AWS Summit London 2019: A peek into the future

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As part of my foray into infrastructure engineering, I attended the AWS Summit in London. Held in the ExCeL Centre in London, it's a tonne on sessions held by experts inside and outside of the Amazon Web Services team, as well as a sprawl of partner solution representatives armed with freebies and leaflets. I came away feeling 50/50, half excited to convert what I'd learn at the sessions into solutions, and half overwhelmed by everything. There were more than 60 sessions in just 7-8 hours and nearly 100 stalls!

Key Notes From The Keynote

The whole event kicked off with a keynote run by a bunch of impressive names at AWS, including Darren Mowry (Director, Business Development @ AWS EMEA) and Matt Garman (VP, AWS Compute Services.) A highlight was Sainsbury's case study in which they migrated their online grocery delivery business to microservices on the cloud, including a 7TB database, with zero downtime. This migration allowed them to take advantage of AWS' wider range of services like applying greater machine learning for analysis of their transaction data, building a "single customer view" and 70-80% improvement in performance. In fact, Sainsbury's Group CIO Phil Jordan revealed that Sainsbury's use 82 of AWS' services which is mind boggling.

A wide range of AWS services Sainsbury's uses, from Elastic Transcoder to CloudHSM!
A wide range of AWS services Sainsbury's uses, from Elastic Transcoder to CloudHSM!

Also in the keynote was interesting case studies from the UK Government, in particular the Legal Aid Agency and their major cost and performance improvements from their cloud migration. One highlight was moving to Aurora from an Excel spreadsheet (!!) Government agencies have a duty to use public money effectively so it was interesting to see how they did this with cloud services.

Session Highlights

Among my favourite sessions was an introduction to GraphQL in building modern APIs. Led by Robert Zhu (Principal Technical Evangelist @ AWS), it was a quick catch-up on what benefits GraphQL brings over REST, what GraphQL isn't and how to implement specific features in AWS (like authentication.) As someone who has never looked at GraphQL before, the service Zhu demonstrated, AWS AppSync, looks like a great way to set up a greenfield API project because of how it can bring efficiency.

I was also intrigued by the networking fundamentals session as I, like many others, find AWS networking absolutely mind boggling from the outset. Led by solution architects Perry Wald and Tom Adamski, it's an indepth but clear, unassuming but not condescending, guide for concepts from VPCs to ENIs to NACLs. I came away from the session with a much better understanding of how these concepts interact with each other in real life scenarios.

Get IT!

Admittedly I had not heard of GetIT before the summit, but I was super invested by the end of it! It's a STEM competition targeted at girls aged 12 to 14, where teams build and develop app ideas that makes real and tangible social change within their school and community. We got to see the two finalist teams from over 130 projects present their ideas to a panel of AWS executives, hosted by Sonia Ouarti (Head of Marketing, AWS UK&I). It was inspiring and promising to see the contestant's enthusiasm as well as to see the level of thought that went into these projects. Congratulations to the ConnectHearo team on their win!

I can see the impact this competition this could have on future generations, from being listened to and supported in what is still a very male-dominated industry.

AI Driving

It's fair to say one of the coolest sessions of the day were the DeepRacer ones, both the hands-on session led by Chris Scudder (Solutions Architect) and the virtual circuit race. An all day session taught how to implement ML and AWS services to "teach" a model car filled to the brim with sensors how to drive round a circuit most efficiently. It was fascinating to see a real world implementation of ML, fully explained and easy to understand. Furthermore the virtual race, in which we got to use predefined models to race others and get on the leaderboard, was a great way to end the day.

Overall, while I am still getting to grips with the AWS ecosystem I learnt a great deal at the summit. I'm excited to turn these thoughts into something bigger and continue learning about DevOps and the future of software engineering.