Monday, December 5, 2016

AWS re:Invent - Wrap Up

It's Friday, I'm blogging at 33,000 feet and the captain has just turned off the seat belt signs, informed us that it's 50 degrees back at our final destination, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and directed us to just sit back and relax.  I get very nervous when the captain of a plane flying at 33,000 feet tells me my final destination is Philadelphia.  I'm hoping to do a few more trips to AWS re:Invent before my "final destination" arrives.

CloudBlogging (pun intended) about my 5 days at one of the most important cloud computing events each year thanks to my Acer Chromebook and my free GoGo Inflight passes.  I still have 6 left of the 12 I received when I purchased the C720 nearly three years ago prior to attending my second AWS re:Invent extravaganza. Wifi at 33,000 feet is spotty but it is possible to complete a blog post on a 5 hour trip across the country.

No blog here would be complete without a shameless plug (I promise this is the only plug in the blog) for Chromebooks - #LoveMeSomeChromebook.

If you haven't read the rest of this somewhat tantalizing series on AWS re:Invent start here.  I'll wrap up the blog series with a recap of the week's highlights, opine a bit and provide you with some of the key takeaways.  Enjoy!

When will it stop growing?

Hoodies & Backpacks
Who knows?  Since the first year I attended way back in 2013 the event has grown almost as fast as AWS' revenue which reportedly has grown 55% YOY (disclaimer:  I hold no position in Amazon stock - unfortunately I was content with a 20% return when I sold at 110).  This year, with 32,000 attendees, the event is showing some signs of buckling under the pressure.  I can assure you however that it is still a must for anyone involved in building cloud applications or interested in emerging IT strategies.

I'm not sure if this factoid is true, but AWS re:Invent must produce the highest density of backpacks and hoodies per square foot on the planet.  Amazon distributed another 30,000+ hoodies and an Amazon Echo Dot (courtesy of Capital One - yes, it's in my wallet, but not my portfolio) to all attendees.

Off to the Mirage for a breakout session...
While highly organized - and logistically speaking (Amazon? logistics? get it?) it all seemed to work well - long lines, crowds, and way too much walking were again the theme.  My estimate is that we walked between 7 and 8 miles each day (as measured by an iPhone app, so take that for what it's worth).  The distance between venues (Venetian, Mirage, Encore) as well as the distance between your hotel suite and the breakout sessions conspired to create aching feet, cranky backs and at times irritable attendees.  Once again, the meals provided were delicious despite the fact that they were feeding so many people.


Atari Breakout the final destination for a lot of my quarters
This year marked the first year that attendees were required to pre-register for breakout sessions and given the large number of folks that signed up for the event, requiring pre-registration was a great idea.  While it may have locked you into a schedule, it at least assured you of a seat at the session.

If you didn't register for a session it was often possible to still get in as room opened up. Each session had a wait list line where you could stand and wait until the talk started.  If there was room left they let more folks in.  It actually worked out pretty well.  Good job!

Tip: They add more breakout sessions after Werner Vogel's keynote each year in order to give attendees a deeper dive into the new services he announces.  Stay flexible with your schedule if you want to learn about all the shiny new toys.

Multi-account strategy when migrating to the cloud
Excellent session!
Not all sessions were interesting, entertaining, or enlightening. The unevenness of the sessions, as is the case each year, was in direct correlation to the presenters.  In general, Amazon presenters did a nice job (as they always do), while industry speakers were at times unpolished, difficult to understand or just plain boring.

I sniffed out the sessions that were more or less simply opportunities for companies to plug their products and attended almost exclusively talks that were product agnostic while still offering a customer viewpoint.

If you want the vendor viewpoint, cozy up to the sales people in the exhibit hall and load up your backpack with t-shirts and tchotchkes.  It really is a great learning experience speaking with the vendors in that setting.  The vendors at these shows are all pretty strong. They bring technical people with answers and ideas.  Their breakout sessions are just a bit too much for me to sit through though. I always want to ask a dozen questions but by the time the presentation is over it's time to head to the next session.

Truth be told none of the other talks about AWS are truly product agnostic either since it is after all, one big sales pitch for AWS.  Amazon does try hard to dispel that underlying reality and I think they succeed in many ways.  But, really my suggestion is to mostly avoid the vendor sponsored breakout sessions since it's the best strategy to maximize the signal to noise ratio of the information overload that occurs during the 5 day event.

Pub Crawl 2016
Do not, however avoid vendor sponsored events! There are way too many people at these VSEs for any salesman to corner you and they keep it casual anyway. The worst that will happen is your badge will get scanned and you'll be perpetually on their email list.  Small price to pay for a pint of a not half bad IPA at the Public House.

25 hour days required

There is still not enough time to take advantage of all that is offered despite the early starts and late stops of some of the sessions.  I was not able to do any of the free Qwik Labs courses but did manage to do one 2 1/2 hour workshop on serverless applications.  My plans to take the Certified Architect test were blown up - it was impossible to fit it into my schedule and besides my drained physical state was completely sub-optimal for test taking.  It takes a few days just to adjust to the time zone change.  I perpetually woke up at 3:30 am expecting my dog to jump on the bed and remind me it's time for our 6:30 am walk.

AWS re:Play Party featuring DJ Martin Garrix
More disappointing was the fact that I missed out on additional SWAG available to those who fill out all of their session evaluations because I had to catch the 10:30 am back to beautiful Philadelphia, PA.  I would have also liked to have spent more time in the exhibit hall speaking with vendors and picking up more geeky t-shirts, tchotchkes, stickers and other meaningless baubles and beads for all the folks back at the ranch. There's always next year!

Lunch served poolside at the Mirage
I'm pretty sure I did manage to see all of the things I needed to see though in Las Vegas, including a guy dressed up like a Wookie, the number one DJ in the world (Martin Garrix), trucks parading down Las Vegas literally every 5 minutes either advertising "We Bring Girls to You!" or Cirque du Soleil, neither of which seem very appealing.  Oh yeah, the weather was the same as is it was in Philadelphia - 50 something, but unfortunately unlike Las Vegas, it's going to get colder in the Northeast soon and we don't have any palm trees!

Magnanimity or just good business?

Amazon made a big deal about their new DDoS prevention and mitigation services and it is in fact an important new service.  They introduced their free, or better stated, built-in, AWS Shield Standard service that provides a first level of defense for all traffic on their network and a higher level (paid) service with Amazon Shield Advanced that will help customers who experience a DDoS attack mitigate it with the help of Amazon's response team.

Let's Make the Internet Great Again!
The truth is I think they really HAVE to provide this service for customers. They must protect the reputations and assets of Amazon and that of their customers since a target to one site may affect a lot more than just that one customer.

The surface area for attack gets bigger each hour and therefore so does the so called blast radius (another overused metaphor). So, while Amazon might like to tout their magnanimosity(?) and pat themselves on the back for introducing yet another service, the truth is they are compelled to protect all of their customers and their own assets from DDoS attacks...and they certainly can't rely on potentially negligent tenants to do the right things all of the time.  The last thing they want is to watch their (and their customer's) beautifully architected autoscaling applications begin to do what they were designed to do...scale and run amok while under attack, bringing a lot of applications to a grinding stand still.  I imagine the event would most likely require a big cleanup process that starts with quelling angry customers and ends with credits on CPU usage.  I do think it is however, indicative of Amazon's responsiveness to events that occur in their customers and their ecosystem.  Kudos to Amazon for helping to "Make the Internet Great Again"...well almost.

Everybody wants to rule the world...

Prophets of  Amazon's world domination?
Speaking of Amazon's responsibility to protect customers, let's project their dominance a bit into the future.   According to Gartner...

in 2015 AWS delivers over 10X the utilized cloud capacity of its largest 14 competitors combined.

What does that mean for the world's consumers of compute capacity or for that matter the world economy in general?  Just as OPEC held the world ransom in the 70's, so too could Amazon's cloud hegemony hold the world's increasingly insatiable demand for cloud compute capacity ransom in the very near future.  In some ways they have already become too big to fail and are getting bigger every hour (literally).

If that sounds like a dire warning regarding Amazon's intentions, it's not. It's just a fact with no inherent predictive capability or implications other than to cause me to opine that they are becoming (if not already are) the backbone of the world economy.

The good news is they take their hegemony seriously and truly are dedicated to being customer centric. In fact, as we all know their mission statement is to be the "earth's most customer centric company". I think the use of the word earth is telling. It speaks to their global vision, not as a country by country or region by region strategy, although you see that in the tactical plan, but rather a holistic expression of their desire to own that mission statement in a truly meaningful way. Perhaps Jeff Bezo's dalliance with rocketry portends Amazon's next revision to their mission be the solar systems's most customer centric company...onward to Mars Mr. Bezos!

Tuesday Night Live with James Hamilton, VP and Distinguished Engineer of Amazon offered a very revealing peek behind the curtain surrounding Amazon's global infrastructure.  The scope of their global compute presence is truly amazing and according to Mr. Hamilton they aren't done yet.  The video is a fascinating look at how they view their responsibility to provide services to their customers and the lengths they will go (even engineering their own chips or contradicting years of engineering best practices) to get it right.  It's might be dangerous to trust one vendor but Amazon's commitment to not just listening to their customers, but encouraging customers to push back, in order to push them forward is a good indicator that the world's cloud computing platform could not be in better hands right now.

General Geeky Developer Thoughts

In no particular order here are some topics I bumped up against at re:Invent that I think should be on the radar for all developers.

  • More tools for orchestration - ChefAutomate,  emerging standards like SAM (Serverless Application Model) for orchestration
  • More use of tools for development lifecycle management - CodeBuild/CodePipeline/CodeDeploy
  • More serverless services - Lambda@Edge which moves Lambda functions out to the CDN.  In my opinion, Lambda will increasingly play an important role in cloud computing but will only hit the steep part of the adoption curve when the application lifecycle management, IDE and monitoring tools catch up.  The workshop I attended reinforced the difficulty even the experts had in debugging their own code.  Lambda is the way the cloud was meant to be consumed.  It promises to provide ubiquitous, ephemeral compute power and in fact it does that right now - we just can't readily take advantage of all it has to offer until the rough edges around this emerging model have been ground down a bit.  Emerging frameworks like the Serverless Framework and SAM are encouraging steps in the right direction.
  • More big data tools - faster computers and more tools make data analytics the great enabler for competitive advantage in the future.  It's not just enough to have massive compute resources at your fingertips to promote your company as "all that and a bag of chips" - you're going to need data scientists to unlock the information inside your data that will guide strategy and achieve market leadership.  As Werner Vogels said - "AWS democratizes computing". Anyone with an email account and a credit card now have access to these tools.  The differentiator is going to be who has the best ideas, not who has the deepest pockets.
  • More emphasis on halting Oracle database dominance once and for all - please, no really, please!  The days of egregious, overly zealous licensing that exploits market dominance and customer ignorance are coming to end.  Aurora for Postgres is a step toward independence from tyrannical vendors.  My only regret will be the loss of such an archetypical villain like Larry Ellison.  It is good to have Darth Vaders and Luke Skywalkers.  
    Gotcha by the Tatoines...
    "Luke, use the cloud!" Okay, so there is some degree of vendor lock-in when you commit to using AWS in a meaningful way, but there are ways to abstract some of this away and certainly opportunities to use open source solutions like Postgres, MariaDB, Redis and other tools in your stack in lieu of specific AWS offerings. But truthfully, you'll get a better overall experience with less maintenance overhead if you let them drive.
  • It is imperative that designs incorporate CloudFront in a variety of modes in order to protect and accelerate a company's cloud footprint,  From DDoS protection to content acceleration CloudFront to the rescue!
  • It's too easy to do highly available architectures for anyone not to be doing it! Period. Full stop.  From using DNS rules, to highly available services like RDS, SQS, and DynamoDB to utilizing multiple availability zones in your architecture, the tools are there, easy to use and cost effective.  It is essentially negligence to avoid using these HA techniques.
  • There is a tremendous amount of overlap in functionality in all of these unapologetically organically grown services offered by Amazon.  AWS is an octopus with more than 8 legs.  It is becoming more difficult to chose the right tools with so many choices and new services being introduced at such a rapid pace.  Overall, I guess that's a good thing. We are now able to select from among finer grained tooling that solve very specific problems. The downside is that the tools are becoming precision instruments that require much more expertise and careful wielding.  These tools are no longer sledge hammers that have a large surface, they're lasers with pinpoint accuracy.  Aim carefully.
Cloud Sherpa?

  • There are many extremely well trained 3rd party partners and tons of smart young guys and gals out there becoming more and more competent in shepherding customers into the cloud. Amazon's certifications are helping to distinguish the charlatans from the sherpas.
  • 12 Factor Apps - a best practices manifesto for modern application development.  Last year it was all about The Well Architected Framework this year the buzz was about serverless architectures and 12 Factor Apps.  Always something to learn.
  • Developers are doing things we used to say were impossible.  Coinbase with their "Scorched Earth" initiative rebuilt their entire stack in 24 hours.  Their presentation highlighted their commitment to automation, security, and accountability.  No administrative rights on production servers? No server with an uptime over 30 days?  Rebuild your company's infrastructure in a day? Impossible?  Nope.

Oddest Stuff @re:Invent

Could it be, as ancient alien theorists believe...
  • A company that advertised a product that helped rid the world of print servers.  Their booth had a sign - No More Print Servers! Whaaaat?  Wait! People are still printing?  Chopping down trees, creating pulp, polluting water and making paper that ends up in a recycling bin?  How about, no more printing! I know first hand how addicted to paper a company can be, but really people? print servers?  Might as well have had a booth that promoted automatic buggy whips.
  • McDonald's CTO, Tom Gergets explaining to the audience at Wednesday's keynote how they are replacing $15/hour workers with automation (although not in those exact words and couched in a discussion of their cloud transformation).  I won't comment on the minimum wage movement which I agree will have a negative effect on low-skill job opportunities, but I'd prefer to see McDonalds first spend some time creating better food choices for the public and stop exploiting our taste for fat and salt before spending billions on bringing it to us faster and less expensively.
  • I passed by one booth where a salesman kindly offered to enter me in a contest to win a free trip to Iceland.  My first thought was my God, this global warming thing is real!  Iceland is now a tropical paradise! But no, I asked the guy about palm trees and he said there are none outside in Iceland (yet), but I would get to see some glaciers and geothermal pyrotechnics. He verified that it's still cold there, hence it's still called IcelandI'm quite sure Iceland is a lovely place and I'll bet the people are wonderful, but I'm sort of allergic to the cold. thanks.  Just my luck I'd win.
  • Oh and yeah, Elvis was indeed in the house, albeit in the form of a 3 foot tall version of The King made out of Legos.

Viva Las Vegas!

Palazzo - Italian for "My Feet Hurt"
Some tips for the intrepid
Las Vegas traveler.

  1. Venetian is very nice, so is the Palazzo which is where I stayed this time.  The food in any of the restaurants is prepared by some of the best chefs in the world...really.  Food is flown in fresh from around the globe.  Expect every excess your little clogged arteries can stand.
  2. Chapstick is essential - you are after all in a friggin' desert.  Expect your nasal passages to dry up, become irritated and bloody and to potentially pick up a cold virus if you don't wash your hands religiously (and keep them out of your nose).
  3. Drink lots of water (See #2). But don't drink the bottled water from your palatial room.  It's $5/bottle.  Go to the Walgreen's next door and get a case or a six pack of water for $3.49.
  4. People smoke here, it's pretty disgusting and exacerbates #2.
  5. The odds favor the casinos  - we've again empirically verified that fact.  I suspect anyone reading this will most likely duplicate the experiment anyway.  
    Even all these supposed geeks who know the odds better than anyone were seen contributing to the local economy. To paraphrase Jack Nicklaus' admonition to high handicappers who are tempted to hook a 2-iron around a big oak tree ("...miracles are as rare in the game of golf as they are in life...") - miracles at the casino are as rare as they are in life.
  6. Elvis IS dead, but apparently Olivia Newton John is not. "I did not know that Ed!"

Final Thoughts

I'm allowed on the couch after that trip!
There are no cattle, only the herd
A week of AWS re:Invent is too much...but yet somehow not enough. That paradox is never lost on me as I write this flying home from my 4th AWS re:Invent. I'm truly exhausted both mentally and physically.

The euphoria of being exposed to the new and shiny, the cutting edge - half-baked- will blow your fingers off - stuff quickly gives way to melancholy and a deep but short-lived depression. In 5 short days I was abruptly reminded of how much I still don't know after decades in IT and how much I have yet to learn about technology. The good news is I have a full year to figure some of it out before I'm on a plane back to Las Vegas for re:Invent 2017...where I will undoubtedly be reinforcing my ignorance once again...

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