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AWS month in review: Updated Lambda execution environment on its way

AWS this month said it will update the execution environment for Lambda and Lambda@Edge. Lambda runs on top of the Amazon Linux OS distribution, which AWS will move to version 2018.03 in July. AWS has also begun to highlight its niche managed satellite service Ground Station, as the first two stations are now open for business. Finally this May, AWS weighed in on the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act enacted in March 2018. AWS both echoed support for the law, but also insisted will defend its users’ data to the extent international law allows.

The updated AWS Lambda execution environment AMI should improve Lambda capabilities, performance and security, according to AWS. However, the transition could impact Lambda functions that house libraries or application code compiled against specific underlying OS packages or other system libraries. Lambda users should proactively test their existing functions before the general update goes live Tuesday, July 16.

An AWS Lambda execution environment is what users’ code runs on, made up of an underlying OS, system packages, the runtime for your language, and common capabilities like environment variables. Users can test their functions for the new environment in the Lambda console if they have enabled the Opt-in layer, which will tell Lambda to run function executions on the new environment. They can also test locally through an updated AWS Serverless Application Model CLI, which uses a Docker image that mirrors the new Lambda environment.

On June 11, any newly created Lambda function will run on the updated execution environment. And on June 25, any updated Lambda function update will run on the new environment, too.

The general update will occur on July 16, and all existing functions will use the new execution environment when invoked. If you aren’t ready to deploy to the new execution environment, enable the Delayed-Update layer which will push the distribution transition back to July 23. All functions will have to be migrated by July 29.

The safest course is to begin testing lambda functions now, especially those suspected to have dependencies compiled against system packages.

AWS Ground Station is operational

Introduced at the 2018 re:Invent, AWS Ground Station enables you to downlink data from satellites. Ground stations are quite literally the base of global satellite networks. This managed service now has two antennas up and running in the U.S.East-2 and U.S. West-2 regions, with 10 more under construction and expected online in 2019.

Given expense and satellite access, Ground Station is a niche service that won’t make sense for every AWS user.  However, for organizations that rely on satellite data — weather, maritime or aviation — Ground Station has a chance to provide better data at a cheaper rate. If AWS successfully deploys the remaining antennas, then organizations will be able to connect to satellites when and where they need data, without steep management costs.

AWS Ground Station bills antenna use in per-minute increments and will only charge for time scheduled.

AWS weighs in on CLOUD Act

Since it was enacted in March 2018, the CLOUD Act has caused tension between privacy advocates and big tech companies who support the law, among them AWS. Responding to this U.S. Department of Justice white paper, AWS hoped to quell users’ privacy concerns.

While the white paper outlines the law’s purpose, scope, and importance as a model for international cooperation, AWS insists that the CLOUD Act will not affect its ability to protect its customers’ data. In short, the CLOUD Act streamlines the process by which law enforcement agencies can compel service providers to turn over data outlined in a warrant. AWS, though, insists it reviews any request for customer data and gives users the option to encrypt data in-transit and at rest. AWS also points to its history of challenging government requests for user information, especially when they conflict with local laws — think GDPR here.

AWS is trying to thread a fine line here, complying with the DOJ but also appealing to the privacy concerns of its customers. AWS and other big tech companies will continue to be the middle-man in this privacy conflict.

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