Highlights from AWS re:Invent 2020 - Dr. Werner Vogels' Keynote

Wayne Zettler

people examining a screen in a data center


AWS re:Invent 2020 rolled into the third week of its fully virtual format and highly anticipated keynote speaker Dr. Werner Vogels did not disappoint. The iconic AWS VP & CTO came to us from a defunct sugar factory located in his native country of the Netherlands. The historic SugarCity factory, located in Halfweg, provided both the scenic backdrop for the event, and the underlying backstory that was neatly woven into Dr. Vogels’ common theme of transformation in the face of unexpected circumstances and the value of operational insight. Dr. Vogels’ jaunt through the factory was punctuated with profound insights, guest speakers and a sprinkling of product announcements along the way. Here are a few of the highlights from Tuesday’s keynote.


Setting the stage

Standing in front of towering metal structures, in what was once a bustling hive of industrial activity, Dr. Vogels regaled the audience with a story of a thriving manufacturing facility that followed a well-defined process to break down raw sugar beet into refined sugar. While the scenery seemed as far from the world of public cloud as one could possibly be, Dr. Vogels deftly wove ties into IoT, predictive maintenance, process improvement, data aggregation and analysis, and many more cloud-specific topics. He tied it all together by transitioning into the factory’s fall from grace and the importance of an organization’s ability to transform in response to external events, as seen most recently with the global impacts of COVID19 on modern businesses. To drive home his point around transformation, Dr. Vogels brought in a pair of powerful guest speakers.


Guest speakers

The first guest speaker was Lea von Bidder, the Co-Founder and CEO of Ava. Ava focuses on women’s reproductive health and the organization leverages wearable wristband sensors to gather a wide assortment of health-related data, which is subsequently passed into AWS to leverage AI/ML services. This self-proclaimed “data company” discusses the value of partnering with AWS to transform and deliver capabilities that would otherwise be impossible for a small organization that is in essence a simple hardware manufacturer. This partnership has also enabled Ava to modify their wristbands to help in monitoring for early detection of COVID.

The second speaker was Nicole Yip, the Engineering Manager of Direct Shopper Technology for The LEGO Group. The focus of this guest appearance was to discuss the problematic launch of a highly sought-after Millennium Falcon LEGO set on LEGO’s website, which resulted from technical difficulties and tight coupling on LEGO’s on-premises, monolithic platform. The fallout from that failed product launch led the organization to transform their entire way of thinking about IT systems and over time resulted in full adoption of serverless technology. This unfortunate experience drove growth from 4 to 56 serverless services in roughly two years.


Key announcements / pre-announcements

The remainder of Dr. Vogels’s time in the SugarCity factory was spent in a recurring pattern of build-up and subsequent product launch, very similar to the motion used by Andy Jassy on the opening day of re:Invent. Listed below is a brief summary of the key product announcements and pre-announcements that were divulged by Dr. Vogels.


AWS CloudShell

AWS CloudShell provides access to AWS resources from a convenient browser-based command line interface leveraging an Amazon Linux 2 environment. CloudShell comes pre-stocked with a plethora of development tools, SDKs and a shell from which to launch the AWS CLI. CloudShell inherits credentials from the user that is logged into the console, negating the requirement to manage credentials locally. This tool is fully customizable, managed by AWS, cost-free and it even provides 1GB of persistent storage to retain files, scripts and other commonly used resources.


AWS Fault Injection Simulator

Dr. Vogels often reminds us that “Everything fails, all the time.” AWS Fault Injection Simulator (FIS) delivers the capability for organizations to conduct chaos engineering in a controlled manner and learn from experiments. These experiments result in detailed reports and findings which can be used to compare and contrast to baseline measurements to help make decisions on how best to optimize various operations.

The FIS tool allows organizations to introduce faults such as latency, malformed application code, injection faults, infrastructure degradation and even control plane level failures into an environment. This process of chaos engineering was made popular by Netflix and their use of Chaos Monkey. FIS provides organizations the ability to identify faults in their environment before they are encountered during a production outage. By running these game-day scenarios, personnel are given the opportunity to engineer for resiliency and/or determine optimal responses to a variety of scenarios, as well as determine how to proactively identify issues before they arise.


AWS Managed Services for Grafana & Prometheus

Awareness of the importance of observability in complex software systems has been increasing rapidly in recent years, as development teams are building interdependent microservice architectures, often with complex failure modes. These services offer the ability to analyze, monitor, produce alarms based on metrics, trace data across multiple sources and visualize interactive data. These services require no change to application code and are optimal for monitoring containerized applications.

Dr. Vogels spent a good deal of time discussing the importance of being able to truly understand what is occurring within an application or system and developing tools that help in monitoring the unobservable actions that occur where we cannot see. And with AWS Managed Services for Grafana and AWS Managed Services for Prometheus, that now is possible.


AWS Distro for OpenTelemetry

AWS Distro for OpenTelemetry is an AWS-supported, production-grade, secure distribution of the OpenTelemetry project. This project provides open-source APIs, agents and libraries to collect metrics and traces for the monitoring of applications. This tool will allow organizations to leverage metadata from tagged AWS resources and cloud-native services enabling the ability to correlate application performance data with its underlying infrastructure. This level of observability will provide operators a greater level of insight into application operation, which will expedite troubleshooting and reduce the time it takes to resolve an issue.


Make the most of re:Invent 2020

This year’s re:Invent wraps up Friday, but the content will be available through the end of January. To view the recordings, register here and don’t forget to visit the Rackspace Technology virtual booth to learn more about our new AWS solutions and enjoy an immersive interactive experience.


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