Our recap of the AWS re:Invent 2021 conference in Las Vegas
11.01.2022 - Read in 12 min.
Re:Invent is a big annual event organized by AWS. Each edition attracts tens of thousands of cloud experts from around the world. It is an amazing opportunity to broaden your knowledge, gain inspiration and meet the greatest authorities in the industry. We simply couldn’t miss this opportunity and decided to join our client's team on a trip to Las Vegas.
Re:Invent is a big annual event organized by AWS. Each edition attracts tens of thousands of cloud experts from around the world. It is an amazing opportunity to broaden your knowledge, gain inspiration and meet the greatest authorities in the industry. We simply couldn’t miss this opportunity and decided to join our client’s team on a trip to Las Vegas.
This gave six of our people the unique opportunity to participate live in dozens of workshops, lectures and chalk talks. They listened to such news as the new Well-Architected pillar, private 5G networks, API for satellites, QCaaS (quantum computer as-a-service) or AWS Local Zones launching in new locations around the globe, including Poland.
This was much to take in. Fortunately, the organizers also took proper care of entertainment in-between the events. Outside of the main events, participants could join exciting tech Jams.
For one of such jams our team joined forces with the Trans.eu and PGS Software teams, and under the banner “Wrocławski Power”, placed third!
Development Leader, Solutions Architect
At first glance, the idea behind Jams is similar to GameDay. Participants form teams and score points. The team with the highest score wins.
On GameDay, we have a script and all work is focused on a specific topic, e.g. modernizing the infrastructure of an online store. In the case of Jams, the individual challenges were unrelated. They were independent and their only common denominator was the main theme. The jam we joined was on security.
There were thirteen challenges with different levels of difficulty. Some of them consisted of several tasks. Everything was scored. You could use hints, but it lowered your maximum score for solving.
One of the challenges we were tasked with in the jam was fixing a Cloudfront-served website. According to the task description, someone took security a little too seriously and set the S3 bucket to private. The website thus stopped working and needed to be fixed. It sounds simple, but the account had very limited rights, and making the bucket public was not an option. An attempt to set OAI from the console returned a lack of permissions error message 🙂
In another task, the lambda which was supposed to execute and connect to S3 did not work. When using a private network, it is enough to provide the endpoint in lambda codes… That is, if the permissions allowed us to see the lambda code… 🙂
The tasks were interesting, challenging, and often boiled down to writing manifestos. The competition was fierce – we kept jumping in between the 1st and 8th place practically the whole time (the jam took 3 hours). Until the last minutes, it was not known which place we would take, and there were 36 other teams competing. We ranked second for a while, but dropped to the 3rd place a minute before the end. We had been waiting for the Cloudfront status to update (from deploying to deployed), which would have automatically given us 90 points, teleporting us to the first place. Unfortunately, Cloudfront took a long time to deploy and we had to settle for the 3rd place. In fact, the points were awarded two minutes after the end of the Jam, but the scoreboard had already been frozen. We were literally one inch from victory.
The host had a bigger nut to crack – he needed a quick Polish pronunciation lesson to say the name of our team on stage.
Our impressions of the event
Is it worth going to Re:Invent next year? How did our participants like the event and its organization? What were the most valuable takeaways? Which of the numerous AWS announcements were the most interesting? What trends did they spot? Let’s hear what they have to say!
Devops Architect & Leader
A really well-organized conference! I liked the application allowing the participants to sign up for events and helping them get there. There were also many helpful people around which, given the scale of the event, was much appreciated. We also enjoyed the presence of a designated area for certified people. We gladly visited it to relax, watch some presentations and mingle with others.
During the presentations on architecture problems, the speakers showed how to solve them with specific AWS products, which I found very useful.
The most interesting presentations concerned topics related to K8S and containers. The topics and novelties discussed in the presentations included:
- Karpenter open source – Kubernetes Cluster AutoScaler;
- AWS SDK for Swift, Kotlin and Rust;
- Private 5G network;
- Sustainability Pillar for AWS Well-Architected Framework;
- The new EC2 instance – C7g (based on the Graviton3 ARM, promising 25% better performance over the sixth generation AWS Graviton2-based C6g instances. Its main application is cryptography and machine learning);
- Over 30 new local zones outside the US, including Poland 🙂 (AWS local zones enable delay-sensitive applications to run closer to end users (e.g. real-time games, live video or simulations).
It’s really hard to wrap it up in a few sentences. Fortunately, the full recap is here: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/top-announcements-of-aws-reinvent-2021/
First, when I heard I was invited to attend the conference, I was shocked, but then thought it might actually be a very interesting experience. I was really curious to learn about what’s new in AWS and learn a thing or two.
Another shock came a month before the conference, when the registration started. It felt much like a day at the University – registration started at 7:00 PM, and at 7:05 PM the places for the best events had already been taken! Lectures, workshops, chalk talks, jams, games – there were thousands of events, and before I managed to make sense of it all, the most interesting ones were fully booked already. Fortunately, as it turned out later, AWS had a plan for that as well. The last shock came when we were already on the spot…
First of all – huge space
- City: Las Vegas is a city full of great hotels and casinos. This is probably the only city in the world which you could visit for the hotels alone. Each of them is extraordinary.
- Getting around: before we had a chance to figure out there were shuttle buses, we had already gotten tired walking. Without a good plan for transport between events, it was impossible to get from one hotel to another.
- The re:Invent campus – as AWS called it – is indeed as big as a small town. There were four large venues, tens of thousands of people, crowds moving around, security and gates.
Second – organization
The scale of the event was staggering and everything felt very well planned. There were event staff everywhere, always eager to help. If you looked lost, you were immediately approached by someone offering support. On the spot, it turned out that the conference can also be scaled! When a keynote was fully booked, the staff added extra seats outside the room, along with a large screen and a pair of wireless headphones for each participant. Those who failed to sign up for an event could always try the “walk in” method – that is, take a seat that had been previously booked, but was free 10 minutes before the start of the keynote. First come first served! Buses ran between the hotels every few minutes. The registration area had a lot of stands. And the stand which sold the event sweatshirts even had its own fitting room!
Third – Expo
The Expo zone felt like a street market with socks and T-shirts – each exhibitor soliciting participants with gadgets to encourage them to listen to their pitch. There was a lot to listen to and a lot to choose from – we saw a lot of products built on and next to AWS, which on the one hand were to facilitate the use of AWS tools, and on the other hand, were meant to help you build your solutions. The exhibitors included well-known and less known companies. We got a chance to see what companies such as Datadog, Dynatrace, Mongodb, Neo4j, and Redhat are up to. There was also an AWS island where you could meet people developing AWS products and talk to them.
You’ve probably heard about what’s new at AWS from the others. From my point of view, the most interesting were:
- The new Sustainability Pillar of the Well-Architected Framework;
- private 5G network;
- Satellite API to track your neighbors 😉
- Graviton version 3 – new ARMs from Amazon.
The most interesting topics from the workshops were, among others:
- AWS X-Ray to monitor Pods;
- AWS Fault Injection Simulator – a great tool for creating Chaos Monkey.
From the keynotes, I was mainly interested in CDK for Terraform and writing Terraform in Python, and the general emphasis on observability – from DevOps lectures to product lectures.
The conference started quite unusually because there was no big speech on Monday morning, but the scheduled activities kicked off immediately. Starting with meetings and presentations, ending with workshops and chalk talks.
Our first challenge was to orientate ourselves in such a huge conference – there were over 5,000 events, which means it took us a few hours to find our way around it. Scale of the conference was impressive, as the events spanned different rooms across four huge hotels. Every few minutes, there were buses moving with thousands of participants between them. Among the participants, we met many interesting people with whom we could exchange experiences.
I mentioned that at the beginning there was no big presentation, but they started on Tuesday and there was a keynote every day. During these meetings you learn about what’s new at AWS, and how individual services will develop and at what stage they are now.
Events can be divided into workshops, presentations and chalk talks. Initially, we completely focused on the workshops, but it quickly turned out that the best way to expand our knowledge were chalk talks with AWS specialists. What did they look like? Well, the host started a topic, for example OpenSearch, and then there was a discussion where a member of the audience could raise a problem they encounter on a daily basis.
In terms of scale, the conference overshadowed every other event I have attended so far. Even though the keynotes and workshops took place in hotels which were relatively close to each other, we still took 25k to 30k steps every day getting to the scheduled events.
The whole event was extremely efficiently organized, and despite the thousands of participants, there were no long queues anywhere.
After the conference, we got the impression that both AWS and partners will be increasingly focused on providing Cloud Native services – providers put great emphasis on their promotion. CTOs of various companies, during their presentations, showed that thanks to such solutions they were able to deliver value to their businesses very quickly.
Wow! AWS knows its event game for sure! While I can’t compare the event to the previous ones, the momentum of this year’s edition was truly staggering. Before I went there Las Vegas always felt like a weird location for an IT conference. Now I perfectly understand why it’s so popular. The city is literally a temple of glamor, which perfectly reflects the scale and momentum with which Amazon organizes its conference.
Organization of the event was top notch. I really appreciated the whole signing up system and the ability to attend a keynote even when you were not signed up (provided there were free seats). At every step, there were people showing you the way to specific rooms and answering all you questions, and buses running non-stop between the hotels. Everything screamed “American” optimism and joy. Thanks to this, despite the scale of the conference, I never felt lost there.
In terms of content, there was something for everyone. From simple presentations on Redis (sorry, ElastiCache), through very interesting workshops that allowed you to “play” with AWS services under the guidance of experts, solving specific (not always typical) problems, to business-oriented talks about strategy and the future. There were also curiosities such as Amazon Braket – a quantum-computer-as-a-service.
Another very interesting aspect of Re:Invent was AWS Jams, i.e. gamification combined with checking one’s knowledge about AWS services by solving various problems and puzzles prepared by the organizers. I had the opportunity to participate in one such jam and it was great fun even though certain problems and tasks concerned services which I was not familiar with. We had to be really quick to beat the others!
Development Leader, Solutions Architect
Apparently, Amazon doesn’t apply the “what happened in Vegas stays in Vegas” rule. They chose this place to show the whole world the things they had been hiding for a year – new services, functionalities or changes in their approach.
At first glance, it may seem that five days is a lot of time. With so many presentations, chalk talks, and workshops you get the impression that there are plenty of events to choose from.
Some of the more popular topics were already fully booked five minutes after the registration started, almost a month before the conference. AWS is, however, able to do a conference and found a way to solve this problem. Before each room, there were two queues – for those who registered and those who did not make it. The organizers made sure that the room was fully seated and seats were left unoccupied.
What surprised me the most was the Expo zone, or actually conversations with people who showed their products running, on a smaller or larger scale, on AWS. Many of the stands were occupied by companies dealing with application and infrastructure monitoring. Companies like Dynatrace, Datadog, Splunk, New Relic, Sumo Logic, Crowdstrike were present and presented their software. It shows how much the market needs such solutions and despite so many suppliers, there is a place for everyone.
The second product group that was noticed were products based on AWS, but facilitating and minimizing the entry threshold for the use of individual services. AWS makes products that are very broad, have a lot of configuration options – and doing something “right” requires knowledge and experience. This gives companies space to build their solutions “upon” AWS services – making it much easier to take advantage of AWS in accordance with best practices. This showed a little how AWS is perceived – not as a cloud provider but as a platform for building applications.
One of the trends that could be noticed was the increasing use of “ready-made” solutions instead of creating solutions from scratch, enabling faster delivery of value. I got the impression that the presented products were nothing that you could not do by yourself – spending enough time on Stackoverflow, Github, and with a few hundred lines of code converted into specific MDs. And yet there is space for such companies. It seems that moving away from custom software development to building software based on ready-made services is a trend that will keep growing.
And probably the last thing that should please us the most, the AWS Local Zone in Poland!
Vice President, Chief Technology Officer
AWS started with offering general purpose computing services. Over time, its offer has grown more and more, and an increasing number of services were built to meet specific business needs, such as:
- recommending products in e-commerce;
- fraud prevention;
- private blockchain.
Among the novelties presented at the conference, there is, for example, the possibility of launching private 5G networks. The value of the services offered by AWS is growing, and thus doing everything by yourself (e.g. assembling everything yourself from libraries) is no longer viable. It would be difficult to remain competitive against companies which, when working for clients, use ready-made services instead.
Chief Solutions Officer
The first thing that is striking is the sheer scale of the event – AWS can even scale conferences 🙂 They have been organizing this event for a long time, so the organization and quality of the speeches themselves are at a very high level.
The participants and presenting businesses are no longer interested in deliberating whether the cloud is OK or not. Instead, they want to know what services and ready-made bricks should be used to build the final solution. It is very encouraging.
It was clear that AWS was actively promoting its business intelligence solution, Amazon QuickSight, with which we have been working for some time.
Kubernetes, EKS or serverless workshops were among the most popular ones, which only confirms that this is a good development direction.
We work based on the AWS Well-Architected Framework, thanks to which we are sure that the infrastructure is built in accordance with the recommended good practices. This is a hot topic and the speakers themselves made multiple references to Well-Architected. AWS is adding Sustainability to the existing five pillars, thereby shedding a slightly different light on resource consumption and its impact on the environment.