Dec 06, 2017

AWS Re:Invent 2017 - The Good The Bad and The Ugly + a bit of FUN!

Reinvent 2017 in Las Vegas is over – here is our perspective of the good, the bad and the ugly!

The Good

The website, impressive that it is, cannot adequately describe the enormity of the event itself. The Re:Invent event campus took over much of the Las Vegas strip for a week and Vegas will never be the same......Until next year!

Once the event session catalogue was published on line it was clear that there was a great variety of sessions available at all skill levels. Once the website and session catalogue had induced you to attend, Amazon had struck good deals with many of the main hotels on the Las Vegas strip taking the worry out of searching and booking a good deal during your stay.On-site registration was a breeze being available before and during the event. Once registration was completed, attendees were immediately sporting their colour coded lanyards and badges.

Almost the first thing noticeable on site was that there was a vast variety of conference attendees in residence ranging from obvious Techies to Decision Makers to Vendors to the simply Cloud Curious.This gave for a very pleasant mix of people from all backgrounds and levels of knowledge. For a week, at least there was a quiet sense of community, attendees being very willing to talk to each other and greet complete strangers and exchange business cards.

This is, after all, one of the main purposes of the event itself. Networking.

THE WEEK

Monday morning – full of excitement like a young child in a toy shop, App downloaded, sessions (hopefully pre-booked) were located and attended. Many sessions were one hour sessions structured 50% Amazon techie talk and 50% cloud customer case study which gave a good overall mix in the session itself.

There were a very many examples of practical use cases of the product. Breakout sessions were very varied and frequent and catered for all. Amazon tried to categorise these in terms of pre-existing knowledge to fit the session to the attendee and streams of interest.

For those who wanted to achieve the holy grail of re-invent and get certified on site the temporary Certification Testing Centre was spacious and there were not any problems getting an examination  “slot”. However, the swag for passing the exams was actually quite poor. This I suppose, was down to sheer numbers in attendance.

Once successful you can gain entry to one of the certification lounges – these are simply to use the overused Americanism “awesome” - like airport business lounges on steroids. However, they were quite small and often very crowded and seating space was at a premium. 

The Bad

After the initial enthusiasm had worn off (and jet lag kicked in) it quickly transpired that the main conference venue (the Venetian/ Sands Conference Centre) was as capacious as an ocean liner although strangely difficult to navigate despite the signage. This might be down to the homogeneity of the environment itself, made worse by the fact that there were no windows or natural light until you reached the large spaces at the back. Hence the experience was casino-like – one was simply unaware of the passage of time – whether it was day or night, morning or evening.

However, this is relatively trivial - it was when creating your schedule that the issues started to arise. Most sessions were an hour,  there was no time allowed between them (say ten minutes) so what this meant is that it was unwise to schedule back to back sessions as you could not be guaranteed to get to them on time (and therefore being let in) due to the size of the conference centre, or you had to leave fifteen minutes before the end of a session. If you had three hours after lunch in the afternoon it was very unlikely you'd get three breakout sessions in.

I seem to remember at School and indeed at University that time was permitted to allow students to get from one lesson or lecture to another. Come on Amazon - this is not rocket science and probably resulted in a lot of people missing chunks of sessions or choosing to miss ones they might have been interested in due to necessary transit time. This very much cut down on the scheduled events that one could cram in.

As a guess I’d hazard most attendees would get three sessions in a day - but  - I hear you cry - no problem - it’s a five-day conference, so fifteen sessions, right? Ostensibly yes. But wrong! During the keynote speeches, no breakout sessions were running almost forcing you to watch them but effectively cutting down time at the conference time.

Although everyone likes to listen to Werner Vogel’s expounding his infectious enthusiasm for cloud, this was hardly fair – it should have been possible for people to choose to do what they wanted during that time. Also, there were no breakouts on Friday PM. This was a waste of half of a day. Undoubtedly many practitioners wanted and needed to get away early on the last day but I’m sure there were some of the 40,000 attendees who would have appreciated a full last day – most likely those who had travelled from afar to attend.

The event therefore went out with a whimper rather than a bang with forlorn attendees trudging around the conference centre on Friday afternoon sadly looking for some extra value. Further to this even if sessions were hopefully booked there were simply not enough repeat sessions available. This was frustrating as this was not indicated when creating the conference schedule.

You would think and hope that at a technology event (especially one from a global IT company that provides its own storage) that slides and edited sessions would be available after a short time post event to attendees. At the breakout sessions so many people were craning their cameras taking blurry and bad pictures of the briefly displayed slides when the slides should have been available prior to the sessions and the videos should be available fairly soon after. To this day it is unclear when we will get these and also whether they will be available to the general public on You Tube begging the obvious question why pay to attend at all?

Amazon want to use these to spread the good word about their product but as a paying attendee one feels a little… cheated.

Onto the “labs”.

Participants in the practice Labs were given one lab token at a time and then had to leave their stations and get back in the queue for another. It might have been easier to give all attendees two tokens so they could do the labs almost anywhere themselves. From what I could see many were having issues with the initial login to the system – surely there is a better and faster way to do this that doesn’t involve registering your email with the training system.

By giving attendees a token in advance you - 

(a) cut down on wasted time in the venue itself with people registering their training accounts and

(b) get more people interested in using the Quiklabs training system.

Despite the very large conference venues as a whole there were simply not enough seating areas with power outlets for attendees – many had to sit on the floor or in busy corridor areas plugging their various devices in. This was more reminiscent of an airport lounge than a paid for professional conference. This was true of all the venues.

Computing facilities (even cloud computing) requires electricity Amazon. Not all of us are lithe and flexible enough to sit on the floor and park our backs against walls for periods of time.

The App  - didn’t always sync with the schedule and also it didn’t cache data locally making it only useful when internet connected. The on line (web) scheduler was very difficult to use – on the day I had to use a combination of the app and the web scheduler to find sessions by venue/ time which was tedious.

The Ugly

As soon as the web site was published it started alarm bells ringing. The reinvent campus this year was expanded stretching way along the Las Vegas strip making it very time-consuming travelling between venues and almost impractical to choose breakouts that were in different venues during the day. This was despite the shuttle buses laid on – as the Las Vegas traffic demonstrates excellently that  immutable universal question – what happens when an unstoppable object meets an immovable object? Nothing, (barring the railroad) can beat Vegas traffic.

Even ignoring the traffic and opting to walk was a chore because as a visitor to Las Vegas knows it is impossible to walk quickly up or down the Strip – some parts require a mandatory cross over onto escalators and bridges not to mention circumnavigating the hordes of slow rubberneckers oblivious of anyone else on their deliberate journey to capture the sights of the strip to their own minds.

Crowds! If you don’t like crowds don’t come.

There are queues for just about anything including getting a shuttle bus to go to a venue, queuing for reserved and walk up seating for breakouts (but more on this later), queuing for labs and serious queuing for the reception sessions in the evening making it obvious to anyone that some of the venues were too small. Ironically the queuing for food at breakfast or lunch was very short however you did have to walk a few kilometres in the food hall before you were directed to a buffet.

Apropos of this there are very long lines to breakout sessions. Attendees able to get a reserved seat had to queue to be let in to get their seat but walk up attendees (those unable to get a reserved seat) had to queue for the chance to be let in – and it was often only apparent after you had queued for a long while and the session had started that you weren’t going to be successful – and you had in one fell swoop also ruined your chance of attending another walk up for the same time.

Session enforced seating – once you managed to get into a breakout session (hooray!) your enthusiasm was soon quashed by the overenthusiastic helpers telling you where to sit. This is not like the cinemas I used to attend as a child in the 1970s – if I’m paying for the privilege of sitting somewhere and there are spaces why shouldn’t I sit where I want? Perhaps I have a fear of middle rows from too much long-haul travel and I want to it on the edge of a row – why shouldn’t I?

The shuttle buses didn’t stop outside the main entrance to the Sands conference centre but drove on around to the car park – this was extremely counter-intuitive and stopped on the fly decisions to move to another venue (perhaps to avoid the crowds). Why add 8 minutes to the journey?

Some sessions advertised on the app were not available to all attendees – so why advertise them to those attendees on the app in the first place.

And now for the FUN!

As much as we like the exciting Keynotes by Andy and Werner the real highlight of Re:Invent is PLAY it happens on the Thursday night in 3 large specially built hangars on a lot behind the Venetian - The First Hangar is music by top DJ's and Retro Gaming! the Second and Third Hangars have large Jumping Castles/Slides for grown-ups and more gaming set ups plus lots of Food and drinks EVERYWHERE - truly a grown-up paradise.

It would be had to describe so here are some pix and short clips! - Apologies for the quality but these were all done on a smartphone as we braved through the halls. As you can see the sheer scale of the Party means tons of Games and Food and Drink were on offer.

Key Takeaway

As you may have guessed doing Re:Invent takes some preparation, AWS run Webinars weeks before the event so you get to grips with the App and setting yourself up  - once the App goes live it easy to filter subject matter types and book your sessions - Top Tip! Book sessions you are not 100% sure about - as the week moves along it is easier to give up a Reserve seat than getting a walk-up admission.

Help is everywhere, the shuttle bus operators, the students on hand at every venue, the dedicated help and registration desks and the ushers at every event - they all are super friendly and helpful and if they don't know they get someone who can!

As for eating at the conference - there is breakfast at every venue and we found that as attendees of boot camps the breakfast can be extra special! Lunch is served in the form of lunch boxes in Meat, Vegetarian and Vegan Options  - free soda/water /coffee/tea etc. on the go and available throughout the day - means you never really have to spend money or think about taking a lunch break.

Furthermore, there are lots of happenings every night - From Vendor Sponsored events to sport themed get together (running ,cycling, bowling, Golf etc.) It's all there and trust me it’s definitely first come first served - on the night of the pub crawl most venues had 2K plus attendees queuing up outside!

Lastly there is the EXPO - this in the Venetian and the Aria - this is where Key AWS Partners come and set up stalls and do demos, scan your badge for follow up and give you swag - in the form of t shirts, stickers and prize draws (for drones/iphones /etc.) - AWS it's self has a daily Swag list - provided you do 2 customer surveys for the courses attended (translates to you having attended 2 seminars per day) -it varies from cool water bottles to pins to beanies to hoodies. Let's just say it is prudent to go with an empty suitcase!!!

Lastly the feeling resonating even now is that AWS and Cloud has a large community and it was totally awesome to be amongst too many devotees, soaking up all the learning and seeing some exciting developments in Cloud - it can get jaded when stuck in the trenches doing a difficult project after another - this is surely the tonic that says - this is what it is all about and where the movement is heading - Lifelong learning is key! and this is the place to top up!

I'll definitely be back next year and will fine tune my itinerary with more trips to the Grand Canyon! - it can’t all be serious stuff, can it?

Thanks for reading! - Richard Antonel (richardantonel@startsmartltd.com) and Jerome Wagner (jeromewagner@startsmartltd.com

Tagged: AWS, AWS Re:Invent 2017, Cloud Computing, Seminars