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Cool Gadgets & Cloud Services Under the Desert Sun: On the Ground at AWS re:Invent

By Anthony Topper on .

We’re excited to have Anthony Topper, a student at the Advanced Math and Science Academy in Massachusetts, provide a first-timer’s take on last week’s AWS re:Invent conference. He published his first app to the iTunes App Store at age 12 and continues to work on web, mobile and backend projects. Anthony reached out to several re:Invent sponsors asking if he could purchase a spare ticket to the conference, and Runscope Principal Infrastructure Engineer—and Amazon Community Hero—Ryan Park was thrilled to give Anthony his pass.

Anthony Topper (left) visits the Runscope booth in the expo hall at AWS re:Invent last week in Las Vegas with Neil Mansilla, VP of Developer Relations at Runscope.

Anthony Topper (left) visits the Runscope booth in the expo hall at AWS re:Invent last week in Las Vegas with Neil Mansilla, VP of Developer Relations at Runscope.

It was around 90 degrees, hot even for Vegas at this time of year. I woke up that Tuesday, expecting to see what was new at AWS re:Invent—but the conference offered so much more. As a high school student, I was in awe at the grand scale of this conference. Topping off at over 19,000 attendees, this year’s re:Invent was the biggest ever. Left, right and center were various software architects, developers and executives eager to see what was new in cloud technology. Senior Vice President of AWS, Andy Jassy, kicked off this event with a keynote introducing new enterprise services. He talked about new ways for large businesses to transfer data over physical disks using Snowball and ways to load huge amounts of streaming data using AWS Kinesis Firehose.

IoT All Around, from Robots to Hand Sanitizer

I found interest, however, in more startup-accessible services. Dr. Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, showed off Amazon’s latest and greatest: AWS IoT, AWS Inspector, AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF), AWS Lambda’s new features and many more. The general manager of AWS product strategy, Dr. Matt Wood, ran an intriguing IoT demo, which featured a robotic arm and 3D motion sensor. As he waved his hand above the sensor, the arm matched his movements—this was truly stunning. Data was streaming all the way up to the AWS IoT servers, and all the way back to the arm with sub-second latency. If this is the power of Amazon’s new service, who knows what the limits are! 

All around the conference, there were hand sanitizers that were “internet enabled”—each time one was nearly out of gel, an alert was sent to the staff and a new cartridge was automatically ordered from Amazon. The high level of integration that we have seen in Amazon’s cloud services now manifests itself in a more physical sense. A thermostat that turns on the AC when you are 10 minutes from home, or a self-driving car that determines the best route to take. In fact, the latter example is already being used by farmers. Patrick Pinkston, VP of Information Solutions at John Deere, talked about the company’s use of IoT in the company’s tractors. His team built a tractor to navigate a field with precision down to the centimeter, using GPS and other methods of triangulation, which enabled the tractor to perform runs along a field without requiring an operator inside. In my eyes, this is only the beginning of success in IoT for AWS.  

Startups, Swag & Security

reinvent expo hall.JPG

In the grand expo hall, over 500 sponsors showcased their products and services, and of course, handed out swag. My favorite was Runscope, and the company’s Everything Is Going to Be 200 OK® t-shirt was by far one of the best pieces of swag in the expo hall. I spent quite some time around the startup pavilion, where various mentors and venture capitalists talked about their experience in working with startups. I got to see things like a new statistical visualization engine from a company whose founder designed a new way to show data that is more intuitive and tailored to the needs of each case.

I found newly announced services AWS Inspector and AWS WAF to be particularly useful to this startup community. These tools find security holes in an application. Hackers are constantly seeking means of breaking into systems and retrieving private information or spamming users. With Inspector, you can run a baseline test on an infrastructure, and it will generate a report suggesting what should be improved. It holds a library of security standards, knows the common exploits and will help you avoid security holes. Amazon researchers continuously update the database of known hacks and defenses so developers don’t have to. Similarly, AWS WAF takes direct action against exploits. It plugs the security holes, ensuring that no content is left un-escaped, no secure connections fall back to SSLv3 and services cannot be spammed to drive up costs. As an app developer, I felt that these two services would provide great relief in building a complex backend application. I wouldn’t need to worry about managing my own firewalls, or searching my own code for security fixes. AWS will alert me of issues and block malicious invasions.

Putting a Bow on the Conference by Passing Certification Tests

There were many certification tests available to take at re:Invent—you could become a certified developer, SysOps admin or solutions architect. I originally had a slight fear that I would walk into the exam room and fail the test. I thought it was only accessible by professionals with years of experience and weeks of training. However, I took a test for the developer associate level, and a managed to pass! The exam included questions ranging from DynamoDB write capacity to REST response codes. Because I had coded applications with these Amazon APIs, it seemed relatively simple. Plus, taking a pre-exam bootcamp certainly helped. There were large rooms filled with workstations, each providing free access to AWS and dedicated to testing. They truly offered everything they could to teach incoming architects and developers. After using AWS for quite some time, just like studying anything in university or in practice, it comes with ease.

All in all, I had a marvelous time seeing the new technology that was released, and learning AWS in more depth. Alongside that, it certainly was a great opportunity to network with people, including my new friends at Runscope. I hope to return next year to meet people and see the next iteration of AWS’ developer services.

Want some 200 OK swag for yourself? Sign up for Runscope for free and we’ll mail you a t-shirt!

Categories: events, community

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