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AWS re:Invent Review: Las Vegas 2016 and Beyond

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AWS re:Invent Review: Las Vegas 2016 and Beyond

If serverless is your thing, then re:Invent made you happy. There was a lot going on with serverless backends and more, but it was also a glimpse at what Deep Learning will offer.

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If you were in Las Vegas, Nevada during the week of Nov. 28, you probably noticed the sea of developers and IT professionals wearing black AWS re:Invent jackets. The northern portion of the Las Vegas Strip was almost constantly filled with AWS platform users, vendors, and partners from all corners of the world.

The Raygun team traveled down from our US Headquarters in Seattle for AWS re:Invent 2016 and I would like to share my experience in this AWS re:Invent review so you can get a flavor of what to expect next year.

What Is AWS and AWS re:Invent?

For those who haven’t heard of it before, AWS stands for Amazon Web Services and is a subsidiary of Amazon. AWS itself is a cloud services platform handling everything from file hosting and traffic routing to machine learning and databases. Since 2012 AWS has hosted the AWS Re:Invent conference every year to announce new product offerings, certify developers on the AWS platform, and to provide top-tier training to developers of all experience and career levels. (Raygun provides support for AWS Code Deploy and AWS Lambda.)

AWS re:Invent 2016 continued to address the tremendous growth of attendees over previous years by increasing the number of sessions and adding additional venue locations. Even with those changes the conference was still packed to the brim with attendees clamoring to get access to standing-room-only sessions that had been booked solid week in advance. Despite the large number of attendees and sessions, everyone was still overwhelming friendly, welcoming, and up for a quick chat about anything tech related.

The Conference at a Glance

The conference started off on Monday and Tuesday with a hackathon, a Alexa skills development competition, and numerous training sessions/bootcamps for attendees. The Global Partner Summit was also held on Tuesday for anyone who was part of the AWS Partner Network. Unlike the normal conference sessions, the Global Partner Summit sessions were geared towards executives, sales managers, and other technical professionals.

The main portion of the conference opened up Wednesday, November 30th with a keynote by Andy Jassey, the CEO of Amazon Web Services. The rest of the days were filled with technical sessions, hands-on workshops, an amazing exhibit hall filled with sponsors, and continuing AWS certification tests being conducted. From 6:30 AM till late in the evening, you’d find the convention center halls at the Venetian and Mirage hotels teeming with energy as attendees rushed between session locations and took brief breaks in the halls to plan their next block of time.

Notable Sessions

While the wait list lines to get into sessions were quite long and the sessions themselves were booked up full before the conference, I still managed to spend some time soaking up all the knowledge AWS provided. Among my favorite sessions were:

Serverless Authentication and Authorization: Identity Management for Serverless Architectures

In this session, Justin Pirtle and Jim Tran showed attendees how to leverage serverless architecture to manage user identities, work with social media identity providers, and integrate with existing corporate directory systems. Techniques featuring Amazon Cognito, AWS API Gateway, and AWS Lambda, and AWS Identity and Access Management were taught using real world examples.

I’ve worked on applications before where legacy user authentication and authorization code were so interwoven into the backend that it was often more work to try to remove them than it was to just monkey patch around their shortcomings as needed. However, using the techniques from this session I can easily see a much more robust and maintainable system for handling these important yet time-consuming portions of an application.

Build a Serverless Backend for Your Alexa-Based Voice Interactions

I’ll admit I had never really utilized voice services like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa prior to AWS Re:Invent this year. However, after having the chance to test an Amazon Echo Dot out and spend some time in sessions like this I quickly became a huge fan. The possibilities for voice interaction technology span the normal convenience type situations I originally thought of and so much more!

Sebastian Stormacq’s session helped really show the power of the AWS platform to be used together to create fully functioning applications without having to leave their systems. What was particularly interesting for me was seeing the complete connection from developing the Alexa skill in the Alexa Skills kit, utilize AWS Lambda to handle the processing/programming needs, interact with Amazon Cognito to authenticate users, and back it up with an AWS DynamoDB data store.

Real-time data Processing With AWS Lambda 

Continuing with my new-found love for all things AWS Lambda, I managed to get into a session led by Cecilia Deng covering real-time data processing. Data processing itself can be a tricky subject to handle as scalability becomes a large maintenance problem as you start dumping more and more data into the system. Having to spend time maintaining, scaling, and generally monitoring these data processing systems can quickly grow out of hand for most teams. Thankfully AWS Lambda is able to help save the day! (For details on how Raygun integrates with AWS Lambda see this article.)

Utilizing AWS Lambda, Cecilia walked us through how to handle real-time data coming in from push services like AWS IoT (Internet of Things) and pull services like Amazon DynamoDB streams and Amazon Kinesis. Once Cecilia had given us a deep dive on how things worked, her co-presenters Anders Fritz and Marco Pierloeni from Thomson Reuters took the stage to outline their real-world uses cases.

New Product Announcements

Another large portion of AWS Re:Invent every year is the announcement of new features and products for the AWS platform. This year was no different, with tons of additional features being added to existing systems and some completely new offerings that hadn’t been seen before on AWS.

Some of those new services that I really liked are:

Amazon Athena

A serverless interactive SQL query service for analyzing data in Amazon S3.

Amazon QuickSight

A cloud-powered analytics service used to build visualizations and perform as needed analytics.

AWS Glue

A fully managed ETL (extract, transform, and load) service that simplifies and automates data discovery, transformation, and job scheduling.

Amazon Step Functions

Coordinates the components of distributed applications and microservices via visual workflows.

Amazon Lex

Brings natural language chatbots to new and existing applications by utilizing the same deep learning engine behind Alexa,

Amazon Polly

Featuring 24 languages and 47 available voices, Polly transforms text into speech.

Amazon Rekognition

Provides image analysis for applications to detect and compare objects, scenes, and faces in images.

AWS Batch

A batch job system built to allow anyone to efficiently and easily run large numbers of batch jobs on AWS.

Amazon AppStream 2.0

Enables desktop apps to be streamed directly from the AWS cloud without needing a rewrite of the application across multiple device types.

Amazon CodeBuild

Provides an automatically scaling, per-minute-usage continuous integration service that can be integrated with AWS CodePipeline for a complete continuous integration and continuous deployment setup without the need for extra developer resources.

AWS Greengrass

Billed as “offline AWS Lambda for IoT devices”, AWS Greengrass runs local compute, messaging, and data caching for connected devices.

AWS Personal Health Dashboard

Gives a personalized view of your AWS service health status and includes the ability to set up alerts for impacted services and gives guidance on how to keep things running smoothly.

AWS Shield

A managed DDoS protection service that helps mitigate the impact on your applications while under DDoS attack.

While that may seem like a long list, there were plenty of other new services and features that were also announced. If you’d like a complete list you can view it here!

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, AWS Re:Invent 2016 was a huge event and covered much more ground than any one developer could hope to take in over a week. Thankfully AWS will be posting most (if not all) of the session recordings online in the coming weeks. As those videos are released I’ll provide links to the sessions I mentioned above as well as a link to the entire video library.

Next year’s AWS Re:Invent will be held from Nov. 27-Dec. 1 of 2017. The location is likely still going to be in Las Vegas, NV, so plan to bring some warm clothes and comfortable shoes. Another tip for next year is to register early and make sure to watch for when the sessions open up for registration to make sure you have a guaranteed seat for all the great presentations!

Were you at AWS re:Invent 2016? If so I’d love to hear about your experience! Please leave a comment with your thoughts or any questions you might have.

aws ,aws lambda ,serverless ,aws reinvent

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