AWS Summit 2013 Berlin Roundup

This year’s German AWS Summit took place in Berlin on May 2nd at the Berlin Congress Center right at Alexanderplatz.

Amazon seem to have hit a nerve with their product and conference topic as the place was completely packed. Quite a large queue of attendees had stacked up right before the entrance:

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Most of the conference rooms were also quite full. All in all a very good sign that people are interested in cloud computing and willing to shift their attention to their core business instead of keeping reinventing the wheel in terms of IT infrastructure.

Werner Vogels, CTO of AWS opened the summit with his keynote speech. He brought up some interesting case studies, where their product has come from, where they are now and also gave a short glimpse into the future of AWS. He offered a view into how he thinks cloud computing should shape the future of human-computer interaction and how content is experienced utilising all those new possibilities. For him “devices are only windows to your content in the cloud”. As an example he brought up treadmills which he sometimes uses in hotels. Vogels wants those built in a way so that he can authenticate to them and then access all his personal content being either work documents or all forms of entertainment. And if you look at Google Glass for example he’s right because how much of a “device” really is left with a pair of glasses that you wear. It doesn’t really matter if the device has this hardware spec or one slightly better. It all comes down to if you can access your content anytime, anywhere and to have that content augmented with whatever information your current situation benefits from. Vogels also stressed that Amazon’s vision is to bring prices down for their services so that you don’t really think about whether to use them or not. “It’s just like switching on the light in the evening – you don’t think about that!”

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Most of the other talks were mainly about how to design applications and infrastructure in the cloud. The main driver for those design decisions is scalability. And this does not only mean that you should be able to scale up or out for peak times but also, and much more important from a cost perspective, to be able to scale down when there are less requests to your application and your provisioned assets are under-utilised. This is an important and interesting aspect when making decisions about e.g. what instance size to use on AWS. For people coming from traditional IT backgrounds there needs to be some shift in their mind set because they are used to over commission physical hardware just to be on the safe side. With elastic resource provisioning this is no longer necessary.

To make all of this work there is of course a heavy need for automation of all aspects of provisioning systems and deploying software artefacts. A fact which was made clear in nearly all of the talks. But this ultimately also calls for a higher level of abstraction when you think of the services you use. What applications really need is some sort of runtime environment which in case of e.g. Java, Ruby and Python apps is totally accepted. You have a virtual machine and nearly no one questions their internals. We just use them. But with things like web servers or any other “traditional” services people tend to set up complete systems from the OS level because they want to push all the shiny knobs and buttons that these offer. I had an interesting discussion with an attendee how was more on the traditional side of things. But it seemed that he had almost something like an epiphany as he said: “Maybe you’re right. I don’t think about OS processes on a low level and how they work. I just trust them to do the right thing!”

In summary it’s quite an exciting time to see how usage paradigms slowly but constantly change towards cloud based offerings which are not only getting used by start-ups but also by larger traditional enterprises who recognise that if they want to move fast, be agile and keep up with their competition the cloud is the place to be!

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