5000 Heads in the cloud, the AWS London Summit 2016

Yesterday, Thursday 7th July, saw London’s offering of the AWS Global Summits 2016; Just a small part of an annual world-wide event bestowed upon us courtesy of Amazon Web Services. Of course I’d have preferred to attend the likes of the New York leg or even a Latin American stint, but I’m only 30 miles away from London, so a trek through the London Underground with a ticket that doesn’t get you through a turnstile if it gets bent in your pocket was my most feasible option. The Summit was being held at the ExCel centre, London Docklands and I was lucky enough to be one of the 5,000 who had registered to go to this free event. So let me explain why this was important for me.

Why Me?

This is a question we probably ask ourselves a lot in life. But this time, not for soul-searching reasons or the result of anything negative. In fact, quite the opposite. As someone who has had a complete career change from many years as a Food Technologist to a ‘Cloud’ Consultant in training, the AWS Summit visit is an integral part of my knowledge building (but didn’t stop me from checking out the ingredients list and nutritional information on the sandwiches on offer at lunch time…once a Food Technologist….) I’m currently in the process of studying for my AWS Certified Solutions Architect exam (Associate level) so any exposure to extra technical knowledge, the chance to take part in hands-on labs and pick up any tips or recommendations from those well established in the industry is crucial for me at this stage to ensure I pass the exam. This kind of career u-turn is no mean feat, especially when you’re approaching the latter part of your 30’s with no formal IT background. But it’s not impossible. And events like the AWS Summit make it even less impossible.

So, Did I Get There?

Yes, with a crease-free ticket thankfully. Having made it successfully through the capital with the help of the speedy and unnervingly driver-less Docklands Light Railway service, I arrived at the Excel centre and breezed into the event with the very efficient QR code entry system. My own personal QR code scanned, badge printed, I’m in. On descending the stairs the event opens up into a grand expo hall on the right spanning two levels, and a vast auditorium on the left, all set for the Keynote Speech which I’m just in time for. Plus 3 levels above me of presentation rooms, executive rooms and rooms for hands-on labs. It’s awash with the hustle and bustle of those excited about the prospect of a progression to the cloud and the benefits it will impart to their business, those who are learning the science of cloud technology, those who are already proficient in the use of the AWS platform and those who are so far down the line they won’t be getting their head out of the cloud without a fight or, indeed, at any point in their lifetime. And of course, the lovely black-polo-shirted AWS employees prevailing on every level to help answer your questions, technical or otherwise. As is common with this area of IT, it was a significantly male-dominated event. But on a positive note, being one of the small percentage of women there, it meant there was absolutely no queue for the ladies. Cue rare, ease-of-use-of-facilities smug face.

AWS-Summit-London-Excel

And What Happened?

The day begun with a Keynote Speech, largely in part from the highly successful and delightfully Dutch tones of Dr Werner Vogels, Chief Technology Officer of Amazon.com. A man with a clear passion for his industry and what he represents. It’s an exciting time for cloud technology: It’s dramatically changing the way businesses conduct their IT. Especially with the arrival of AWS Lambda, the ability to run code in the cloud without the need for servers. Plus an impelling time for more specialist areas such as game development, with the launch of AWS Lumberyard, a cross-platform, 3D, high quality game designing service that lets you leverage the vast compute and storage capabilities of the AWS Cloud. All imparted with enthusiasm and clear adoration by Amazon’s CTO. The keynote was peppered with success stories and case studies, all of which a good and deserved advertisement for moving your IT services over to the AWS Cloud, no matter what size your business is. After quite a lengthy keynote session (9.30 to 11.45am) it was a reprieve to be able to have a short break perusing the stands in the expo hall and refuelling with the assistance of some caffeine and the offerings of the lunch stand.

werner-aws-summit-london

At this point we were given the chance to break out into separate sessions. These were approximately 45 minute presentations in various rooms throughout the centre, all conducted by AWS architects, technical specialists, evangelists and experts in their field, with the help of AWS customers who have achieved success in the areas being discussed. Despite working with AWS for about a year now I would still consider myself at a fairly basic level, so the ‘Getting Started With….’ presentations were my first port of call. I chose to attend a ‘Getting Started With Security’ session. Security can offer 20% of your total exam mark on the AWS Associate CSA exam, so it’s worth knowing your security onions. I always think the first session after everyone has picked up their free lunch bag is a difficult act to follow. But I think considering the plethora of opening crisp packets and apple crunching, the presenters did a damn fine job. The presentation gave an overview of the benefits of services such as AWS CloudTrail and CloudWatch, highlighted the importance of encryption and the use of AWS KMS or Amazon CloudHSM, plus how to enable detective controls, optimising change management (AWS Config and Config Rules) and automating security functions.

In between these sessions, I was fortunate enough to bump into Dean Bryen, one half of an AWS expert twin team who was due to give a presentation on the Alexa services a bit later. I also managed to have a chat with the man who’s voice has been coaching me through my exam studies via an online Udemy course. Mr Ryan Kroonenburg, co founder of A Cloud Guru and a recently hailed AWS Community Hero. Always an enlivened and active guy but delighted he could spend a few minutes talking future prospects with my colleague and I. Great to put a friendly face to the voice who guides me through my regular study sessions.

My next stop was a Virtual Private Cloud session; a walk through on how to create one, especially an internet-connected one (which encompassed a guide on choosing an IP address range for your VPC), the role of subnets and security groups, VPN connection versus Direct Connect and using Amazon Route 53 private hosted zones. Again, understanding the creation, the functions and the benefits of a VPC is vital for the AWS CSA exam, so this was a worth-while contribution to my learning curve.

AWS-Summit-London-VPC

Finally, I decided to test the cloud-based water with a ‘Deep Dive’ session on EC2. For what was a technically comprehensive and more detailed look at the EC2 compute services, and of which I could grasp the concepts of Auto Recovery for example, I do feel it was a big toe’s depth too far for my level of understanding. Terms and phrases that can, without a second thought, roll off the tongue of the clearly expert presenters may have metaphorically skimmed the top of my head slightly. So perhaps my endeavours were a little far-fetched this time but it’s always good to know where you should bridge gaps in your own knowledge.

Was it Any Good?

Due to time constraints in the shape of small children (my own of course) I didn’t get the opportunity to try out any of the hands-on labs which was a bit of a shame as getting your hands dirty with these sorts of things and putting knowledge into practice can often increase your understanding. However, overall, the AWS Summit London was without doubt a well executed day of information sharing, success stories, technical expertise, networking and generally a commendable celebration of all things ‘cloud’. So, yes, it was good. Except there didn’t appear to be any free biscuits this year….

May the cloud force be with you

About Hydras

Hydras are a team of cloud consulting experts that excel in architecting and operating secure, automated cloud based solutions built on Amazon Web Services (AWS) with a particular focus on web and mobile.  Contact us for help with your AWS projects.  We’d love to work with you.

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