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AWS re:Invent 2020: A Pragmatic Approach

6 min read • Nov 18, 2020

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By James CrossDelivery Leader

James is a Big Data Engineer and certified AWS Solutions Architect with a passion for data driven applications. He's spent the last 7-years helping his clients to design and implement huge scale streaming Big Data platforms, Cloud-based analytics stacks, and severless architectures.

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This year AWS re:Invent goes all virtual and all-access. James Cross guides architects through an impactful experience in this edition of his Pragmatic Approach series.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) powers everything from financial services to power utilities, media and entertainment, and so much more. For an architect looking to build improved solutions with more efficient technologies, AWS re:Invent is always one of the most anticipated events of the year.

Like so many other events this year, re:Invent is going 100 percent digital. As a result, it just might achieve the greatest attendance yet. The virtual conference will be a 3-week long event with over 50 tracks and 500 sessions planned. With niche technical sessions and speakers like Werner Voguls and Andy Jassy, re:Invent is the place to be if you want to hear from the best in the biz on cloud computing. 

But with such a wealth of tracks, sessions, and topics, getting the most of the event can take some planning and consideration to focus on the content that impacts you. As a cloud architect, I know weeding through the information and choosing a schedule can ensure you get the maximum value from the experience. Let’s dive in.Key Themes and Announcements

Every year re:Invent brings a wide range of product and feature announcements, some of which fundamentally change the way architects view cloud computing and build applications. Take, for example, the 2014 introduction of AWS Lambda. The announcement marked a cosmic shift in the way architects design and build applications by empowering us to focus less on running and scaling logic, and more on delivering business value.

As products have matured, the pace of innovation has naturally slowed. Therefore, paradigm-shattering announcements may be a longshot this year. Instead, themes will likely be centered around developer innovation, creativity, and automation of tasks. 

As high-growth, high-interest areas of computing, expect to see a focus on Machine Learning, Serverless, and Containers. With the Machine Learning keynote, don’t be surprised if there is a product announcement for an all-new ML managed services product. Serverless and Containers, on the other hand, are more likely to see feature announcements intended to boost usability and adoption. Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) updates. Amazon has been working hard to get this service up to par with competing offerings from Microsoft and Google which have, so far, been more advanced. 
What to Expect from Speakers

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Personally, the keynote and leadership talks are always a highlight for me. This is where architects and developers get to hear about cutting edge technology developments, paradigm shifts, and changes to the platforms they build on. Here are some of the talks on my radar. Depending on your interest or niche, you may want to mark them on your calendar.

Keynote with CEO,  Andy Jassy  

Andy will set the stage by sharing insights from customers, products, and services. Expect Andy to talk about the growth of AWS as well as the direction he sees cloud computing moving in over the next 12 months.

Keynote with VP Werner Vogels 

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again - Werner is the daddy of cloud computing. If you only attend one session, make it this one. Expect Werner to talk about major product announcements as well as share his tips for how to build cloud applications the “right way.” He’s an exciting presenter, and well worth listening to.

Leadership Session with Rudy Valdez 

Rudy leads AWS Solutions Architecture and will likely share his predictions on the emerging trends he sees in cloud architecture.

Leadership Session with David Brown 

David leads the AWS Compute practice (AWS EC2), something that you will almost certainly use on AWS. This talk will cover the latest trends in the elastic cloud computing space and projections for what’s next.

Leadership session Deepak Singh 

Deepak leads the AWS Containers’ business, perhaps one of the fastest-growing areas in cloud computing. Expect Singh to talk about the most cutting-edge methods for running and scaling containerized applications.

Leadership Session with Shawn Bice

Shawn leads the AWS Databases business. This has historically been one of the fastest-growing product offerings on AWS. If previous re:Invents are any indication, we can expect Shawn to announce a major new database service or significant new features.

Leadership Session with David Richardson

David leads the AWS Serverless portfolio, another rapidly growing space for cloud computing. We can expect David to announce some major new serverless features.

Leadership Session with Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec

Mai-Lan leads the storage portfolio. While this is an area that is very mature, it’s interesting to hear how AWS handles unthinkable volumes of data and throughput in their data centers.
Choosing Wisely

I recommend focusing on the keynote and leadership sessions. This is where the biggest news is dropped and is the place for new feature showcases. Technical sessions can be a bit more tricky to navigate, as there will be hundreds of them across dozens of tracks, with varying degrees of technical depth. 

It’s handy to remember that AWS always rates the technicality of each session from 100 to 400, where 100 and 200 are introductory sessions, 300 is intermediate, and 400 is advanced. If you’re an experienced engineer, 100 and 200 sessions may be too basic to keep you engaged. On the other hand, if you focus on the business side of AWS architecture, you might be in over your head with 300 and 400 level sessions. 

As you pick your sessions, try to hone in on those most relevant to your industry and the problems you are trying to solve at the moment. Fewer Distractions, More Value?

With re:Invent going virtual, some of the pomp and buzz that comes with the traditional Sin City event will be missing. But without the distractions of the Vegas strip or the labors of in-person side chats, you can give greater attention to the conference itself. Take advantage and cram in as many virtual sessions as you can—focus on extracting value to bring back to your workplace and the folks you build for.   

Join me and our DevOps lead, John Knight as we dissect and discuss our favorite keynote addresses each week of re:Invent. For more information and updates, visit our Virtasant at re:Invent page.

James Cross

By James Cross

Delivery Leader