Well, it’s the end of autumn, and if the weather in Melbourne is anything to go by, winter’s here. Regardless, here we are with another weekly look at the goodies AWS have given us over the week. In this weeks update, we take a look at an extensive collection of releases from across the platform. We have more updates to EBS functionality. Amazon Connect adds additional Telephony Metadata, opening up new routing possibility. And some exciting features added to Amplify and CloudFormation.

Each of the AWS Weekly updates we publish on this blog isn’t an exhaustive list of all the week’s updates. Instead, we try to focus on changes that might help business operating in the Australian Market. As always, If you’d like more information, please reach out using the contact link at the top of the page.

The key takeaways from this week are:

  • Amazon Textract – Now Generally Available
  • Amazon EBS adds the ability to take point-in-time, crash-consistent snapshot across multiple EBS volumes
  • AWS Step Functions Enables Access to Workflow Metadata
  • Amazon Connect Adds Additional Telephony Metadata
  • Announcing New and Updated Exam Readiness Courses for AWS Certifications
  • Announcing Tag-Based Access Control for AWS CloudFormation
  • Amplify Framework adds Support for AWS Lambda as a Data Source and Custom Indexes for Amazon DynamoDB in GraphQL schema

Amazon Textract – Now Generally Available

It’s here, and in the words of The Pointer Sisters, “I’m so Excited. For those who didn’t see the announcement at AWS Re: Invent last year, Textract is a text extraction engine. Now that may not be an overly useful description of the service but saying it does OCR misses the point. Textract can identify the contents of fields in a form, information stored in tables, and the context in which it’s presented. This opens up some exciting possibilities, particularly when integrated with other services such as Step Functions and Comprehend. Imagine simply scanning forms and having them automatically being ingested into your CRM/CMS or ERP. You could also have a conditional logic trigger based on the contents of a form. The possibilities for this new technology are plentiful. As of today, it’s available in Northern Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, and Ireland with more regions scheduled for the future.

What about Cost? Well, it starts at $1.50 per 1,000 pages or about $0.0015 per page. At this kind of price, it’s hardly going to break the bank. However, for that price, you only get OCR functionality. Analyzing documents for pages with tables on it will raise the price to $15 per 1,000 pages. And if you want to process pages with forms, it goes up again to $50 per 1,000 pages. Now, that might sounds expensive… But at $0.05 per page, I doubt it can be done cheaper any other way. I know I can’t type out the contents of a form for less than $0.05 in labor.

You can count on us having a blog article in the coming days on this topic, giving the service a runs for its money. In the meantime, if you’d like to get started yourself, you can find visit the getting started guide.

Amazon EBS adds the ability to take point-in-time, crash-consistent snapshot across multiple EBS volumes

This one’s a little interesting. You can now take crash-consistent snapshots of multiple Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes attached to an EC2 instance with a single API call. Now, when I read this initially, I wasn’t overly excited. Yes, it takes multiple API calls and turns them into one, but you wouldn’t call that exciting, would you?

But then I gave it a little bit more thought and realized it’s actually an exciting feature. Currently, EBS enables you to back up your volume at any time using snapshots. Snapshots retain the data from all completed I/O operations, allowing you to restore the volume to its exact state at the moment before backup (referred to as crash-consistency). With this launch, you can now take crash-consistent snapshots across multiple EBS volumes in an EC2 instance with a single API call. Backup data across multiple volumes are in sync, and the restore of EBS volumes is accurate. Since snapshots are automatically taken across multiple EBS volumes, you no longer need to stop your instance or coordinate between volumes to ensure crash-consistency.

Archana Padmasenan (Senior Product Manager at AWS Elastic Block Store) has actually produced an excellent blog article available here. If you run multiple workloads with multiple EBS volumes, I highly recommend you check it out. This feature is currently available in most places you’ll find AWS including Sydney.

AWS Step Functions Enables Access to Workflow Metadata

Taken from the official announcement, available here. AWS Step Functions now enables access to metadata about workflow executions so that you can easily identify related resources. For example, your workflow can retrieve its execution ID or a timestamp indicating when a task started. This makes it easier to correlate logs for faster debugging and to measure workflow performance data. Your workflows pass metadata to tasks by referencing a context object available with each workflow execution.  

The cool thing about this is it’s available at no additional cost (always love free stuff). I was going to release my article on the recently announced Step function feature. Instead, I’ll update it to include the usage of MetaData and release it next week, so keep an eye out.

To learn more about Step Functions, read the AWS Step Functions Developer Guide. To learn more about accessing workflow metadata, read about the AWS Step Functions Context Object.

Amazon Connect Adds Additional Telephony Metadata

While we’re on the topic of Metadata, we now get access to additional data within Amazon Connect.

If you’ve been watching the Kloud Blog recently, you’ve no doubt seen the article’s I’ve been writing on Amazon Connect. Several which have been focused on building out Contact Flows. Previously the only telephony metadata available in Amazon Connect was the Caller-ID field displayed as the source number. This means that if a user dials in from a private number, your routing options can become limited.  Now, you can compare the Caller-ID information with additional telephony metadata to decide on how to route the caller. Why might this be of benefit? AWS outline a great use case in the official announcement (available here). If a caller is masking their phone number, they can be routed to a contact flow that provides greater security or an agent that specializes in authentication. It’s important to note, however, that a users caller-id should never be used as the sole authentication mechanism.

The Amazon Connect team has outlined the newly available attributes in the User Guide. I’ll also be releasing an article next week as a continuation of my series on how this can be used in practice.

Announcing New and Updated Exam Readiness Courses for AWS Certifications

This next announcement isn’t a technical one but should be of interest to anybody with a team responsible for AWS infrastructure. AWS has just released new Exam readiness courses available as both classroom and digital training. As somebody who has gone through the process of getting certified in AWS, I can’t overstate how helpful these courses are. Anybody planning to sit an AWS exam should take a look at these beforehand.

New courses aligned to newly released AWS Certifications:

• Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty
Find classroom training | Take free digital training

• Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Security – Specialty
Find classroom training | Take free digital training

Updated courses reflecting new features, services, and best practices:

• Exam Readiness: AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
Find classroom training | Take free digital training

• Exam Readiness: AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional
Find classroom training | Take free digital training

Announcing Tag-Based Access Control for AWS CloudFormation

Everybody herea Kloud loves CloudFormation. Ok, that might be overstating it a little bit, but CloudFormation makes up a part of almost every AWS project we do. AWS has today announced that you can control access to CloudFormation stacks and resources based on tag values. This new feature allows you to define and control access to CloudFormation-managed resources by defining tags as a part of your IAM policies.

This could potentially be very powerful, particularly for those using separate production vs. development stacks. For example, you can now deny certain users deletion or update privileges to stacks with a “production” tag value, while allowing changes to stacks with a “development” tag value. 

Amplify Framework adds Support for AWS Lambda as a Data Source and Custom Indexes for Amazon DynamoDB in GraphQL schema

And last but not least is the announcement about one of my favorite services, “Amplify.” There’s a lot to this announcement, but it can basically be broken into three main parts:

  • The ability to add lambda functions to your AWS AppSync API using GraphQL transformer and a new @function directive
  • Addition of an @Key directive to assist in the simplification of the syntax for using custom indexes and queries
  • The ability to grant permissions for interacting with AWS resources from a Lambda function

At a high level, these new features simplify the work needed to create and manage complex GraphQL schemas. As somebody who has been working with Amplify for a while now, I’m happy to see these new features released. I’ll be publishing some new articles shortly on AWS Amplify and am also running a workshop in Melbourne on the 12th of June (Details available here).

AWS has also released a blog article on how to use the new features which is available here.

And that will do it for our AWS update for Friday the 31st of May 2019. Also, continue to keep an eye out for our continuing series on Amazon Connect, there’s a lot more to come. We post updates every Friday as well as detailed tutorials and deep dives on products throughout the week. If there something you’d like to see on the Kloud Blog, please feel free to drop a comment below.

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