Last week, over 60,000 tech enthusiasts attended Amazon Web Services’ annual tech conference, AWS re:Invent, at the Sands Expo Convention Center in Las Vegas. Re:Invent began in 2012 and, in eight short years, has grown into one of the largest cloud computing conferences in the world. This is a direct reflection of the popularity of AWS’ cloud services offerings as more companies move critical workloads to the Cloud.
This year, AWS announced 77 product launches, feature releases, and services at re:Invent. The largest proportion of those revolved around machine learning advancements, which covered 20 total announcements.
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, delivered the AWS re:Invent 2019 keynote. I’m not going to go too deep on the keynote because there was so much content that I highly recommend watching it yourself on YouTube. However, the following are the topics that stood out for me:
- AWS Graviton2 Based Instances – AWS says that these new instances are 40% improved price-for-the-performance over comparable x86-based Skylake instances.
- Inf1 EC2 instances – Amazon claims that customers receive the highest performance and lowest cost for machine learning inference in the cloud. Amazon EC2 Inf1 instances deliver 2x higher inference throughput, and up to 66% lower cost-per-inference than the Amazon EC2 G4 instance family. If your company is looking at using machine learning, this is a substantive improvement both in price and performance.
- Amazon Fraud Detector – This is a machine learning-based system that does fraud management for you. I’ll be interesting to see the feedback on how well this works for companies trying to tackle fraud prevention.
- AWS Outposts – Outposts is a way to run AWS workloads in on-premise datacenters for applications that need to stay on-prem, or are not cloud-ready. While AWS announced Outposts in 2018, it has now been released as generally available to all customers. Amazon will install, manage, and even update this hardware for you, even though it is in your data center.
Breakout sessions are usually very popular at tech conferences and re:Invent is no exception. There were numerous ways to get engaged at re:Invent, with over 3000 breakout sessions, expert chats, white board sessions, and labs. With topics covering the entire AWS ecosphere, there are many different learning tracks that attendees could take to further their AWS knowledge. AWS also posts most of the sessions on their official YouTube channel, so there is a plenty of content available for free!
I took the route of deepening my understanding of how to improve our organization’s security posture and compliance within AWS. Here are a few sessions that I found valuable:
- Access control confidence: Grant the right access to the right things – Brigid Johnson, the Senior Manager for AWS Identity, demonstrated configuring permission guardrails and delegating permission to administration to development teams. She also did an excellent job showing how to set fine-grained permissions that scale with your organization’s attribute-based access control (ABAC). She finished the session by demonstrating how to tie access logs back to roles to assist in dialing back user permissions, so to better enforce least privilege.
- Architect governance at enterprise scale with Goldman Sachs – This session provided a case study of how Goldman Sachs is leveraging AWS to bolster security, optimize costs, and manage compliance.
- AWS Identity: Permission Boundaries and Delegation – This workshop allowed users to practice delegating IAM (Identify and Access Management) permissions management so that selected users can create roles without being able to create permissions that impact other users, or jeopardize the organizational security practices.
One of my favorite tech conferences activities is networking and learning from other people in the industry. Re:Play, the re:Invent sponsored party on Thursday night, is one of many ways to meet new people and socialize. The vendor expo is also a personal favorite as it provides easy access to discover many new products and features in the industry. There were many other great ways to connect with peers, such as the table tennis tournament, board games, welcome receptions, dodgeball, and movie night, to name a few.
The sheer size of the conference presents both pro’s and con’s. A substantial benefit is that there is such a broad array of excellent content to choose from. On the downside, accommodating over 65,000 tech enthusiasts is no simple task, even in a city like Las Vegas that was built for conferences. With that many people, the conference was spread out over the Encore, Mirage, Bellagio, Aria, MGM, and Venetian Palazzo. The Venetian Sands Expo Convention Center served as the primary hub for all re:Invent actives, but there was lots of content at the other facilities. With the sessions and workshops so geographically dispersed, it makes it challenging to attend a full day of sessions. However, AWS ran shuttle buses between the facilities, and also did a great job of assisting attendees with scheduling by having dedicated “scheduling experts” spread throughout the conference.
AWS re:Invent 2019 was an excellent conference chock full of content for companies that run critical workloads in the cloud. As the industry continues to move towards a more hybrid cloud approach, attending cloud-based conferences like re:Invent will be critical for companies that desire to stay on the cutting edge of these changes, while maintaining compliance and security best practices. I’m already looking forward to next year, and I hope to see you at re:Invent 2020!