At the workshop I was interested in the experience of George Mason University that partnered with Nova and AWS. Just last month this partnership announced a Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) pathway in cloud computing.

For us at CI, the benefits of such a pathway would be as follows:

  • As we have a hands on practical degree, we are more or less ready; we would have to introduce examples of AWS tools in 3 or 4 courses, such as Networking (COMP 429), Databases (COMP 420) and Cybersecurity (COMP 424), and possibly some DevOps in our Software Engineering class (COMP 350).
  • Once approved by Amazon Educate, students would have then the ability to have educational AWS accounts with some credits, as well as access to the AWS job forum, and vouchers for AWS certification. They would also be more ready for the rapidly expanding Cloud Computing job market.

As a university we have to be technology agnostic to some extent, but since AWS is a platform, on which one can deploy practically any technology, we would not be teaching one tool. Also, we should compare and contrast the AWS offering to other solutions such as Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure. In any case, Cloud Computing is becoming the new computing paradigm, and in order to give our students the best degree possible, we need to teach it.

Rich Mendola from Emory on Building a Secure and Manageable Cloud Environment

I was keen to hear a talk on Machine Learning by Balaji Iyer, as we are currently using AWS SageMaker on a Navy Cybersecurity project. I also really enjoyed an excellent talk by Rich Mendola from Emory, on Building a Secure and Manageable Cloud Environment. It was interesting to hear about the AWS Shared Responsibility Model, a very interesting concept from the Cybersecurity point of view: AWS has built and maintains an extremely secure infrastructure, but it is up the the user to wield the tools correctly in order to maintain security.

Finally, I was excited to be for the first time in a city (Seattle) with the 5G cellular network 🙂