Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a subsidiary of Amazon that provides on-demand cloud computing infrastructure and APIs to individuals, companies, and governments, on a pay-as-you-go basis. AWS has a significant focus on startups, helping them experiment, innovate and grow. In a freewheeling discussion with NFA Post, Madhusudan Shekar, Head – Solution Architecture, Startups, Amazon Internet Services Pvt. Ltd. (AISPL), talks about startups in India and AWS’s engagement with them in India.
Can you elaborate on AWS’ startup engagement in India?
AWS has a fundamental focus on startups. We should first understand what startups look for – they primarily look for agility, flexibility in terms of technology that they can use to accelerate forward, and cost controls to help them manage their cost structures as they grow. Startups also undertake various experiments, and when some of these experiments succeed, they need to scale rapidly, either nationally or globally.
AWS is a cloud services provider. Our strengths are to provide a wide array of technologies that enable startups to think about how they want to build their computing stack, and how to take that forward as efficiently as possible. Global innovative companies like Airbnb, Pinterest, and Netflix are our customers who are all-in on AWS. When we look at startups in India, some of the biggest ones like Ola, Swiggy, Policybazaar, Freshworks, redBus, ArisGlobal, and many more are on AWS.
From that standpoint, AWS’s advantage is that it gives developers the necessary technology blocks so they can innovate rapidly, shape technology, and bring it to customers. All these startups are scaling rapidly, and need flexibility as they grow. AWS has more than 175 fully-featured services to support this agility.
These services are the basic building blocks customers can use to develop solutions or meet their cloud computing foundational requirements. For example, these building blocks could be computational power or storage. In a media company’s case, they need powerful and flexible storage to store photos and videos in a cost-effective manner and deliver to users as efficiently as possible.
Hotstar is an AWS customer and stores its movies, title content, trailers, and images on the AWS platform. They also need to encode and render this content for various mobile platforms and entertainment devices including android and iOS devices, televisions, fire TV sticks, and so on. All of this is powered by AWS.
AWS supports several innovative media use cases, like streaming IPL cricket matches to over 25 million users concurrently while analysing their experience; to marketing campaigns that require millions of messages to be sent in high velocity and in a timely and prompt manner; to fantasy gaming like in the case of Dream11, where real-time match updates need to be sent to millions of users. AWS has the building blocks that enable these capabilities, be it storage, compute power, IoT, or AI.
Since AWS includes the tech pieces that startups need, can you highlight some of them being used by Indian startups?
If you look at a company like Swiggy, they leverage technology to deliver to over 100 cities in India. Similarly, Dream11, has millions of consumers beyond the metro cities.
For consumers in India, delivery of computing power is enabled by the mobile phone, hence the building blocks necessary for them to receive these services is already in place. Our platform already has the technology to support very specific AI services around languages, like the ability to deliver a Hindi interface.
And, if the customer needs a voice interface, we have a service called Amazon Translate that allows them to take an English user interface and quickly translate it to Hindi or Tamil, with just basic validation and little manual effort.
How are things progressing on the APN programme? Have you tweaked it for India?
The AWS Partner Network (APN) programme is specifically meant for our partners. It enables us to bring partners on-board, who can work across various technology layers. For example, software provider Freshworks is an Independent Software Vendor (ISV), who takes our infrastructure, tools, and services and builds a software layer on top of that.
Wipro is a Consulting Partner, who would take our technology and work with another enterprise technology company and jointly build a solution with them. Then there are Technology Partners, like Druva for example. They build highly-specialised storage solutions on top of AWS.
Is there any difference between B2B and B2C startups in India? How are they aligned with your offerings?
India has a thriving startup ecosystem. We have hundreds of thousands of active customers in India, and many of them are startups working on our platform. A significant number of them are working in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. If you look at B2C, there are lots of startups who have already built sophisticated consumer experiences to attract users.
In the business-to-business (B2B) space, there are enterprise Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startups or high-order specialised service companies. For example, Freshworks develops software that focuses on customer engagement and support for other companies; we have service providers like Delhivery in the logistics space who uses technology extensively to optimise services in the logistics space. These companies are technically B2B companies that leverage technology to provide differentiated services to their customers.
There are many different kinds of startups we work with, and each has different priorities. Example – a food delivery company, a logistics company, a gaming company, a media streaming company, and so on.
AWS provides them with the necessary technology building blocks that they use to experiment, customise their solutions and enable differentiated services like food delivery, logistics, fantasy games, or rich media content.
AWS provides these building blocks in different areas like compute, storage, databases, networking, analytics, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), mobile, security, hybrid, virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR), media, and so on. In addition to having the greatest breadth of services, AWS also has the deepest functionality within these services.
There are different companies in CDN space. How are Indian companies faring in this space?
Hotstar, YuppTV, PrimeVideo, Netflix and Hulu are some examples of content companies on AWS. All these companies are using content delivery networking (CDN) system of distributed servers to deliver video content more effectively. But, CDN is not only video content, it can also include image content.
For example, companies like Nykaa and Swiggy need to render images very quickly on their customers’ mobile devices. So, a number of such startups are using our CDN services to ensure faster content and deliver experiences to their customers. Generally speaking, CDN enables the storage and delivery of content to a user from a location as close as possible.
AWS has 17 Edge Locations (or Points of Presence) for Amazon CloudFront – our content delivery network service – in India, and multiple ones in locations like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. What happens here is that content on our customers’ apps, for example, is delivered to users from the closest Edge Location, instead of going all the way to the AWS Mumbai region and coming back. AWS Edge Locations give extreme low latency capabilities to deliver that.
Can you elaborate on AWS Wavelength?
AWS Wavelength is a new service that enables developers to build applications that deliver single-digit millisecond latencies to mobile devices and end-users. It will provide telecom companies deploying 5G, the capability to aggregate at the metro layer. With AWS Wavelength, the latency between the tower and mobile phone will be two or three milliseconds. Currently, the latency is at about 80 to 90 milliseconds.
This service will enable telecom companies to deliver content in a near, real-life manner, improving the quality of experience for consumers, for example – interaction with conversational agents, high-quality gaming, live video streaming, augmented reality/ virtual reality, etc. We have announced AWS Wavelength at AWS re:Invent in December 2019.
What are the existing interfaces of AWS that you have put in place to interact with startups in India?
AWS has a large startup business development program. We engage with startups directly through our AWS startup development program called AWS Activate, and through VCs. While AWS Activate is for mature startups, we have a developer program, focussed on very young early-stage startups called AWS Builder and Developer Program. Here we give startups credits to use our platform, for early experimentation and to encourage and enable innovation.
AWS has AI and ML solutions for startups. How are startups using it?
Our AI and ML solutions are packaged under three fundamental layers. The top set of packages are primarily meant for developers who have limited knowledge in AI, like early-stage startups who are experimenting to develop smart applications. For example, some companies may be looking at voice capabilities, or to be able to do OCR on pictures, convert picture to text, and so on. We have a number of services in this space that developers can take advantage of.
In the second layer, when startups have more data and have data scientists in their team, they can use our Amazon SageMaker service, which offers the ability for data scientists and developers to jointly build specialised models with respect to their business and problems that they want to solve.
In the third-level package, we offer deep-level machine learning capabilities meant for data scientists, to use any of the most popular frameworks such as PyTorch, Scikit, TensorFlow, MXNet, Microsoft CNTK, or more, through the platform or through services such as Amazon SageMaker. Here, we enable them to build AI and ML in a fairly rapid and cost-efficient manner.
You have recently started AWS Data Exchange. Please explain what it is about?
AWS Data Exchange is specific service for customers who have data and who want to monetise the data in the market place.
For example, a customer may have anonymised routing data, which shows how they can deliver products in the most efficient routes. They may have the most validated postal code data, where they can provide the postal code of any given geo location. Now, they can publish this data and others can build solutions with it.
So AWS Data Exchange creates a market place for data that enables businesses to leverage someone else’s expertise and data to build the next layer of capability, rather than build their own data from scratch. We just announced this service globally and will be introducing it in India too.
We also have the AWS Public Dataset Program which covers the cost of storage for publicly available high-value cloud-optimized datasets. This allows companies and agencies to actually upload public data for common good such as income data, land-sat data, population data sets, etc.
We all know that certain skill sets are required to access your solutions. Please elaborate on the methods adopted by AWS to further fine-tune skill sets of startups and developers to leverage your tools?
We offer a number of training programs and have a number of partners who also deliver these training programs. All our training documents are open and anyone can access them. We have conferences where we train people, and the content from these programs is available publicly.
Additionally, we have training partners who come up with structured training programs. Since our training content is open, anybody can create their own AWS learning materials; we don’t put a constraint on anyone teaching AWS to anyone else. The best way though to learn about AWS services is to self-learn, as we have plenty of free videos, quick start modules, learning walkthroughs, demos and samples on our own website and on our official YouTube channel.
Do you have any Centre of Excellence where startups can come and tinker with their ideas?
We already have this as a part of our startup program. We hold programs and events where we directly go to our customers or have customers at our events. Here we engage with them to understand how to solve their technology problems.
We have AWS Developer Days and AWS Immersion Days, and also have AWS Game Days, where we adopt a gamification style to learn. We also have events like Amazon AI Conclave and AWS Summit in India, and globally we have AWS re:Invent. These are not sales events but are more training and learning events. The content from these events is public and everyone can use it.
Besides this, AWS customers and developers have formed communities. In Bengaluru alone, the AWS Community has more than 7,000 members, and is growing very fast. We now have communities in 15 cities in India. These communities come forward to hold their own AWS Community Days, where AWS customers and users present to other customers and users, and share their knowledge and AWS best practices with each other.
What are the other initiatives that AWS is doing in India to make its reach widespread?
AWS is here to enable and empower businesses – startups of all size, small and medium businesses, enterprises, and public sector organisations. I think we are at the cusp of doing something powerful in India. We want to democratise access to technology, as it shapes what we do in future.
As more developers learn and have access to technology, they will be able to create better solutions that will create better outcomes for businesses and society. An important thing to remember is that AWS doesn’t differentiate in the availability of our technology services – any developer or organisation can access all our services.