AWS re:Invent 2017

I am not exactly Mr. Relevant on this topic–AWS re:Invent happened over a month ago in Las Vegas. I took a whole bunch of notes and spewed them into a summary as soon as I got back. I delivered a presentation to my coworkers and moved on. But as we roll into 2018, I am still thinking about what AWS is and what they have to offer businesses small and large. When I left the conference I was definitely high on what AWS had to offer. And a month later I still am. There are business problems to solve. There are conversations about what cloud native means. There are discussions about migrations and/or building greenfield. There are strategies that businesses are figuring out.

As a grizzled old network engineer, I find this world fascinating. I find these potential business transformation topics fascinating.

I’ve done a decent job of making myself uncomfortable in 2017. I changed jobs. I went to a devops conference. I focused on cloud and automation more. Now I went to a cloud conference. This was a different venue for me. There was a tangible difference in the feel of the conference. Much more talk aimed at developers and business outcomes rather than just focusing on widgets on a new platform.

It could be that because cloud technologies are newer to me, everything felt fresher and more forward-thinking than the other vendor conferences I have been to. Maybe I don’t have the battle scars, which enable some healthy skepticism yet, but I feel like diving into this universe of cloud technologies is reinvigorating my passion for the IT industry.

Another difference that struck me was the partner ecosystem. Walking around the Expo floor, I was plenty of the old guard companies–Cisco, NetApp, Palo Alto, etc. But I saw way more companies that I have never heard of before. These companies are cloud-focused, cloud-born and are solving cloud-problems and filling cloud-gaps for customers. I think this speaks to the different customers of cloud and the different pain points of cloud as compared to traditional data center operations.

I heard the phrase “undifferentiated heavy lifting” several times over the week-long conference. The first couple times it didn’t register, but I came to get it. What I came to realize is that AWS is just different than the traditional IT industry I have been a part of for the last 20 or so years. The effort is in a different place. For example, we may have a cool idea to implement some hot new technology in the data center. We spend months researching testing and then during some middle of the night maintenance window–we hope and pray that our solution is going to work. But usually, that infrastructure change is not noticable to anyone except us in IT operations. AWS does that month-long planning and deployment of your infrastructure for you. The part that you spent a lot of time and effort on that was several layers below adding value to the customer is the starting point for AWS. You build on top of the heavy lifting AWS has done for you.

Andy Jassey, CEO of AWS, talked about the culture of builders. The people that use AWS are building cool technology on top of AWS. The goal of AWS is to eliminate that “undifferentiated heavy lifting” from the workforce and enable to builders to focus on building.

During the keynote, Mark Okerstrom, the CEO of Expedia came on stage to talk about how they are utilizing AWS. He said, “AWS is not just a data center replacement, AWS has services that make companies better.” That quote resonated greatly with me. We are not talking about simply moving existing workloads to AWS. To take advantage of everyting a cloud solution offers, we need to understand those advantages. We need to not be afraid of scalability, of automating cloud infrastructure stacks, and of putting effort into monitoring security and performance. We need to think cloud native.

After a week in the desert, immersed in AWS’s version of the cloud, I really have come to believe AWS has differentiated itself. I am sure I will discover some cynicism about some of their services eventually, but right now I am buzzing from the possibilities.

They announced quite a few new and/or improved services over the course of the conference. Here are a few that really interested me:

  • DynamoDB Global Tables – This allows this AWS non-relational database to be deployed in a multi-master configuration across several regions. This results in synchronous replication between multiple read-write nodes across a geographically disparate area. This brings a great deal of application redundancy and performance capabilities in my opinion.

  • Sagemaker – I’ll quickly admit that I don’t have a deep knowlege of the machine learning space. The way this was explained to me though, is that the Sagemaker service enables quicker training and deployment of data models associated with machine learning. The possibility exists that an organization where machine learning was out of reach because of a manpower or knowledge deficiency now has an opportunity to accelerate a machine learning project.

  • Fargate – managing and delpoying containers without managing the underlying infrastructure. You don’t need to size the resources to allow your application to scale, Fargate manages that for you. (ECS is supported now, Kubernetes in the form of EKS coming later this year.)

  • Guard Duty – Security analysis by looking at events across your account(s) and looking for compromises or potential comporomises.

  • Privatelink – Allows customers to privately access SaaS services on Amazon’s backbone instead of over the internet. Some of the current partners include Cisco Stealthwatch, CA technologies – App experience, and Dynatrace.

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