One word comes to mind when I think about this year’s AWS Summit in Sydney: massive. I reflected on Nic’s Summit blog in 2017, and he mentioned 10,000 people attended. This year, the Summit attracted around 22,000 attendees.

The International Convention Centre in Sydney was a great venue for an event of this scale. The exhibition area had vendor and AWS booths in the centre and session rooms in around the edges. The vendor booths were great to learn about product offerings or get your hands on some loot. The AWS booths were a good way to ask more technical questions about AWS offerings. I liked that the booths were set up in a way that you could whiteboard designs on pretty much any surface during your chats.

One of the booths in the exhibition area was set up for smaller lightning style talks. I enjoyed a session by Atlassian, talking about lessons learnt on their path to moving some functions of Jira’s backend to micro-frontend apps. Another booth in the exhibition area was set up with laptops and self-paced AWS tutorials.

The exhibition area was also the place to get caffeinated. With coffee/tea booths dotted throughout the floor, it was hard to imagine anyone would fall asleep in the sessions. The Summit also made sure we didn’t go hungry. They provided breakfast, lunch, morning and afternoon tea, and drinks on the first evening.

The session rooms were enormous. I’d guess each session room could seat 2,000 people. The rooms were so big that to hear the speaker, everyone had to wear headphones which plugged into some sort of broadcasting device attached to each seat. The Summit provided each attendee with a pair of headphones.

The theatre, a short walk from the exhibition area, hosted the keynotes and some of the sessions. The keynotes were the main event of the two days. Both keynotes had the theatre packed with I’d say over 8,000 people. Attendees who didn’t get a seat could watch the keynotes in the exhibition session rooms or online.

The keynote on day one was hosted by Glenn Gore (Worldwide Lead Solutions Architect). The theme was ‘create tomorrow’ and how we are all ‘builders’. He had a few speakers join him to talk about how their companies are using AWS. The highlight for me was Rob Smedley from Formula 1 speaking about how F1 have used machine learning to determine when the drivers should do a pit stop.

The keynote on day two was hosted by Olivier Klein (Emerging Technologies). The theme was ‘innovate’. Similar to the previous day, Olivier had guest speakers. The highlight for me was Surf Life Saving Australia’s use of drones to identify and report on dangerous animals (like sharks) that are near people in the water. Their machine learning application is trained to tell a shark from a dolphin correctly while the drone tracks the animal overhead. I also really liked how the drone could drop a auto-inflating flotation device to help rescue people in difficulty. Unfortunately, they didn’t demo the drone flying in theatre.

A couple of other standouts from the keynote on the second day were Cathal Garvey from Rugby Australia and Kazi Zaman from EA (Electronic Arts). Cathal talked about how rugby players wear sensors that feed data into their analytics system which provide coaches and athletes with feedback on performance. Kazi’s talk was all about the future of gaming and how they aim to use machine learning to build terrains automatically.

The keynotes both went for about two hours and honestly, they were amazingly engaging.

There were a lot of sessions. At any time there would be about five running, not including the workshops. I found the AWS Global Summits app very useful for finding the sessions I wanted to attend and for managing my agenda. In all, I attended about fourteen sessions over the two days. I’ll summarise a few which stood out for me.

Trend Micro’s presentation Pragmatic Container Security was interesting in regards to how we are thinking about securing our applications with uptake of container technologies like Docker and Fargate.

The Theory and Practice, Practice, Practice of AWS Operations and The Art of Successful Failure both looked at how AWS handle their day-to-day operations and failures. I especially liked their ‘operational mindset’; in particular, how seriously AWS take incidents and treat them as learning opportunities. Their teams are expected to have metrics and monitoring on their services and regularly present their operational metrics to the rest of AWS. Out of these review sessions, the team may get feedback on how to improve, or other teams may pick up some new tips. They also believe “there is no done” because whilst some of their services may not change, the way their customers use them is constantly changing.

Cisco’s presentation Achieving Visibility, Security and Real-Time Actionable Alerts Using VPC Flow Logs and Other AWS Tools talked about what VPC Flow is and gave interesting examples of the types of IP traffic-based security threats that VPC Flow can help detect. And of course this is made easier if we use their tool.

Black Belt Tips for Cloud Network Operations was great, alas, a little over my head. This session was about new networking features like VPC sharing and Transit Gateway.

In all, the sessions were good and the keynotes were great. From my experience at AWS Summit in Sydney, I was really pleased to see how well Shine is tracking with AWS best practices and the latest AWS technology. Nothing stood out as a complete surprise, however, I made some notes to look into CloudWatch Insights, VPC Flow, and the Well-Architected Tool (which went live in the Sydney region during the Summit).

A couple of final thoughts. Some of my colleagues asked me if the Summit is full of sales pitches. With the exception of the vendor booths, I didn’t find it so. There was enough focus on the tech and how partners are using it to be interesting. However, if you are very experienced with AWS you may find some of the sessions a little light. Even the sessions rated level 400 were fine to follow.

If you’ve been working with AWS this is a fantastic conference to get some ideas, motivation, and to just absorb the momentum of AWS. I definitely plan to go again next year.

And finally, how did they feed 22,000 people lunch in two hours?

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