Interview with Jeff Barr, Amazon Web Services VP

Also AWS Chief Evangelist, he praised Feedzai and many other startups while sharing his vision on cloud computing 

On September 11, we had the pleasure of hosting Jeff Barr, VP and Chief Evangelist from Amazon Web Services (AWS), at Beta-i headquarters. Our hub was the place for a special AWS Lisbon User Group talk led by Barr, and also open to our clients, about the major transformations of digital business brought about by cloud solutions.

This was an opportunity for Beta-i customers and the community to enjoy a moment of knowledge exchange and interaction with one of the leading corporate names in the digital economy, right at the moment that AWS invests in Portugal through a support office and a new Amazon CloudFront location. Owner of a very active blogBarr gave this exclusive interview to Beta-i via email as he continued his ongoing worldwide sessions.

 

Your talk here in Lisbon summarizes the “double shift” of digital transformation provided by cloud computing: “from simply centralized computing and storage, operated on an on-demand, pay-as-you-go basis, to the industry-wide locus of innovation, host to a multitude of services”. What is AWS’s vision and ambition to take the lead in this gigantic universe?

Our vision is always the same: focus on customers and innovate on their behalf. To date, AWS has millions of active customers every month and the reasons why customers are turning to AWS is because it has a lot more functionality, the largest and most vibrant community of customers and partners, the most proven operational and security expertise, and the business is innovating at a faster clip – especially in new areas such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and Serverless Computing.
 
That being said, there is another reason why customers are choosing AWS: customers have come to really appreciate that the AWS culture is really different. If a startup, enterprise, or government agency is going to partner with a cloud provider, it’s typically a long-term decision they’re making, and they really want to understand what’s unique about the culture, or the partner that they are choosing. As a matter of fact, 90% of what we build is driven by what customers tell us matters, and the other 10% are things we hear from customers where they may not articulate exactly what they want, but we try to read between the lines and invent on their behalf.  
 
We’re also trying to build relationships and a business that lasts longer than all of us in this room. And you do that by doing right by customers over a long period of time. An example that ties this all together is a capability in our support function called AWS Trusted Advisor. We’ll look at customers’ utilization of our resources, and if they’re low or idle, we’ll reach out to them and say, maybe you don’t want to spend this money right now. Over the last couple of years, we’ve used AWS Trusted Advisor to tell customers how to spend less money with us, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for our customers every year.
 
 
In your experience, does physical proximity still increase the number of business leads and connections? For how long?
 
We look at physical proximity as a way for our teams to better help our customers and support them in their cloud journey. In fact, our decision to invest in Portugal last year by opening an AWS office in Lisbon is in direct response to our Portuguese customers’ requests and our determination to support them in an even better way. It also follows many years of supporting a growing customer base in the country with their cloud adoption. AWS counts some of Portugal’s fastest-growing and most well-known businesses as customers including, Energias de Portugal, Feedzai, Federação Portuguesa de Futebol, Globalvia, Grupo Impresa, Jumia, Lusiaves, Miniclip, Prodsmart, OutSystems, Unbabel, and Uniplaces, as well as Public Sector organisations such as the City of Cascais and the City of Porto. We have seen there is a real appetite from organisations across Portugal looking to get started with AWS in order to innovate, lower their IT costs, and grow their organisations around the world.
 
More recently on September 5, 2019, we continued our investment in the country by launching a new Amazon CloudFront location. This new Edge location will offer all organizations in the country faster content delivery and added cybersecurity protection. Located in Lisbon, the new Edge location brings the full suite of services provided by Amazon CloudFront, including integration with computing, networking, and security services like AWS Lambda@Edge, Amazon Route53, Amazon S3 Transfer Acceleration, AWS Shield, and AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF).

We look forward to fostering the country’s pioneering spirit alongside our customers and helping them accelerate their digital transformation and deliver innovative new products and services.

 
 
Is it possible to assess the first repercussions of AWS CloudFront Point of Presence (PoP) set up in Portugal, or is it still too early?

AWS is committed to investing in Portugal and similar to our office opening, the launch of the first Amazon CloudFront location in Portugal follows feedback of our customers, so reception is very positive. Adding this Amazon CloudFront Edge location will help Portuguese organizations achieve lower latency while delivering the same levels of security that they have come to expect from AWS Cloud, ultimately resulting in a better overall experience for their end-users.

 
 

How would you describe AWS’s relationship with startups today? Which preferred model does Amazon use to connect to new external solutions?

Startups in Portugal and around the globe turn to AWS so they can innovate faster. They can focus their highly valuable resources on developing and marketing applications that differentiate their business and transform customer experiences instead of the undifferentiated heavy lifting of managing infrastructure and data centres. Because startups can very quickly develop and roll out new applications, it means they can experiment and innovate more quickly and frequently and if an experiment fails, they can always de-provision those resources without risk. 

 
You only need to look at the number of successful startups from Portugal, such as Miniclip, Feedzai, Unibabel, Uniplaces, and Prodsmart who have launched their businesses globally. These customers are using AWS to drive innovation, accelerate time to market, and expand their businesses. For many years AWS has been supporting the Portuguese startup and technology community by bringing programs like AWS Activate to the country. AWS Activate provides startups with the resources they need to get started on AWS – including up to $100,000 (USD) in credits, training, support, as well as contact with incubators, accelerators and venture capital firms, such as Beta-i. Tens of thousands of startups take advantage of these benefits each year. In 2018, more than $500 million in AWS credits were given to help startups accelerate their growth and development as they build their businesses.
 
 

Which startups / new projects have caught your attention recently, and why?

One particular startup in Portugal that caught my eye is Feedzai. Feedzai is a Lisbon-based startup that detects financial fraud at scale. The company uses real-time machine learning & artificial intelligence AWS’s services such as Amazon Sagemaker to analyze transactions data through deep historical and behavioural analysis to identify fraudulent payment transactions and minimize risk in the financial industry. With more than 5 billion dollars of transactions processed daily, Feedzai enables major financial institutions worldwide (such as Lloyd’s Bank) to fight fraud effectively.

 
Earlier this week I was in Barcelona and was able to spend time with several fast-growing startups including Letgo, an online marketplace. They have been using AWS for over four years to support their rapid growth. I was impressed by their microservices architecture, and their ability to make use of a very wide variety of AWS services, including Amazon SageMaker and other machine learning services. One thing that I find interesting about this and other startups in the area is that the AWS cloud helps them to address global markets, regardless of the physical location of the company.
 
 

AWS’s re/Start project is a welcome and win-win solution for people, the market, and AWS itself. Are there any concrete plans to bring this initiative to Portugal in the coming years?

Portugal is an important country for us and we will continue to grow our presence and programmes as we grow our customer base. We are strong believers in the power of education and do our best to support training and up-skilling for everyone, regardless of who they are or where they are.

 

Your career span from working in one of the first retail computer stores in the world to your current position at AWS, not to mention startups and other big corporates experiences. From your personal perspective, but without considering points such as “agility and simplicity in startups” or “budget and structure on corporates”, what were the differentiating features or culture that most seduced you along with these experiences?

I would have to say that it is the first Amazon Leadership Principle, Customer Obsession. I have always done my best to understand and meet the needs of my contacts and customers, and this principle resonated with me right away. Another Leadership Principle, Dive Deep, reinforces my desire to always know as much as I can about the topics and technologies that I write and speak about.

 

 

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