AWS Blog

Amazon Elasticsearch Service now supports VPC

Starting today, you can connect to your Amazon Elasticsearch Service domains from within an Amazon VPC without the need for NAT instances or Internet gateways. VPC support for Amazon ES is easy to configure, reliable, and offers an extra layer of security. With VPC support, traffic between other services and Amazon ES stays entirely within the AWS network, isolated from the public Internet. You can manage network access using existing VPC security groups, and you can use AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) policies for additional protection. VPC support for Amazon ES domains is available at no additional charge.

Getting Started

Creating an Amazon Elasticsearch Service domain in your VPC is easy. Follow all the steps you would normally follow to create your cluster and then select “VPC access”.

That’s it. There are no additional steps. You can now access your domain from within your VPC!

Things To Know

To support VPCs, Amazon ES places an endpoint into at least one subnet of your VPC. Amazon ES places an Elastic Network Interface (ENI) into the VPC for each data node in the cluster. Each ENI uses a private IP address from the IPv4 range of your subnet and receives a public DNS hostname. If you enable zone awareness, Amazon ES creates endpoints in two subnets in different availability zones, which provides greater data durability.

You need to set aside three times the number of IP addresses as the number of nodes in your cluster. You can divide that number by two if Zone Awareness is enabled. Ideally, you would create separate subnets just for Amazon ES.

A few notes:

  • Currently, you cannot move existing domains to a VPC or vice-versa. To take advantage of VPC support, you must create a new domain and migrate your data.
  • Currently, Amazon ES does not support Amazon Kinesis Firehose integration for domains inside a VPC.

To learn more, see the Amazon ES documentation.


Amazon Lightsail Update – Launch and Manage Windows Virtual Private Servers

I first told you about Amazon Lightsail last year in my blog post, Amazon Lightsail – the Power of AWS, the Simplicity of a VPS. Since last year’s launch, thousands of customers have used Lightsail to get started with AWS, launching Linux-based Virtual Private Servers.

Today we are adding support for Windows-based Virtual Private Servers. You can launch a VPS that runs Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016, or Windows Server 2016 with SQL Server 2016 Express and be up and running in minutes. You can use your VPS to build, test, and deploy .NET or Windows applications without having to set up or run any infrastructure. Backups, DNS management, and operational metrics are all accessible with a click or two.

Servers are available in five sizes, with 512 MB to 8 GB of RAM, 1 or 2 vCPUs, and up to 80 GB of SSD storage. Prices (including software licenses) start at $10 per month:

You can try out a 512 MB server for one month (up to 750 hours) at no charge.

Launching a Windows VPS
To launch a Windows VPS, log in to Lightsail , click on Create instance, and select the Microsoft Windows platform. Then click on Apps + OS if you want to run SQL Server 2016 Express, or OS Only if Windows is all you need:

If you want to use a Powershell script to customize your instance after it launches for the first time, click on Add launch script and enter the script:

Choose your instance plan, enter a name for your instance(s), and select the quantity to be launched, then click on Create:

Your instance will be up and running within a minute or so:

Click on the instance, and then click on Connect using RDP:

This will connect using a built-in, browser-based RDP client (you can also use the IP address and the credentials with another client):

Available Today
This feature is available today in the US East (Northern Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), EU (London), EU (Ireland), EU (Frankfurt), Asia Pacific (Singapore), Asia Pacific (Mumbai), Asia Pacific (Sydney), and Asia Pacific (Tokyo) Regions.



Introducing Gluon: a new library for machine learning from AWS and Microsoft

Post by Dr. Matt Wood

Today, AWS and Microsoft announced Gluon, a new open source deep learning interface which allows developers to more easily and quickly build machine learning models, without compromising performance.

Gluon Logo

Gluon provides a clear, concise API for defining machine learning models using a collection of pre-built, optimized neural network components. Developers who are new to machine learning will find this interface more familiar to traditional code, since machine learning models can be defined and manipulated just like any other data structure. More seasoned data scientists and researchers will value the ability to build prototypes quickly and utilize dynamic neural network graphs for entirely new model architectures, all without sacrificing training speed.

Gluon is available in Apache MXNet today, a forthcoming Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit release, and in more frameworks over time.

Neural Networks vs Developers
Machine learning with neural networks (including ‘deep learning’) has three main components: data for training; a neural network model, and an algorithm which trains the neural network. You can think of the neural network in a similar way to a directed graph; it has a series of inputs (which represent the data), which connect to a series of outputs (the prediction), through a series of connected layers and weights. During training, the algorithm adjusts the weights in the network based on the error in the network output. This is the process by which the network learns; it is a memory and compute intensive process which can take days.

Deep learning frameworks such as Caffe2, Cognitive Toolkit, TensorFlow, and Apache MXNet are, in part, an answer to the question ‘how can we speed this process up? Just like query optimizers in databases, the more a training engine knows about the network and the algorithm, the more optimizations it can make to the training process (for example, it can infer what needs to be re-computed on the graph based on what else has changed, and skip the unaffected weights to speed things up). These frameworks also provide parallelization to distribute the computation process, and reduce the overall training time.

However, in order to achieve these optimizations, most frameworks require the developer to do some extra work: specifically, by providing a formal definition of the network graph, up-front, and then ‘freezing’ the graph, and just adjusting the weights.

The network definition, which can be large and complex with millions of connections, usually has to be constructed by hand. Not only are deep learning networks unwieldy, but they can be difficult to debug and it’s hard to re-use the code between projects.

The result of this complexity can be difficult for beginners and is a time-consuming task for more experienced researchers. At AWS, we’ve been experimenting with some ideas in MXNet around new, flexible, more approachable ways to define and train neural networks. Microsoft is also a contributor to the open source MXNet project, and were interested in some of these same ideas. Based on this, we got talking, and found we had a similar vision: to use these techniques to reduce the complexity of machine learning, making it accessible to more developers.

Enter Gluon: dynamic graphs, rapid iteration, scalable training
Gluon introduces four key innovations.

  1. Friendly API: Gluon networks can be defined using a simple, clear, concise code – this is easier for developers to learn, and much easier to understand than some of the more arcane and formal ways of defining networks and their associated weighted scoring functions.
  2. Dynamic networks: the network definition in Gluon is dynamic: it can bend and flex just like any other data structure. This is in contrast to the more common, formal, symbolic definition of a network which the deep learning framework has to effectively carve into stone in order to be able to effectively optimizing computation during training. Dynamic networks are easier to manage, and with Gluon, developers can easily ‘hybridize’ between these fast symbolic representations and the more friendly, dynamic ‘imperative’ definitions of the network and algorithms.
  3. The algorithm can define the network: the model and the training algorithm are brought much closer together. Instead of separate definitions, the algorithm can adjust the network dynamically during definition and training. Not only does this mean that developers can use standard programming loops, and conditionals to create these networks, but researchers can now define even more sophisticated algorithms and models which were not possible before. They are all easier to create, change, and debug.
  4. High performance operators for training: which makes it possible to have a friendly, concise API and dynamic graphs, without sacrificing training speed. This is a huge step forward in machine learning. Some frameworks bring a friendly API or dynamic graphs to deep learning, but these previous methods all incur a cost in terms of training speed. As with other areas of software, abstraction can slow down computation since it needs to be negotiated and interpreted at run time. Gluon can efficiently blend together a concise API with the formal definition under the hood, without the developer having to know about the specific details or to accommodate the compiler optimizations manually.

The team here at AWS, and our collaborators at Microsoft, couldn’t be more excited to bring these improvements to developers through Gluon. We’re already seeing quite a bit of excitement from developers and researchers alike.

Getting started with Gluon
Gluon is available today in Apache MXNet, with support coming for the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit in a future release. We’re also publishing the front-end interface and the low-level API specifications so it can be included in other frameworks in the fullness of time.

You can get started with Gluon today. Fire up the AWS Deep Learning AMI with a single click and jump into one of 50 fully worked, notebook examples. If you’re a contributor to a machine learning framework, check out the interface specs on GitHub.

-Dr. Matt Wood

Application Load Balancers Now Support Multiple TLS Certificates With Smart Selection Using SNI

Today we’re launching support for multiple TLS/SSL certificates on Application Load Balancers (ALB) using Server Name Indication (SNI). You can now host multiple TLS secured applications, each with its own TLS certificate, behind a single load balancer. In order to use SNI, all you need to do is bind multiple certificates to the same secure listener on your load balancer. ALB will automatically choose the optimal TLS certificate for each client. These new features are provided at no additional charge.

If you’re looking for a TL;DR on how to use this new feature just click here. If you’re like me and you’re a little rusty on the specifics of Transport Layer Security (TLS) then keep reading.


People tend to use the terms SSL and TLS interchangeably even though the two are technically different. SSL technically refers to a predecessor of the TLS protocol. To keep things simple I’ll be using the term TLS for the rest of this post.

TLS is a protocol for securely transmitting data like passwords, cookies, and credit card numbers. It enables privacy, authentication, and integrity of the data being transmitted. TLS uses certificate based authentication where certificates are like ID cards for your websites. You trust the person that signed and issued the certificate, the certificate authority (CA), so you trust that the data in the certificate is correct. When a browser connects to your TLS-enabled ALB, ALB presents a certificate that contains your site’s public key, which has been cryptographically signed by a CA. This way the client can be sure it’s getting the ‘real you’ and that it’s safe to use your site’s public key to establish a secure connection.

With SNI support we’re making it easy to use more than one certificate with the same ALB. The most common reason you might want to use multiple certificates is to handle different domains with the same load balancer. It’s always been possible to use wildcard and subject-alternate-name (SAN) certificates with ALB, but these come with limitations. Wildcard certificates only work for related subdomains that match a simple pattern and while SAN certificates can support many different domains, the same certificate authority has to authenticate each one. That means you have reauthenticate and reprovision your certificate everytime you add a new domain.

One of our most frequent requests on forums, reddit, and in my e-mail inbox has been to use the Server Name Indication (SNI) extension of TLS to choose a certificate for a client. Since TLS operates at the transport layer, below HTTP, it doesn’t see the hostname requested by a client. SNI works by having the client tell the server “This is the domain I expect to get a certificate for” when it first connects. The server can then choose the correct certificate to respond to the client. All modern web browsers and a large majority of other clients support SNI. In fact, today we see SNI supported by over 99.5% of clients connecting to CloudFront.

Smart Certificate Selection on ALB

ALB’s smart certificate selection goes beyond SNI. In addition to containing a list of valid domain names, certificates also describe the type of key exchange and cryptography that the server supports, as well as the signature algorithm (SHA2, SHA1, MD5) used to sign the certificate. To establish a TLS connection, a client starts a TLS handshake by sending a “ClientHello” message that outlines the capabilities of the client: the protocol versions, extensions, cipher suites, and compression methods. Based on what an individual client supports, ALB’s smart selection algorithm chooses a certificate for the connection and sends it to the client. ALB supports both the classic RSA algorithm and the newer, hipper, and faster Elliptic-curve based ECDSA algorithm. ECDSA support among clients isn’t as prevalent as SNI, but it is supported by all modern web browsers. Since it’s faster and requires less CPU, it can be particularly useful for ultra-low latency applications and for conserving the amount of battery used by mobile applications. Since ALB can see what each client supports from the TLS handshake, you can upload both RSA and ECDSA certificates for the same domains and ALB will automatically choose the best one for each client.

Using SNI with ALB

I’ll use a few example websites like and I’ve purchased and hosted these domains on Amazon Route 53, and provisioned two separate certificates for them in AWS Certificate Manager (ACM). If I want to securely serve both of these sites through a single ALB, I can quickly add both certificates in the console.

First, I’ll select my load balancer in the console, go to the listeners tab, and select “view/edit certificates”.

Next, I’ll use the “+” button in the top left corner to select some certificates then I’ll click the “Add” button.

There are no more steps. If you’re not really a GUI kind of person you’ll be pleased to know that it’s also simple to add new certificates via the AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) (or SDKs).

aws elbv2 add-listener-certificates --listener-arn <listener-arn> --certificates CertificateArn=<cert-arn>

Things to know

  • ALB Access Logs now include the client’s requested hostname and the certificate ARN used. If the “hostname” field is empty (represented by a “-“) the client did not use the SNI extension in their request.
  • You can use any of your certificates in ACM or IAM.
  • You can bind multiple certificates for the same domain(s) to a secure listener. Your ALB will choose the optimal certificate based on multiple factors including the capabilities of the client.
  • If the client does not support SNI your ALB will use the default certificate (the one you specified when you created the listener).
  • There are three new ELB API calls: AddListenerCertificates, RemoveListenerCertificates, and DescribeListenerCertificates.
  • You can bind up to 25 certificates per load balancer (not counting the default certificate).
  • These new features are supported by AWS CloudFormation at launch.

You can see an example of these new features in action with a set of websites created by my colleague Jon Zobrist:

Overall, I will personally use this feature and I’m sure a ton of AWS users will benefit from it as well. I want to thank the Elastic Load Balancing team for all their hard work in getting this into the hands of our users.


Now Available – Microsoft SQL Server 2017 for Amazon EC2

Microsoft SQL Server 2017 (launched just a few days ago) includes lots of powerful new features including support for graph databases, automatic database tuning, and the ability to create clusterless Always On Availability Groups. It can also be run on Linux and in Docker containers.

Run on EC2
I’m happy to announce that you can now launch EC2 instances that run Windows Server 2016 and four editions (Web, Express, Standard, and Enterprise) of SQL Server 2017. The AMIs (Amazon Machine Images) are available today in all AWS Regions and run on a wide variety of EC2 instance types, including the new x1e.32xlarge with 128 vCPUs and almost 4 TB of memory.

You can launch these instances from the AWS Management Console or through AWS Marketplace. Here’s what they look like in the console:

And in AWS Marketplace:

Licensing Options Galore
You have lots of licensing options for SQL Server:

Pay As You Go – This option works well if you would prefer to avoid buying licenses, are already running an older version of SQL Server, and want to upgrade. You don’t have to deal with true-ups, software compliance audits, or Software Assurance and you don’t need to make a long-term purchase. If you are running the Standard Edition of SQL Server, you also benefit from our recent price reduction, with savings of up to 52%.

License Mobility – This option lets your use your active Software Assurance agreement to bring your existing licenses to EC2, and allows you to run SQL Server on Windows or Linux instances.

Bring Your Own Licenses – This option lets you take advantage of your existing license investment while minimizing upgrade costs. You can run SQL Server on EC2 Dedicated Instances or EC2 Dedicated Hosts, with the potential to reduce operating costs by licensing SQL Server on a per-core basis. This option allows you to run SQL Server 2017 on EC2 Linux instances (SUSE, RHEL, and Ubuntu are supported) and also supports Docker-based environments running on EC2 Windows and Linux instances. To learn more about these options, read the Installation Guidance for SQL Server on Linux and Run SQL Server 2017 Container Image with Docker.

Learn More
To learn more about SQL Server 2017 and to explore your licensing options in depth, take a look at the SQL Server on AWS page.

If you need advice and guidance as you plan your migration effort, check out the AWS Partners who have qualified for the Microsoft Workloads competency and focus on database solutions.

Plan to join the AWS team at the PASS Summit (November 1-3 in Seattle) and at AWS re:Invent (November 27th to December 1st in Las Vegas).


PS – Special thanks to my colleague Tom Staab (Partner Solutions Architect) for his help with this post!

Things Go Better With Step Functions

I often give presentations on Amazon’s culture of innovation, and start out with a slide that features a revealing quote from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos:

I love to sit down with our customers and to learn how we have empowered their creativity and to pursue their dreams. Earlier this year I chatted with Patrick Brandt from The Coca-Cola Company in order to learn how they used AWS Step Functions and other AWS services to support the Vending Pass program. This program includes drink rewards earned by purchasing products at vending machines equipped to support mobile payments using the Coca-Cola Vending Pass. Participants swipe their NFC-enabled phones to complete an Apple Pay or Android Pay purchase, identifying themselves to the vending machine and earning credit towards future free vending purchases in the process

After the swipe, a combination of SNS topics and AWS Lambda functions initiated a pair of calls to some existing backend code to count the vending points and update the participant’s record. Unfortunately, the backend code was slow to react and had some timing dependencies, leading to missing updates that had the potential to confuse Vending Pass participants. The initial solution to this issue was very simple: modify the Lambda code to include a 90 second delay between the two calls. This solved the problem, but ate up process time for no good reason (billing for the use of Lambda functions is based on the duration of the request, in 100 ms intervals).

In order to make their solution more cost-effective, the team turned to AWS Step Functions, building a very simple state machine. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Step Functions coordinate the components of distributed applications and microservices at scale, using visual workflows that are easy to build.

Coke built a very simple state machine to simplify their business logic and reduce their costs. Yours can be equally simple, or they can make use of other Step Function features such as sequential and parallel execution and the ability to make decisions and choose alternate states. The Coke state machine looks like this:

The FirstState and the SecondState states (Task states) call the appropriate Lambda functions while Step Functions implements the 90 second delay (a Wait state). This modification simplified their logic and reduced their costs. Here’s how it all fits together:


What’s Next
This initial success led them to take a closer look at serverless computing and to consider using it for other projects. Patrick told me that they have already seen a boost in productivity and developer happiness. Developers no longer need to wait for servers to be provisioned, and can now (as Jeff says) unleash their creativity and pursue their dreams. They expect to use Step Functions to improve the scalability, functionality, and reliability of their applications, going far beyond the initial use for the Coca-Cola Vending Pass. For example, Coke has built a serverless solution for publishing nutrition information to their food service partners using Lambda, Step Functions, and API Gateway.

Patrick and his team are now experimenting with machine learning and artificial intelligence. They built a prototype application to analyze a stream of photos from Instagram and extract trends in tastes and flavors. The application (built as a quick, one-day prototype) made use of Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon API Gateway, and Amazon Rekognition and was, in Patrick’s words, a “big win and an enabler.”

In order to build serverless applications even more quickly, the development team has created an internal CI/CD reference architecture that builds on the Serverless Application Framework. The architecture includes a guided tour of Serverless and some boilerplate code to access internal services and assets. Patrick told me that this model allows them to easily scale promising projects from “a guy with a computer” to an entire development team.

Patrick will be on stage at AWS re:Invent next to my colleague Tim Bray. To meet them in person, be sure to attend SRV306 – State Machines in the Wild! How Customers Use AWS Step Functions.


Now Available – Amazon Linux AMI 2017.09

I’m happy to announce that the latest version of the Amazon Linux AMI (2017.09) is now available in all AWS Regions for all current-generation EC2 instances. The AMI contains a supported and maintained Linux image that is designed to provide a stable, secure, high performance environment for applications running on EC2.

Easy Upgrade
You can upgrade your existing instances by running two commands and then rebooting:

$ sudo yum clean all
$ sudo yum update

Lots of Goodies
The AMI contains many new features, many of which were added in response to requests from our customers. Here’s a summary:

Kernel 4.9.51 – Based on the 4.9 stable kernel series, this kernel includes the ENA 1.3.0 driver along with support for TCP Bottleneck Bandwidth and RTT (BBR). Read my post, Elastic Network Adapter – High-Performance Network Interface for Amazon EC2 to learn more about ENA. Read the Release Notes to learn how to enable BBR.

Amazon SSM Agent – The Amazon SSM Agent is now installed by default. This means that you can now use EC2 Run Command to configure and run scripts on your instances with no further setup. To learn more, read Executing Commands Using Systems Manager Run Command or Manage Instances at Scale Without SSH Access Using EC2 Run Command.

Python 3.6 – The newest version of Python is now included and can be managed via virtualenv and alternatives. You can install Python 3.6 like this:

$ sudo yum install python36 python36-virtualenv python36-pip

Ruby 2.4 – The latest version of Ruby in the 2.4 series is now available. Install it like this:

$ sudo yum install ruby24

OpenSSL – The AMI now uses OpenSSL 1.0.2k.

HTTP/2 – The HTTP/2 protocol is now supported by the AMI’s httpd24, nginx, and curl packages.

Relational DatabasesPostgres 9.6 and MySQL 5.7 are now available, and can be installed like this:

$ sudo yum install postgresql96
$ sudo yum install mysql57

OpenMPI – The OpenMPI package has been upgraded from 1.6.4 to 2.1.1. OpenMPI compatibility packages are available and can be used to build and run older OpenMPI applications.

And More – Other updated packages include Squid 3.5, Nginx 1.12, Tomcat 8.5, and GCC 6.4.

Launch it Today
You can use this AMI to launch EC2 instances in all AWS Regions today. It is available for EBS-backed and Instance Store-backed instances and supports HVM and PV modes.


AWS Hot Startups – September 2017

As consumers continue to demand faster, simpler, and more on-the-go services, FinTech companies are responding with ever more innovative solutions to fit everyone’s needs and to improve customer experience. This month, we are excited to feature the following startups—all of whom are disrupting traditional financial services in unique ways:

  • Acorns – allowing customers to invest spare change automatically.
  • Bondlinc – improving the bond trading experience for clients, financial institutions, and private banks.
  • Lenda – reimagining homeownership with a secure and streamlined online service.

Acorns (Irvine, CA)

Driven by the belief that anyone can grow wealth, Acorns is relentlessly pursuing ways to help make that happen. Currently the fastest-growing micro-investing app in the U.S., Acorns takes mere minutes to get started and is currently helping over 2.2 million people grow their wealth. And unlike other FinTech apps, Acorns is focused on helping America’s middle class – namely the 182 million citizens who make less than $100,000 per year – and looking after their financial best interests.

Acorns is able to help their customers effortlessly invest their money, little by little, by offering ETF portfolios put together by Dr. Harry Markowitz, a Nobel Laureate in economic sciences. They also offer a range of services, including “Round-Ups,” whereby customers can automatically invest spare change from every day purchases, and “Recurring Investments,” through which customers can set up automatic transfers of just $5 per week into their portfolio. Additionally, Found Money, Acorns’ earning platform, can help anyone spend smarter as the company connects customers to brands like Lyft, Airbnb, and Skillshare, who then automatically invest in customers’ Acorns account.

The Acorns platform runs entirely on AWS, allowing them to deliver a secure and scalable cloud-based experience. By utilizing AWS, Acorns is able to offer an exceptional customer experience and fulfill its core mission. Acorns uses Terraform to manage services such as Amazon EC2 Container Service, Amazon CloudFront, and Amazon S3. They also use Amazon RDS and Amazon Redshift for data storage, and Amazon Glacier to manage document retention.

Acorns is hiring! Be sure to check out their careers page if you are interested.

Bondlinc (Singapore)

Eng Keong, Founder and CEO of Bondlinc, has long wanted to standardize, improve, and automate the traditional workflows that revolve around bond trading. As a former trader at BNP Paribas and Jefferies & Company, E.K. – as Keong is known – had personally seen how manual processes led to information bottlenecks in over-the-counter practices. This drove him, along with future Bondlinc CTO Vincent Caldeira, to start a new service that maximizes efficiency, information distribution, and accessibility for both clients and bankers in the bond market.

Currently, bond trading requires banks to spend a significant amount of resources retrieving data from expensive and restricted institutional sources, performing suitability checks, and attaching required documentation before presenting all relevant information to clients – usually by email. Bankers are often overwhelmed by these time-consuming tasks, which means clients don’t always get proper access to time-sensitive bond information and pricing. Bondlinc bridges this gap between banks and clients by providing a variety of solutions, including easy access to basic bond information and analytics, updates of new issues and relevant news, consolidated management of your portfolio, and a chat function between banker and client. By making the bond market much more accessible to clients, Bondlinc is taking private banking to the next level, while improving efficiency of the banks as well.

As a startup running on AWS since inception, Bondlinc has built and operated its SaaS product by leveraging Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Elastic Load Balancing, and Amazon RDS across multiple Availability Zones to provide its customers (namely, financial institutions) a highly available and seamlessly scalable product distribution platform. Bondlinc also makes extensive use of Amazon CloudWatch, AWS CloudTrail, and Amazon SNS to meet the stringent operational monitoring, auditing, compliance, and governance requirements of its customers. Bondlinc is currently experimenting with Amazon Lex to build a conversational interface into its mobile application via a chat-bot that provides trading assistance services.

To see how Bondlinc works, request a demo at

Lenda (San Francisco, CA)

Lenda is a digital mortgage company founded by seasoned FinTech entrepreneur Jason van den Brand. Jason wanted to create a smarter, simpler, and more streamlined system for people to either get a mortgage or refinance their homes. With Lenda, customers can find out if they are pre-approved for loans, and receive accurate, real-time mortgage rate quotes from industry-experienced home loan advisors. Lenda’s advisors support customers through the loan process by providing financial advice and guidance for a seamless experience.

Lenda’s innovative platform allows borrowers to complete their home loans online from start to finish. Through a savvy combination of being a direct lender with proprietary technology, Lenda has simplified the mortgage application process to save customers time and money. With an interactive dashboard, customers know exactly where they are in the mortgage process and can manage all of their documents in one place. The company recently received its Series A funding of $5.25 million, and van den Brand shared that most of the capital investment will be used to improve Lenda’s technology and fulfill the company’s mission, which is to reimagine homeownership, starting with home loans.

AWS allows Lenda to scale its business while providing a secure, easy-to-use system for a faster home loan approval process. Currently, Lenda uses Amazon S3, Amazon EC2, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Redshift, and Amazon WorkSpaces.

Visit to find out more.

Thanks for reading and see you in October for another round of hot startups!


Natural Language Processing at Clemson University – 1.1 Million vCPUs & EC2 Spot Instances

My colleague Sanjay Padhi shared the guest post below in order to recognize an important milestone in the use of EC2 Spot Instances.


A group of researchers from Clemson University achieved a remarkable milestone while studying topic modeling, an important component of machine learning associated with natural language processing, breaking the record for creating the largest high-performance cluster in the cloud by using more than 1,100,000 vCPUs on Amazon EC2 Spot Instances running in a single AWS region. The researchers conducted nearly half a million topic modeling experiments to study how human language is processed by computers. Topic modeling helps in discovering the underlying themes that are present across a collection of documents. Topic models are important because they are used to forecast business trends and help in making policy or funding decisions. These topic models can be run with many different parameters and the goal of the experiments is to explore how these parameters affect the model outputs.

The Experiment
Professor Amy Apon, Co-Director of the Complex Systems, Analytics and Visualization Institute at Clemson University with Professor Alexander Herzog and graduate students Brandon Posey and Christopher Gropp in collaboration with members of the AWS team as well as AWS Partner Omnibond performed the experiments.  They used software infrastructure based on CloudyCluster that provisions high performance computing clusters on dynamically allocated AWS resources using Amazon EC2 Spot Fleet. Spot Fleet is a collection of biddable spot instances in EC2 responsible for maintaining a target capacity specified during the request. The SLURM scheduler was used as an overlay virtual workload manager for the data analytics workflows. The team developed additional provisioning and workflow automation software as shown below for the design and orchestration of the experiments. This setup allowed them to evaluate various topic models on different data sets with massively parallel parameter sweeps on dynamically allocated AWS resources. This framework can easily be used beyond the current study for other scientific applications that use parallel computing.

Ramping to 1.1 Million vCPUs
The figure below shows elastic, automatic expansion of resources as a function of time, in the US East (Northern Virginia) Region. At just after 21:40 (GMT-1) on Aug. 26, 2017, the number of vCPUs utilized was 1,119,196. Clemson researchers also took advantage of the new per-second billing for the EC2 instances that they launched. The vCPU count usage is comparable to the core count on the largest supercomputers in the world.

Here’s the breakdown of the EC2 instance types that they used:

Campus resources at Clemson funded by the National Science Foundation were used to determine an effective configuration for the AWS experiments as compared to campus resources, and the AWS cloud resources complement the campus resources for large-scale experiments.

Meet the Team
Here’s the team that ran the experiment (Professor Alexander Herzog, graduate students Christopher Gropp and Brandon Posey, and Professor Amy Apon):

Professor Apon said about the experiment:

I am absolutely thrilled with the outcome of this experiment. The graduate students on the project are amazing. They used resources from AWS and Omnibond and developed a new software infrastructure to perform research at a scale and time-to-completion not possible with only campus resources. Per-second billing was a key enabler of these experiments.

Boyd Wilson (CEO, Omnibond, member of the AWS Partner Network) told me:

Participating in this project was exciting, seeing how the Clemson team developed a provisioning and workflow automation tool that tied into CloudyCluster to build a huge Spot Fleet supercomputer in a single region in AWS was outstanding.

About the Experiment
The experiments test parameter combinations on a range of topics and other parameters used in the topic model. The topic model outputs are stored in Amazon S3 and are currently being analyzed. The models have been applied to 17 years of computer science journal abstracts (533,560 documents and 32,551,540 words) and full text papers from the NIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) Conference (2,484 documents and 3,280,697 words). This study allows the research team to systematically measure and analyze the impact of parameters and model selection on model convergence, topic composition and quality.

Looking Forward
This study constitutes an interaction between computer science, artificial intelligence, and high performance computing. Papers describing the full study are being submitted for peer-reviewed publication. I hope that you enjoyed this brief insight into the ways in which AWS is helping to break the boundaries in the frontiers of natural language processing!

Sanjay Padhi, Ph.D, AWS Research and Technical Computing


AWS Pinpoint Launches Two-Way Text Messaging

Last week Amazon Pinpoint launched AWS Global SMS two-way text messaging and we didn’t get an opportunity to cover the launch. AWS Pinpoint users can now programmaticaly respond to their end-users’ text messages. Users can provision both short codes and long codes (10-digit phone numbers) which send inbound messages to an SNS topic. Let’s take a look.

First I’ll navigate to the Pinpoint console where I’ll use the “Create a project in Mobile Hub” button in the top right corner. I’ll follow the steps in the wizard until the project is created.

Next, in the Pinpoint console I’ll click “Account Settings” in the top-right of the console window.

At the bottom of the Account Settings page there is a “Number Settings” section. If you don’t already have any short codes or long codes provisioned you’ll have to open a support ticket to request one. It can take multiple weeks for a short code to be approved by all carriers. Long codes are typically easier to provision.

Since I already have a few numbers provisioned I’ll use one of them now by clicking on it which brings me to that number’s configuration page.

Here I’ll enable 2-way SMS and create an SNS topic for messages.

I could create a quick lambda function to trigger on the SNS topic messages and then respond again with pinpoint.

import boto3
pinpoint = boto3.client('pinpoint')

def lambda_handler(event, context):
            'Addresses': {
                event['Records'][0]['Sns']['originationNumber']: {'ChannelType': 'SMS'}
            'MessageConfiguration': {
                'SMSMessage': {
                    'Body': 'Vim is the best!',
                    'MessageType': 'TRANSACTIONAL'

But pinpoint is extremely full-featured and you’re not limited to this simple message type. You can define rich messaging campaigns with various substitutions based on stored user data.

SMS is an area of continued investment for AWS so you can expect to see more advances and improvements as customers give us feedback on these new features. Let us know if you build anything cool with this!

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