AWS Summit London 2022
As AWS-certified developers we're fully-immersed in the Amazon Web Services ecosystem, and this includes following the annual flagship summit re:Invent each year in Las Vegas via the online streams, and attending the annual regional summits, such as AWS Summit London 2022.
While smaller than their Las Vegas counterpart, the annual regional summits are still huge events in their own right, with London's event occupying a vast space at ExCel in London's docklands.
We'd last attended the AWS Summit London in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live events worldwide and the AWS Summits went online for two years.
We were thrilled then that in spring 2022 the regional summits were restarted and we were able to one again visit London for a real, in-person AWS Summit.
A visitor's first impression of the event is likely to be the registration hall, which itself reveals the scale of the AWS Summit. The registration hall is a vast, aircraft hangar sized room with perhaps a hundred registration desks and miles of tape barriers to marshall the tens of thousands of attendees. The event staff were fantastic, registration was fast and and efficient and despite the scale of the operation we were rapidly presented with our freshly-printed delegate IDs on the ubiquitious summit lanyard and sent on our way to explore the event.
Following the crowds to the main auditorium, we waited for the Summit's Keynote, the headline introduction to the whole summit. Summit keynotes tend to follow the format of an introduction to AWS or a spotlight on a particular service and then a series of case studies from various users of Amazon Web Services - this 2022 agenda was no different.
There's no doubting the investment in the Regional Summits, as the main auditorium dressed for the keynote is a specatular live production. The combination of light & haze, a thumping soundtrack and the eager chatter of the delegates created an environment of anticipation and excitement. The event felt busier than in 2019, with many delegates having to watch from the breakout rooms.
The keynote is never my favourite part of the Summit, as unlike at the Vegas event, there are rarely any barnstorming new service announcements, and the introduction typically focuses on exisiting services and extoles the scale and power of them. But we already know this, we've seen the marketing videos and we're already committed users of AWS - you don't need to convince us!
However the keynote did cover an area of interest to us, that of the advancing family of Graviton processors designed by AWS. We've started to use the arm64/Graviton architecture for some Lambda functions as part of our serverless application development, so it was good to hear more about this area of development at AWS, which is now into its 3rd generation, Graviton3.
The AWS Summit London had originally billed Werner Vogels as the key speaker, but unfortunately he was unable to attend - a dissapointment for us not to see the AWS CTO in person.
We were lucky to get great seats at the back of the arena, a few rows up but close enough to the exits to make a sneaky escape once we'd seen enough. That point came for us after an impressive but somewhat unrelatable presentation by Ocado on their incredible robotic fulfilment centres. It's always inspiring to see a business pushing the limits of technology, software and automation, but their specific issues of defeating latency by using AWS Outposts for on premise workloads simply isn't my area of interest.
Breakout sessions and the Expo hall
My personal favourite aspect of the AWS Summits are the breakout sessions which take place throughout the day in smaller, perhaps 300-1000 capacity rooms. These sessions vary in technical level, scored from 100-400 and tend to last between 30 and 60 minutes.
The sessions are often presented by developers, technical leads or tech managers and can give a fascinating insight into how other organisations use AWS services, as well as into the technical fundamentals of the services themselves.
With our focus at Si Novi on cloud-based applications, particularly using serverless technologies, the sessions that inspired me were:
- Marcia Villalba's talk in the auditorium on event-driven architectures, where she described an interesting pattern of defining and documenting application events. Many of the applications we build are event driven, using EventBridge, SNS, DynamoDB streams and other AWS services to publish and consume information, and Marcia's insights offered some solutions to the complexity of designing and documenting these kinds of systems.
- The session by Matt Coulter and Gerrard Cowburn on AWS Cloud Development Kit (CDK), and how Liberty IT have leveraged this AWS toolset to manage their development. We're huge fans of Infrastructure-as-code, using CloudFormation, the Serverless Application Model (SAM) and other third-party tools to design, scaffold and maintain our cloud architecture. We've been exploring CDK with a view to migrating some of our systems so this talk was inspiring and motivating.
- Martin Bishop's talk on S3, particuarly on use-cases for S3 Object Lambda, which we've not yet put to work.
The Expo hall is also an entertaining space, this year including several small speaking stages where some of the lower profile but still interesting technical talks took place. One that caught our eye was Paul Schwarzenberger's talk on using AWS Session Manager to replace SSH access via bastion hosts. Hearing these lounge sessions with the background noise of the Expo hall was a challenge, the more formal breakout sessions used wireless headphones which worked superbly.
The Expo hall also features the event sponsors and organisations selling their AWS partner services, plus the Ask the expert sessions where you can speak directly with AWS Solution Architects. The Expo hall also has a small but handy certification lounge where individuals with AWS certifications can pop in for some swag and refreshments - we certainly appreciated a nice sit down from time to time. The hall is a great place to meet and mingle, and indeed we bumped into clients and fellow developer friends during the course of the day.
Gripes with AWS Summit London 2022
We had a great time at the Summit, but it wasn't without its imperfections.
The queues to enter breakout sessions were a real pain, caused by venue staff scanning every single delegate ID. Presumably this is just data collection to work out who saw what - but the process is far too slow and I expect many people missed beginning of sessions or even abandoned sessions entirely.
The session scheduling was all over the place, with thematically-linked sessions on at the same time, so that we couldn't see all the sessions we had wanted to. The online summits offered the concept of tracks where you could follow a day's worth of ML/AI or serverless if that is your specialty. It would be fun if there were video playback rooms to catch a second screening of an earlier session.
But worst of all, the Wifi was terrible! The coverage of Wifi across the ExCel centre was really poor, so the majority of the time our phones dropped to 4G - which was completely saturated by the sheer number of people. Compounding this was the fact that the AWS Events app requires an internet connection to even load, with no offline access (unless you'd saved your sessions out to your own calendar ahead of time, mental note for next time...) so that there was often no way to see the event schedule via the app.
Is a live summit worth it in 2022?
After the COVID-19 pandemic many businesses have found themselves forced to adapt to new ways of working, particularly by operating remotely - indeed we were no exception. Remote technology is evolving quickly now and people in the tech sector now have plenty of experience with video interaction. Furthermore given environmental and energy concerns becoming increasingly high profile, does the travel of thousands of people and the logistics of such a huge event stack up?
I can't judge those concerns quantifiably or objectively, but I can say that there is simply no replacement for an in-person live experience such as an AWS Summit. The online summits, while occasionally interesting, simply do not provide the level of engagement and inspriration of live summit. Whether it's a huge event like AWS Summit London or a local AWS meetup, we always leave a live event buzzing with ideas and feeling insprired and motivated to try a new service or refactor or optimise an existing solution. Being at a live event provides a different environment for creative thinking away from the coal face of the workplace, and as we've found can lead to new ideas and energy.