Today I attended the AWSSummit in London. It was a free event that had a load of sessions designed to educate folk on some of the AWS offerings.

If you are anything like me you will have an understanding of maybe 50% of the services AWS has to offer, and will have used even less. This is why I wanted to go, I figured that even if the day turned out to be one long sales pitch, it wouldn’t hurt to be sold at if it meant I got some visibility on different things we could maybe be looking at.

The tldr to all of this is;

  • I felt it was a well run conference
  • I learned a lot about some services I knew
  • I learned about some services I didn’t have a clue about
  • I got three new t-shirts to wear (obviously the most important part)
  • I got speaking to some interesting vendors

Keynote

The day started with a keynote introduced by Gavin Jackson, the MD of AWS in UK/Ireland. I took away three major things;

  • AWS still sees the UK as important even post-Brexit, which is fantastic to hear.
  • A lot of the day was going to include stories from AWS customers.
  • The UK is getting its own Availability Zone, which is great news for sites with UK-centric traffic.

He then introduced Dr Werner Vogels, the CTO of Amazon. I really enjoyed what he had to say. My key takeaways were;

  • AWS was born from an idea to radically change the customer/vendor relationship – Historically IT vendors had terrible lock ins
  • Digital needs to underpin the entire organisation – it is non-optional
  • Digital transformation is required for survival
  • You have no business if you can’t protect your customers
  • Some signs that you aren’t at microservice level yet
  • Amazon Snowball is a thing!

We were left with this rousing statement;

Dr Werner Vogels' slide saying 'there has never been a better time to build'
There has never been a better time to build

Customer led Events

I want to talk a little about this notion of including stories from AWS customers. This year I was at an Event about hyper growth which was led by Salesforce customers, I really enjoyed it.

I really like the idea of customer led events. Of course they aren’t going to invite customers who aren’t happy with the product, but it takes some level of dedication to a platform to agree to take time out of your day to speak on its behalf.

I think it shows an incredible amount of guts on behalf of AWS. Each session I attended that had an AWS customer talking had a mention of at least one gripe with the suite of products.

It helps to turn some of the cool tech being mentioned into something tangible – the people who make the product are experts at selling the product, but the people who build their businesses on top of the product are the experts in actually using the product.

Sessions

After the keynote the sessions started, there were about 9 rooms which housed various sessions throughout the day. There was something for everyone.

The sessions I choose to attend were on AWS Lambda, a deep dive into Aurora, and a deep dive into EC2.

AWS Lambda

I was incredibly interested to hear more about what AWS Lambda is and how people are using it. Thanks to Dean Bryen for explaining it so well.

AWS Lambdas are effectively serverless setups, you don’t worry about maintaining a server, you just create the code you want to run and tell it when you want it to run.

Here were my main takeaways;

  • With AWS Lambda you pay only for compute time
  • The servers used are completely transparent to you (no SSH)
  • There is plenty of logging/monitoring of your code
  • Lambda’s can be triggered by events like a file being uploaded to an S3 bucket or an API endpoint being hit
  • They work well as a glue between various parts of your stack
  • Natively works with Node, Python and Java
  • There is a good permissions model around what can call your lambda and what your lambda can call (to the point of limiting which DB table you can hit)
  • API Gateway allows for a serverless API
  • Excellent for replacing Cron tasks

Aurora Deep Dive

We use Aurora in production at the moment and it is working well, I wanted to attend this deep dive session to get a better understanding of the thinking behind it. Ronan Guilfoyle led this session and explained it well.

Here are my main takeaways;

  • Aurora is fully compatible with MySQL 5.6
  • Built with a modern tech stack in mind
  • High performance and high availability were key design goals
  • Older solutions like sharding and horizontal scaling come with a cost
  • Caching separated out from core DB functionality
  • Making the DB do less and do what it does more efficiently leads to huge savings
  • What doesn’t get handled by the DB (like caching) can now be ran in parallel and not block core DB actions

I really enjoyed Intercom’s case study of how they were able to get their then >2 billion row table under control thanks to Aurora.

EC2 Deep Dive

My final session of the day was a deep dive into EC2. We use EC2 instances heavily at work so any tips I could pick up would be valuable. Thanks to Steven Bryen for taking this session.

My main takeaways are;

  • Check your resource usage - too much usage per instance and you can’t grow and you’ll lose performance, too little and you are paying too much
  • t2 has burstable performance with accrues credit to spend within a 24 hour period
  • Cloudwatch can monitor the credit used and factor this in to any autoscaling you want to do

Sponsors and Partners

I don’t want to call out specific companies here, but I had several interesting conversations with companies that are tightly tied into AWS and are doing some really cool stuff. The folk I met were engaging and cared a lot about their company.

There was some great swag as well!

a picture of the view of the AWS vendors floor
A view of the vendor floor

A note on diversity

One thing that struck me was that every session I attended (that isn’t to say every session) was all presented by white guys. I also don’t think I spotted any AWS staff walking about that weren’t white guys.

I am starting to notice this stuff more and more, especially since attending the really diverse Lead Dev Conference.

I plan to email someone involved with this conference to register that I noticed this. It is important.

Summing up

As per my tldr, I really enjoyed the conference. I actually feel a lot closer to AWS as a company as a result of going, they seem to really care about this stuff! I would definitely go back in future years.