Amazon Launches Massive Satellite Design Effort (Building B2B Platforms Too?)

Back in September, we found that Amazon was hiring engineers to help build “a big, audacious space project” involving “building, owning and operating satellite and space systems.” In November, Amazon announced AWS Ground Station, a network of 12 antennas that customers can use to download and process data directly from satellites into AWS.

However, it turns out at AWS Ground Station is itself just part of a larger, more ambitious space and satellite project. Amazon has confirmed Project Kuiper, a business it has formed to develop a network of thousands of satellites designed to provide internet connectivity to people around the world, after GeekWire uncovered filings made with the International Telecommunications Union and FCC.

While Amazon has publicly confirmed the project, it has not said how it plans to procure thousands of satellites or whether the company is planning to design and build its own satellite platform in-house. However, based on dozens of new job posts we are seeing, it seems clear that Amazon is planning to design its own satellites in-house from scratch.

Since Amazon made the Project Kuiper announcement, it has posted about 70 spacecraft and satellite engineering positions associated with the project, ranging across everything from propulsion to antennas all the way down to custom silicon. Here are just a handful of examples:

This means Amazon will likely be drawing talent from and competing for talent with other commercial and military spacecraft design firms, including SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and many others.

While Amazon’s consumer ISP offering is likely to be offered under Amazon’s brand, we also see a future in which Amazon leverages its expertise and AWS integration capabilities to offer satellite-based services through an expanded AWS space offering. Amazon has proven its ability to build a highly modular and complex system of cloud-based services based on systems originally designed for its own consumer services. Dog-fooding its own satellite hardware before developing new satellite platforms in order to offer additional capabilities to business customers as a service would not be strategically unprecedented.

Above image credit: NASA

17 New AWS Products Added to TJI Amazon Product Database

17 new AWS products have been added to the TJI Amazon Product Database today:

  • Amazon Elastic Inference
  • Amazon Forecast
  • Amazon FSx for Windows File Server
  • Amazon FSx for Lustre
  • Amazon Managed Blockchain
  • Amazon Personalize
  • Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB)
  • Amazon SageMaker Ground Truth
  • Amazon SageMaker Neo
  • Amazon Timestream
  • AWS Control Tower
  • AWS DeepRacer
  • AWS Inferentia
  • AWS Lake Formation
  • AWS License Manager
  • AWS Outposts
  • AWS Security Hub

AWS Launches Amazon Comprehend Medical, Offering NLP Specific to Healthcare

AWS has just announced the launch of Amazon Comprehend Medical, a version of Amazon Comprehend specific to the needs healthcare customers.

Last year, Amazon launched Comprehend, a NLP service for “language detection, entity categorization, sentiment analysis, and key phrase extraction.” However, Amazon says that, “Given the very specific nature of clinical documents, healthcare customers have asked us to build them a version of Amazon Comprehend tailored to their unique needs.”

Amazon says that Amazon Comprehend Medical adds the following to the standard Comprehend service:

  • Support for entity extraction and entity traits on a vast vocabulary of medical terms: anatomy, conditions, procedures, medications, abbreviations, etc.
  • An entity extraction API (detect_entities) trained on these categories and their subtypes.
  • A Protected Health Information extraction API (detect_phi) able to locate contact details, medical record numbers, etc.

Amazon’s Julien Simon provides the following example of how Amazon Comprehend Medical works. First, let’s take the following input text to start.

Here’s how Amazon Comprehend Medical processes the document: “Entities are extracted and highlighted: we see personal information in orange, medication in red, anatomy in purple and medical conditions in green.”

“Personal Identifiable Information is correctly picked up. This is particularly important for researchers who need to anonymize documents before exchanging or publishing them. Also, ‘rash’ and ‘sleeping trouble’ are correctly detected as medical conditions diagnosed by the doctor (‘Dx’ is shorthand for ‘diagnosis’). Medications are detected as well,” Simon says.

Simon goes on to explain how AMC can figure out abbreviations specific to physician terminology and is able to correctly understand complex relationships.

Overall, Amazon Comprehend Medical offers healthcare providers and related professionals more reasons to adopt AWS as their cloud service provider. Amazon is investing heavily in intelligent applications to help make health care professionals more efficient.

The launch of Amazon Comprehend Medical is the latest in a string of healthcare-related initiatives at Amazon.

Above Images: AWS

Amazon Launches AWS Ground Station, an On Demand Satellite Connectivity Service

Back in September we found that Amazon was developing new space and satellite services for a “big, audacious space project.” We didn’t know what those new services would be exactly at the time, other than that Amazon wanted to build, “highly available, massively scalable, real time satellite data processing systems” for “thousands of commercial and government customers.”

Today, we know what at least part of AWS’s space ambitions include. Amazon just announced the launch of AWS Ground Station, “a fully managed service that lets you control satellite communications, downlink and process satellite data, and scale your satellite operations quickly, easily and cost-effectively without having to worry about building or managing your own ground station infrastructure.”

Using AWS Ground Station, customers can download data from satellites using AWS’s managed network of 12 ground station antennas located around the world. Customers can schedule antenna access time in the AWS Management Console. Once the data is down, it can then be processed in an EC2 instance or stored in S3.

“Satellite data is incredibly useful for building a wide range of important applications, but it is super complex and expensive to build and operate the infrastructure needed to do so. A few years back our customers asked us if we could remove that cost and complexity, and the more we thought about it, the more we realized that AWS with its global footprint was uniquely positioned to solve this challenge,” said Charlie Bell, Senior Vice President of AWS. “Today, we are giving satellite customers the ability to dynamically scale their ground station antenna use based on actual need. And, they will be able to ingest data straight into AWS, where they can securely store, analyze, and transmit products to their customers without needing to worry about building all of the infrastructure themselves.”

AWS says initial customers include DigitalGlobe, BlackSky, and Spire Global.

In addition, AWS and Lockheed Martin today announced a “strategic collaboration” to integrate AWS Ground Station with Lockheed Martin’s Verge antenna network.

Amazon says that through the integration, “Customers using AWS Ground Station gain the ability to download data from multiple satellites at the same time and to continue downloading data even when unplanned outages like a weather event impact parts of the network… Immediate and continuous access to the latest satellite data is critical in use cases such as public safety, military missions in fast-evolving threat environments, and real-time weather observations for cargo ships and airlines. Today, there are thousands of satellites orbiting the earth and collecting data, including Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which are ideal for collecting data for Earth observation and currently comprise about 63 percent of the active satellites now in orbit, according to United Nations data.”

We’ll continue tracking Amazon’s space and satellite efforts.

Introducing the TJI Amazon Product Database

TJI Amazon Product Database – The Comprehensive Independent List of Amazon Products and Services

Amazon plays a growing or leadership role in a wide variety of consumer and commercial industries, including internet retail, physical retail, internet infrastructure, media production and distribution (across television, film, music, books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, gaming, streaming, and more), consumer electronics and integrated software services, home services, building automation and security, global and local logistics networks, payment tools, advertising services, government services, and more.

But while Amazon offers hundreds of B2C, B2B, and AWS products and programs, there’s no singular comprehensive reference for professionals, analysts, and journalists to find all of Amazon’s products and services in one place. That’s why we have created the TJI Amazon Product Database — the comprehensive independent list of Amazon products and services.

  

From Prime Book Box Kids to Merch Collab, TensorFlow on AWS to Amazon Echo Wall Clock, and Everything in Between

The breadth of Amazon’s operations is hard to imagine. Amazon’s half-million-plus employees are building the systems that will power the smart home, and the services that power much of the internet today. They’re building an array of subscription services, and designing chips. They’re managing global logistics, and building food delivery platforms. They’re building a fast growing advertising platform, and integrating Alexa in cars. And more, and more, and more.

Dive In

Amazon continues to create new products and services regularly, and we expect the number is only going to grow.

The TJI Amazon Product Database is a starting point for researchers and analysts to navigate the breadth and depth of Amazon’s products and services.

For professionals serious about tracking Amazon’s products and services on an ongoing basis, subscribe to TJI Briefing, which covers the latest developments across Amazon’s product portfolio.

Amazon Emphatically Denies Reports of Alleged Chinese Hardware Hacking

In a bombshell report published this morning by Bloomberg, reporters Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley tell the story of hacked motherboards making their way into servers used by Amazon, Apple, and hundreds of other customers of motherboard supplier Supermicro.

Essentially, the report claims that agents of the Chinese government bribed and threatened managers of factories of Supermicro subcontractors in China into allowing the agents to insert malicious chips onto the motherboards that would then provide a beachhead for the infiltration of networks of Supermicro customers.

From Bloomberg:

In 2015, Amazon.com Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video… In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China…which by some estimates makes 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs.

Still, to actually accomplish a seeding attack would mean developing a deep understanding of a product’s design, manipulating components at the factory, and ensuring that the doctored devices made it through the global logistics chain to the desired location—a feat akin to throwing a stick in the Yangtze River upstream from Shanghai and ensuring that it washes ashore in Seattle. “Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow,” says Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc. “Hardware is just so far off the radar, it’s almost treated like black magic.”

But that’s just what U.S. investigators found: The chips had been inserted during the manufacturing process, two officials say, by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.

Today, Amazon published the following emphatic denial:

Today, Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a story claiming that AWS was aware of modified hardware or malicious chips in SuperMicro motherboards in Elemental Media’s hardware at the time Amazon acquired Elemental in 2015, and that Amazon was aware of modified hardware or chips in AWS’s China Region.

As we shared with Bloomberg BusinessWeek multiple times over the last couple months, this is untrue. At no time, past or present, have we ever found any issues relating to modified hardware or malicious chips in SuperMicro motherboards in any Elemental or Amazon systems. Nor have we engaged in an investigation with the government.

There are so many inaccuracies in ‎this article as it relates to Amazon that they’re hard to count. We will name only a few of them here…

Amazon employs stringent security standards across our supply chain – investigating all hardware and software prior to going into production and performing regular security audits internally and with our supply chain partners. We further strengthen our security posture by implementing our own hardware designs for critical components such as processors, servers, storage systems, and networking equipment.

Security will always be our top priority. AWS is trusted by many of the world’s most risk-sensitive organizations precisely because we have demonstrated this unwavering commitment to putting their security above all else. We are constantly vigilant about potential threats to our customers, and we take swift and decisive action to address them whenever they are identified.

Apple has issued its own denial as well.

The Bloomberg article goes on:

The companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who—in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration—detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation. One of those officials and two people inside AWS provided extensive information on how the attack played out at Elemental and Amazon; the official and one of the insiders also described Amazon’s cooperation with the government investigation. In addition to the three Apple insiders, four of the six U.S. officials confirmed that Apple was a victim. In all, 17 people confirmed the manipulation of Supermicro’s hardware and other elements of the attacks. The sources were granted anonymity because of the sensitive, and in some cases classified, nature of the information.

One government official says China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks. No consumer data is known to have been stolen.

The ramifications of the attack continue to play out. The Trump administration has made computer and networking hardware, including motherboards, a focus of its latest round of trade sanctions against China, and White House officials have made it clear they think companies will begin shifting their supply chains to other countries as a result. Such a shift might assuage officials who have been warning for years about the security of the supply chain—even though they’ve never disclosed a major reason for their concerns.

How believable is this story? Some possible scenarios:

  1. If it is false, one possibility from a political perspective is that this story was manufactured by someone in the Trump administration or whom is otherwise motivated to advance US protectionist trade policies. This story increases FUD regarding essentially all modern technology infrastructure. However, such an effort would seemingly have required at least somewhat coordinated work of the “17” sources Bloomberg cited.
  2. If it is true, then why/how could Amazon and Apple plainly deny it? Unless there are logical exemptions in their denials due to intentionally specific choices of language, one possibility is that the PR staff responsible for issuing these denials are not in the loop on what happened. How could that be the case? I don’t know, unless this response is somehow being coordinated at very high levels due to overriding national security concerns.

It seems, at least, unusual to have such a seemingly deeply-reported story from a reputable publication be so flatly denied by Amazon and Apple. There are surely many questions unanswered by the public statements of those involved. Because this is a potential matter of national security, the completeness of information available to the public is likely to be low.

We will follow up if/as additional information comes forth.

Deloitte Acquires Australian AWS Partner CloudTrek

Via CRN Australia:

Deloitte has acquired Brisbane-based AWS partner CloudTrek to bolster its cloud capability for its Brisbane operations.

The consulting giant will take on CloudTrek’s 26 staff of cloud and infrastructure strategists, architects, DevOps automation engineers, developers and support engineers, joining Deloitte’s Technology, Strategy and Architecture practice in Brisbane.

The acquisition will complement Deloitte’s more established AWS cloud migration and infrastructure businesses in Sydney and Melbourne, growing its presence to reach not only Queensland but also Western Australia and the ACT.

Amazon Also Working On “Big, Audacious Space Project” in Denver

Two days ago, we reported that Amazon is developing new space and satellite services, as evidenced by two recent job listings for positions in Amazon’s Herndon, Virginia offices that have since been taken down.

Today, we are seeing another job posting for a similar position, titled Space and Satellite System Software Development Engineer, this time in Amazon’s Denver offices.

Like the Herndon positions, the Denver position states it is looking for software engineers for “a big, audacious space project!” — and that the team is building “a new AWS service that will have a historic impact.” The listing goes on:

“We are seeking a Software Development Engineer to build and maintain highly available, massively scalable, real time satellite data processing systems! This team will have the opportunity to work on highly visible projects that directly impact both Amazon teams and Amazon customers around the world as we build space processing services and features used by thousands of commercial and government customers each week.”

AWS is hiring for many technical positions with security clearances in Denver, and is also looking to hire veterans with active security clearances from area US Air Force bases. For example, next Thursday, Amazon is hosting a Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.

The host unit at Buckley is the 460th Space Wing, which is assigned to the Air Force Space Command. The 460th Space Wing provides global surveillance, missile warning, missile defense, intelligence, satellite command and control, satellite communications, and other capabilities.

NORAD is also headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, home of the 21st Space Wing, just east of Colorado Springs and about 70 miles south of Denver. The 21st Space Wing operates a “complex system of U.S. and foreign-based radars that detect and track ballistic missile launches, launches of new space systems, and provide data on foreign ballistic missile events.” The nearby Cheyenne Mountain Complex is NORAD’s Alternate Command Center.

Additional potential space and satellite customers for AWS solutions in the Denver area include United Launch Alliance, which launches Atlas and Delta rockets and is headquartered in Centennial, and Lockheed Martin, which is building its Orion deep space exploration vehicle (amongst other projects) in Denver. In addition, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Harris, Ball, Sierra Nevada, and over 100 other aerospace contractors with a direct employment of over 21,000 (per the Metro Denver EDC) are located in the area.

Just three weeks ago, the Colorado Air and Space Port was granted its site operator license from the FAA. The site is located at the former Front Range Airport, a short distance from Denver International Airport and about 30 minutes from downtown. Per the Colorado Space Coalition:

“Colorado Air and Space Port will accommodate vehicles making horizontal takeoffs and landings. The vehicles will take off like traditional airplanes using jet fuel and fly to a special-use airspace where rocket boosters launch the craft into suborbital flight. To land, the craft drops out of suborbital flight and lands like a traditional airplane.”

The Colorado Space Coalition adds that the licensing process is “layered” and that, “A space company will have to apply to be licensed as an operator at the spaceport, and the vehicle that company employs for suborbital flight will also be approved and licensed.” No word yet on when exactly operations might begin.

(On a related note, Boom Supersonic, which is attempting to resuscitate mainstream supersonic passenger flight since British Airways and Air France halted Concorde operations in 2003, is also headquartered in Denver.)

We’ll continue tracking Amazon’s space efforts, so stay tuned to TJI. The full job listing posted by Amazon can be read below:

Above image credit: NASA