Vegas, re:Invent and great breakout sessions

It’s been a while since re:Invent happened, but in my defense it has been a very busy three months. Other than Christmas, New Years, taking some time off and working with clients I had the opportunity to attend the recent re:Invent held in Las Vegas. I’m not generally the gambling type but going to re:Invent in Vegas was an excellent way to catch what’s been happening in cloud technologies and what to keep an eye out from the eponymous service provider. In this post I’ll start with the fun stuff like the swag, welcome reception and 5k run and finish with the breakout sessions I really enjoyed and got the most out of.

Swag

To start with here’s what you’re all interested in, the sweet sweet conference swag. re:Invent was brilliant. Here’s a summary of my favourite things picked up while there.

Hoarding stickers like an angry dragon.

  • Joyent Trition shirt: Fancy shirt, big thankyou to the folks at Joyent.

  • re:Invent thermos: For doing a short survey of two breakout sessions you got to take your pick from a selection of AWS merch. I picked the AWS water bottle/thermos. I’ve been using this regularly as my day-to-day water bottle, big thanks to AWS!

  • Amazon Snowball USB drive: Although only 1/16000th the data capacity of a standard AWS Snowball (80TB Snowball, 5GB drive) I very much like this diminutive storage device. It is currently being used as a Linux Mint 18.1 “Serena” boot stick for repairing an old laptop of mine.

  • Amazon Echo dot (not pictured): On registering for the conference everyone got an AWS hoodie and their own Amazon Echo Dot. The day after I registered I immediately spent a few hours working it out, playing with it and planning a backlog of skill projects which I hope to implement and talk about here in the next year. Great little tool.

  • A ridiculous mountain of laptop stickers: Over the three days between scheduled talks I made sure I spent plenty of time jumping from booth to booth talking to vendors about the services and/or software they provide. This was a great way to know what’s out there and say thanks to the companies who’s tools already make your life easier. In the process I collected so many stickers. So many. My highlight was chatting to an AWS maker space developer working on a disaster sign-in system that could be deployed to key places in the event of some major event like an earthquake and based on tagging could let loved ones know you were ok if you were in range of the device.

This was all of my favourites, the one thing I regret not getting was one of the re:Play Las Vegas 2016 grid t-shirts with the compute cube in the middle, if anyone knows where I can get one let me know.

Welcome Reception

Of course all of this event swag was collected from the conference hall, much of it on the welcome reception night. There were 30,000 attendees and from the queues to enter the hall a good percentage of that number were present. There was a great vibe and you can tell that AWS really fosters fun in their community, it was also great to hear about new services vendors are promoting and see the projects AWS work on that aren’t generally at the forefront.

Pictured below is the Simple Beer Service stall in the developer lounge.

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5K run

I’ve done some running in the past so I took the opportunity to do the conference 5k run, how often do you get the opportunity to sprint through the streets in a country you’ve never been to before right? Something that added some extra dimension was the forecasted freeze warning of below zero celsius the night before. Luckily the day was alright temperature wise, staying just above the positive degrees and was good fun, I ended up with a time of 25 minutes, 19 seconds. 189th out of 985, not too shabby!

re:Invent Sessions

re:Invent is one of the rare opportunities where you can have a chance to see presentations by architects and developers who are on the forefront of technology and ask questions to improve your understanding of services and take home some new techniques you can use in the field. I chose a set of sessions which were a mix of the work I’m doing at the moment (AWS account compliance and security) and my personal interests (Formal reasoning, AI and the frontier of software development). Here are a summary of my favourites, I highly recommend checking out the re:Invent breakout session YouTube channel, so much win.

Another Day, Another Billion Packets (NET401)

A great 400 level talk about the networking issues AWS face with their under the hood infrastructure and the solution outcomes. As a day-to-day user of AWS you will generally not see any of this, this talk gave insight into the service history and why some of the networking services are the way they are. If you’re new to networking there is a lot to digest in this talk but it’s hugely worth watching, especially in retrospective after re:Invent.

Compliance Architecture: How Capital One Automates the Guard Rails (ARC312)

This talk by Peter M. O’Donnell and Kapil Thangavelu was my introduction to Cloud Custodian which I have now been using for the past two months for a compliance project, a great tool I will hopefully have time to write about as an extension on AWS account compliance work I’ve written about in the past. Keep an eye on this project as it takes away the necessity of building your own automated account clean up and management tool. CloudCustodian can be found here.

Amazon s2n: Cryptography and Open Source at AWS (NET405)

A great talk about the S2N project about analysing the code behind the heartbleed SSL bug of 2014, how to improve software development practices that can let bugs like this slip by and the development of vulnerability detection solutions. Also a good eye into how AWS gets involved in open source software.

Bringing Deep Learning to the Cloud with Amazon EC2 (CMP314)

This was a talk by Tom Jones and Diego Oppenheimer, Deep Learning is not specifically my field but it’s great to see how AWS and Algorithmia are harnessing the graphical hardware side to perform some amazing graphical processing tasks, super interesting stuff if you have the time to watch.

The Effective AWS CLI User (DEV402)

This was another great talk, by Kyle Knapp. I walked into this one thinking I was a pretty advanced user of the AWS CLI and came out surprised, I discovered some of the newer features added into the CLI can really speed up the time to automate infrastructure tasks and help you build your own set of command primitives.

Take-aways:

  • --generate-cli-skeleton output --query text lets you query what fields you should be asking for if you’re just trying to access specific attributes of a JSON object being returned from the CLI.
  • The power of the ---debug argument, it will show you what the CLI tool as taken in, substituting any variables you have possibly passed in through Bash.
  • <command> --debug 2>&1 | less -S to cleanly check out these logs irrespective of the size of your terminal.
  • ~/.aws/cli/alias: CLI now has it’s own alias file so you can build your own CLI commands that you would generally do by scripting these in bash, think your gitconfig file. Some great examples of aliases can be found on Github

Summary

In summary re:Invent was excellent, I’d highly recommend it if you’re a heavy user of AWS, being surrounded by the people who build the worlds most prevalent cloud platform really made for a great week. I originally hoped for this post to be a longer one, seeing as how much happened over the week, what I took away in terms of AWS compliance checking and my extra week touring around California but it the post was already getting too long, next up I will have another compliance post.

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