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The future of AWS in Ireland

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AWS’s Mark Finlay discusses the company’s journey in Ireland, its future plans and its role in the public sector.

Cloud service provider Amazon Web Services, or AWS, began its journey on Irish soil almost 15 years ago when it launched its first cloud infrastructure region outside the US.

Over the subsequent years, AWS grew its workforce to what is now more than 3,000 direct employees.

But Mark Finlay, AWS’s head of public sector in Ireland, claims the economic impact of the company is even greater.

A recent study by Indecon International Economic Consultants, analysing AWS’s economic impact in Ireland from 2011 to 2020, showed that investment here actually supports a further 4,000 positions at contractors and sub-suppliers and more than 1,700 jobs stemming from these collective activities,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.

‘Cloud computing is proving key to this burgeoning national and global digital transformation’
– MARK FINLAY

The company is growing its base here, announcing plans last summer to hire another 1,000 employees across both AWS and Amazon.

“We are not done growing! That’s for sure,” Finlay added. “The jobs themselves will be created in a range of areas. They include engineer roles in software development, network development, systems development, optical deployment and DevOps.

“We will also be hiring data centre technicians, mechanical and electrical engineers, solutions architects, security specialists and account managers. There will be job opportunities as well in technical management and in senior leadership.”

Outside of job creation, AWS has also bedded down in the education, data centre and renewable energy sectors in Ireland.

Last November, the company launched a free training programme for cloud skills in Ireland, called AWS re/Start, aimed at helping people who are unemployed, underemployed or from underrepresented communities.

Finlay said AWS has also developed partnerships with schools and third-level institutions, creating technology initiatives including AWS GetIT, which helped second-level students to develop their own app ideas.

Commitment to sustainability

While sustainability is on the agenda for many tech giants, it has become particularly important in the area of data centres – something cloud service providers such as AWS are acutely aware of.

Finlay said Amazon is committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. “As part of this pledge, we have set ambitious goals and we’re on path to power our operations with 100pc renewable energy by 2025.

“That commitment to sustainability applies fully to our operations in Ireland, where we are making significant investments in renewable energy.”

These investments include windfarm projects in Donegal, Cork and, most recently, Galway, which are set to add a total of 229MW to the energy grid each year.

“Once all projects are operational, we will be the largest single corporate buyer of renewable energy in the country. This is helping Ireland to meet its 2030 renewable targets,” Finlay said.

The company will also provide free recycled heat from its data centres to Heatworks, Ireland’s first publicly owned, not-for-profit energy company, which will deliver low-carbon heat to a range of premises in the Tallaght area.

Cloud tech in the public sector

Last week, Siliconrepublic.com examined the cloud sector and, more specifically, how it has accelerated since the beginning of the pandemic.

Finlay said this acceleration has resulted in an even greater expectation that government bodies should be able to operate remotely and at speed.

“Cloud computing is proving key to this burgeoning national and global digital transformation. That’s because the flexibility it provides is fundamental to the responsive and nimble public services that people now expect.

“As the cloud allows for the on-demand delivery of IT resources over the internet, state bodies using it no longer have to worry about managing cumbersome and expensive data centres. Instead, they simply access the digital tools they require on an as-needed basis, meaning they can focus on services and outcomes rather than the hardware underpinning them.”

However, he said one of the most important innovations when it comes to partnering with public bodies is giving them access to “the most cutting-edge of technologies” such as AI and machine learning without a heavy cost investment.

“Take the experience of Transport for New South Wales, an Australian government agency responsible for public transport, for example. It began using AWS machine learning to transition from historically based analytics to a forward-looking model with predictive capability,” he said.

“The power of those cloud services now means that [Transport for New South Wales] is better able to predict passenger numbers across its entire transport network, thereby improving the experience of all who use it.”

Closer to home, AWS partnered with the HSE and Waterford-based NearForm to build and scale the Covid Tracker Ireland app, the tech for which has since been brought to the US.

“Because of the cloud’s elasticity, the Covid Tracker app can seamlessly scale to meet fluctuating demands as pandemic activity changes,” said Finlay.

“I think it’s safe to say that we will see even greater use of cloud technology in the future to improve healthcare and deliver better outcomes for patients.”

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Rocket Lab setting up for first Moon mission • The Register

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Rocket Lab has taken delivery of NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft at its New Zealand launch pad ahead of a mission to the Moon.

It’s been quite a journey for CAPSTONE [Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment], which was originally supposed to launch from Rocket Lab’s US launchpad at Wallops Island in Virginia.

The pad, Launch Complex 2, has been completed for a while now. However, delays in certifying Rocket Lab’s Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) pushed the move to Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.

The wet dress rehearsal for the launch was completed last night, prompting CEO Peter Beck to say: “Next stop…the Moon!”

“I always wanted to say that,” he added. Beck has long dreamed of sending his rockets beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and is planning a mission to Venus in 2023. However, the Moon is than the company has sent its rockets to date.

CAPSTONE is to be sent to a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, a location planned for the NASA, ESA, and CSA Gateway. CAPSTONE’s primary mission is to verify simulations that the interaction gravity of the Earth and Moon will make for a stable orbit.

The milestone was hit as Rocket Lab announced its first quarter 2022 results. Overall, the company made a net loss of $26.7 million, down from the $15.9 million loss of the same period last year, but revenues jumped to $40.7 million from $18.2 million. Most interesting was the make-up of that revenue. Space Systems (the company’s Photon spacecraft and the components it sells) accounted for a whopping 84 percent of Q1 revenue. Actual Electron rockets fared less well; during a call with analysts, CFO Adam Spice said that launches contributed just $6.6 million.

Going forward, the company expects second quarter revenues to be between $51 million and $54 million. It is including three dedicated launches in that figure (of which CAPSTONE is one). Two have already happened, and there is potential for a fourth, but the company has opted to take a prudent path and not include it in the figures.

As for CAPSTONE, it will be integrated with the Electron rocket and Photon spacecraft bus ahead of the launch window opening on May 31. The Electron will launch the spacecraft into LEO and the Photon will take care of the ballistic lunar transfer via multiple orbit raisings. A final burn of Photon’s engine will occur on the sixth day, enough to escape Earth orbit and send CAPSTONE on a course for the Moon. ®



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Dublin’s UrbanVolt bags €36m for its solar energy business

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A DCU Alpha spin-out, UrbanVolt says it sells power generated from solar energy at up to 30pc lower rates than traditional suppliers.

UrbanVolt, a Dublin-based clean energy company, has secured €36m in financing to expand its solar panel business in Ireland and the UK.

The funding includes a €30m asset-backed seven-year loan from Swedish credit fund PCP and €6m from existing funding partners, BVP and Beach Point Capital.

Future Human

Founded in 2015 by Kevin Maughan, Graham Deane and Declan Barrett, UrbanVolt finances and installs solar panels on the rooftops of commercial and industrial businesses, selling the solar electricity generated to the businesses at up to 30pc lower rate than traditional suppliers.

The company said it also guarantees the price for up to 30 years, protecting businesses against rising energy costs for decades to come, with no minimum amount payable or standing charges – meaning that customers pay proportionate to their consumption.

“This is a transformational deal, which will allow us to scale at pace to meet the significant demand in the market while also streamlining the process of installing solar panels for our customers’ benefit,” said Maughan, who is also the CEO of the DCU Alpha spin-out.

“This first funding facility from PCP will see our project output grow by 20x over the coming years.  It is also happening at a time when the demand for renewable energy is rising significantly given climate and geopolitical crises.”

The loan facility will be used to fund the installation of solar panels and related equipment on UrbanVolt’s primary target of commercial and industrial client sites in both Ireland and the UK.

It started supplying solar-generated electricity directly to businesses in Ireland last summer, since when it has agreed contracts with more than 60 companies and completed seven installations.

Maughan sad that there is “simply no compelling reason” for commercial and industrial operators to opt for traditional energy sources anymore, adding that UrbanVolt offers “unparalleled” price security and clean energy.

“By incorporating an ‘as a service’ business model, our customers only pay for the energy they use without a standing charge, and the cost of our equipment and its maintenance is kept off their balance sheet.”

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$7.6bn of ‘stablecoin’ tether redeemed since start of crypto crisis | Cryptocurrencies

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Digital investors have withdrawn savings in the “stablecoin” tether worth $7.6bn (£6.2bn) since the cryptocurrency crisis began last week, suggesting the company has paid out a sum almost twice its total cash holdings to spooked depositors.

Stablecoins are supposed to have a fixed value matched to a real-world asset, in most cases $1 a token. However, faith in the concept was rocked last Tuesday when another big player, terra, broke its peg to the dollar. That has fuelled a wider sell-off across the crypto sector, which relies on stablecoins for much of its financial engineering.

Q&A

What is a stablecoin?

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A stablecoin, like the name suggests, is a type of cryptocurrency that is supposed to have a stable value, such as US$1 per token. How they achieve that varies: the largest, such as tether and USD Coin, are effectively banks. They hold large reserves in cash, liquid assets, and other investments, and simply use those reserves to maintain a stable price.

Others, known as “algorithmic stablecoins”, attempt to do the same thing but without any reserves. They have been criticised as effectively being backed by Ponzi schemes, since they require continuous inflows of cash to ensure they don’t collapse.

Stablecoins are an important part of the cryptocurrency ecosystem. They provide a safer place for investors to store capital without going through the hassle of cashing out entirely, and allow assets to be denominated in conventional currency, rather than other extremely volatile tokens.

Thank you for your feedback.

Tether, the third biggest cryptocurrency by “market cap”, experienced a short-lived crisis on Thursday when its value dropped from $1 to 95¢ as savers feared it would follow its fellow stablecoin terra and collapse. However, the token, which is controlled by a private company with close links to the crypto exchange Bitfinex, has since largely restored its dollar peg by honouring a promise to allow savers to always withdraw $1 for every tether they give back to the company.

The company only allows direct withdrawals of at least $100,000 for each request, and charges a fee of 0.1% on redemptions. Anyone with less tether than that minimum can only turn their money into dollars by finding someone to buy it from them – a disparity that fuelled the temporary collapse in value.

Despite the difficulties, according to public blockchain data, $7.6bn of tether has been reallocated in this way since Thursday. That is almost twice the cash that Tether had in its reserves at the end of last year, according to accounts published on its website.

Most of the rest of its reserves are held in “cash-like” assets, the majority of which are $35bn of US government debt and $25bn of corporate bonds. However, the company has refused to share any further details of the investments, with its chief technology officer, Paolo Ardoino, telling the Financial Times: “We don’t want to give our secret sauce.”

There have long been fears as to Tether’s ability to honour all redemptions. The company had once said it backed its currency with “US dollars”, a claim the New York attorney general said in 2021 “was a lie”. Now, it simply claims its currency is “backed 100% by Tether’s reserves”.

By contrast, terra was backed by a complex algorithm that required the value of a sister cryptocurrency, luna, to constantly rise in order to maintain the dollar peg. When the crash hit last week, the system went into a “death spiral”, automatically printing more luna, which crashed the price further, until luna lost 99.9995% of its value in a matter of days and terra was left languishing at $0.11.

The charismatic founder of the Terra project, Do Kwon, has said he wants to relaunch the currency. In a proposal posted to the project’s message board on Friday, he suggested wiping all ownership of luna, and redistributing 1bn new tokens, with most going to those who hold the stablecoin, or who held luna before last week’s crash.

“It is a hard balance – and no easy answers in redistributing value within the network,” Kwon wrote. “But value must be distributed to allow the ecosystem to survive, and in its current state it will not.”

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Kwon also faces questions about how the vast sums of bitcoin that his project had amassed to back terra were spent. According to a breakdown shared by the organisation, it sold more than 80,000 bitcoins, worth more than $2.4bn, to unnamed parties in exchange for terra valued at $1 – at a time when the public price of the currency was under 75¢.

The jitters around stablecoins have combined with a general slump in tech stocks and the wider US downturn to trigger a wider crisis of confidence across the crypto sector. Bitcoin and ethereum, the two biggest cryptocurrencies, are down more than 10% over the last seven days, with ethereum dropping 17% to less than $2,000. Smaller currencies have, as always, been more volatile, with dogecoin falling 26% over the week.

Even some of the most vocal backers of digital currencies are now querying the promises of the sector. The founder of the crypto exchange FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, said in an interview with the Financial Times that bitcoin has no future as a payments network because of the inherent inefficiencies of its blockchain, the public digital register that records its transactions. Instead, he argued, it could only function as a gold-like store of long-term value.



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