We’re still coming down from an awesome week at re:Invent! Between the technical sessions, partner talks and our #FindTheFlame campaign at the SparkPost booth, there was no shortage of excitement. We thought it’d be fun to do a quick recap of our top re:Invent takeaways. Here’s the scoop from our team members sitting in on conference sessions and those that manned our booth in the expo hall. Enjoy!

1. Exciting New Networking Features are Here

Our team is pumped about several new networking features including Cross-Region Peering Connections, Customer PrivateLink, AWS Shield Advanced and AWS Guard Duty to name a few. Cross-Region Peering Connections will extend the peering connection functionality to work between VPCs in different regions and will dramatically decrease the complexity needed to securely connect shared service tiers. PrivateLink has been extended to allow users to attach their own services to it – something our engineers are also excited to experiment with. AWS Shield Advanced will provide managed DDoS protection, and AWS Guard Duty is an ML-based threat detection service we’re also looking to explore more.

2. New Container and Serverless Announcements

AWS also announced some new services at re:Invent, first up AWS Fargate, which allows the deployment and management of containers without any of the underlying infrastructure. We’re also excited for ECS for Kubernetes, which is functionality to run Kubernetes on AWS without needing to be an expert in Kubernetes. Additionally, AWS Lambda Function improvements are coming, including being able to shift traffic from one lambda to another.

3. New Instance Types are Here

AWS announced the next generation of c5 instances, and how they’re faster and cheaper than previous generations. In addition, EC2 T2 Unlimited is a highly burstable instance type that will scale efficiently with workload. Also, Bare metal instances will support new use cases and workload types that can benefit from this though we are still evaluating if they are right for us.

4. It Pays to Plan Ahead

With any massive conference, logistics are always a bit tricky. A few helpful tips from our team on navigating and planning:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get from Point A to B. The shuttles were sometimes slow and while the hotels on the Vegas strip are well connected, it definitely takes time to get from place to place. Many of our team members opted to commit to one venue each day. If that’s not possible, just plan for 30-40 minute walk times between venues (taxi lines were also quite long).
  • Check for new sessions each morning. Many new sessions were added to the agenda last minute, so next year, be sure to check often for updates.
  • Be prepared for swag. With over 350 companies exhibiting at re:Invent, there was no shortage of swag. Between drones, droids, t-shirts, socks, koozies & other tech gadgets, be prepared with something to collect all the awesome giveaways.

  • Even with a reservation to sessions, be prepared for a wait. Some team members were more successful than others at booking sessions in advance. However, it was possible to get into many of the walk up sessions. Some sessions had lots of extra seats but lines were very long for 300 and 400 level talks and for anything just announced, which meant getting in line an hour in advance.

5. When in Doubt, #FindTheFlame

Our marketing team had an awesome time putting together our #FindTheFlame campaign this year. In case you missed it, we commissioned a 6 foot tall flame sculpture built entirely out of LEGOs and ran a selfie contest on Twitter using the #FindTheFlame hashtag. The campaign took off and we even won an award from AWS for Best Integrated Marketing Campaign. You can check out our entire album of #FindTheFlame selfies here.

We hope to see you at next year’s re:Invent!

Jen

ps: AWS has uploaded the re:Invent talks to YouTube, so catch up if you weren’t able to attend!

***TL;DR: Enter your guess here for how many legos were used in the making of our life-sized lego flame for re:Invent.

What’s orange, six-feet tall, and weighs 150 pounds?

When we sat down to plan our booth at AWS re: Invent I had this grand idea of incorporating one of our Q4 campaigns, “Send an email to Santa’s Inbox” with a winter wonderland themed booth. However, someone came forward and said, “I don’t think we should do it because I just don’t get it. Developers and Santa. It’s not working for me. It’s also untested. What about something like Star Wars?”

Most of the marketing team responded with “Who doesn’t love Santa?” And eye-rolled at the idea of a Star Wars themed booth (so overdone at this point). Plus, I firmly believe that developers like more than just Star Wars. I bet I can even find developers who don’t like Star Wars. Anyway, I weighed the feedback and that sent me back to the drawing board.

After a few days I glanced up on the wall of my office and there pinned to my wall was an idea I wrote down months prior to “#FindTheFlame”. I wanted somehow to incorporate our logo in our sponsorship and figured we’d incorporate a Twitter contest around that hashtag during AWS re:Invent 2017. Then my demand gen manager suggested, “why don’t we just use that as our theme and build on it?” Great idea. But now the challenge was, how do we make it interesting enough to stand out in a crowd of over 300+ sponsors and 40,000 people?

 

via GIPHY  

In the spirit of #FindTheFlame, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could have a giant rendering of our SparkPost flame logo? After some research on getting it built in foam, cardboard, wood, ice (but that was ruled out immediately because of the sponsorship rules), balloon sculpture, and other crazy materials, I finally settled on LEGOS.

That presented yet another challenge. In my research, I found that there are only about 40 LEGO master builders in the WORLD! And LEGO hires them all. So, how were we going to get this built? We had some moderate LEGO fanatics in the office, but no one with the time or resources to pull this off in three months. So I put a Tweet out, and just like that:

 

I used my brother’s 50th birthday as a distraction to any competitor or sponsor who might be reading my tweets because I wanted this to be a huge surprise if we could pull it off.

I got in touch with Jamie at Bright Bricks immediately. One phone call and I was ready to order. It was going to take 8-10 weeks to build and ship it to Vegas. That was going to put me right up to the Friday before the event; talk about a nail-biter! But Jamie guaranteed they could get it there on time, despite the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

As a teaser, he sent me a computer model rendering of what it would look like. I showed it to our co-founder and CTO, George, who said, “That is F***ING AWESOME!” Which is why we love working for George, he recognizes awesomeness when he sees it.

 

Throughout the process, Jamie sent me dimensions and progress reports. The final dimensions are:

Height: 182 cm (6ft)
Width: 110.5 cm (3.6ft)
Depth: 61.5 cm (2ft)
Weight: 76.5 kg (168.6 lbs)

# of Bricks: ??

Can you guess how many bricks it took to build it? Tweet us your guess using the hashtag #FindTheFlame OR enter your guess here by 12/10 and you might win a $500 Amazon gift card!

 

Thank you again to AWS for another outstanding event! To see all of the #FindTheFlame pictures, check out our album!

Tracy Sestilli

sparkpost billboard you code we send aws reinvent 2016

AWS Reinvent 2016

AWS ReInvent is an annual conference organised by Amazon Web Services, Amazon’s cloud computing division. This year it was in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, with 32,000 people attending from all over the world.

I attended, along with a number of my colleagues. The SparkPost service is hosted in the AWS cloud. We use a number of AWS services to build and operate the service. We are a couple of years into our cloud journey, and we have plenty left to learn.reinvent recap

What I Wanted to Get Out of the Conference

I wanted to know more of the nitty-gritty of the services we use – gotchas, recommendations, anti-patterns to avoid, etc. – by attending some of the 400+ breakout sessions. I also wanted to share problems and solutions with other folks.

Finally, I wanted to spend some quality time catching up with my colleagues. We have quite a geographically distributed team, spread across eight hours of time zones. So this was actually my first opportunity to meet some of them face-to-face!

 

Serverless Computing

I attended a number of sessions around serverless computing, where you don’t have dedicated infrastructure running all the time. On the surface, it seems like this could provide a cheaper way of providing some services, by automatically scaling the infrastructure up and down to match the load on the service.

AWS Lambda is serverless — it runs a single function in response to an input. Behind the scenes, the Lambda runs in a container, which can be reused across invocations. Resources created in the global scope of your Lambda code can be reused across invocations. For example, DynamoDB connection, to reduce latency.

AWS is increasingly using Lambda as an extensibility mechanism — like the cloud equivalent of “hooks” or “callbacks” in software, or webhooks. In the DynamoDB Deep Dive, Lambda stores procedures for DynamoDB, which is an interesting way to view it. Lambdas can be triggered when you make changes to a DynamoDB database, via Streams. This could be used to insert an alternative representation into another DynamoDB table, or push data into a Redis cache.

Amazon’s API Gateway allows you to build serverless REST APIs, with the gateway handling the HTTP traffic and a Lambda doing the work. API Gateway can also call AWS services like DynamoDB directly.

Databases and Analytics

Amazon Athena is a new service that allows you to query and analyze data in S3. You point it at your data in S3, define a schema, and then query using SQL. This is like bringing the database to the data, rather than the data to the database. We are considering using Athena as a replacement for the Message Events API backend.
Tracing Distributed Applications
AWS announced X-Ray a service that provides insight into where your distributed system spends its time, by tracing API requests. It can give you various visualizations of traffic, from a top-level map of your services down to a timeline view showing how much time an API call had to wait on databases and other services. This seems invaluable for gaining insight into applications.

From Monoliths to Microservices

A number of speakers had changed from a monolithic architecture to microservice architectures, or architectures with smaller more focussed components, in order to increase scalability and/or agility. This was to maintain competitiveness. Cost reduction, higher developer velocity and reliability increases seemed to follow naturally.

Closing Thoughts

The conference was very well organized conference, and everything went smoothly. Despite the number of people, it did not feel crowded. It was difficult to get into some of the sessions, but I was fortunate to get into nearly all of my chosen sessions. There were repeats for some of the more popular sessions, and it was possible to get into some of the full sessions by queueing on the day. The app (new this year) was also very helpful for navigating between sessions

Las Vegas was a fun setting with its numerous restaurants, bars and the impressive architecture of the Venetian Hotel.

It was great to spend time with my colleagues away from our “day jobs”, sharing what we’d learnt and thinking how we could use it to improve our service for our customers.

We were also fortunate to have some face-to-face meetings with Product and technical managers for some key AWS services that we use, where we discussed some of our experiences and challenges. They were open and keen to discuss to our feedback, and share some of the future direction of their services with us.

Lastly, I have barely scratched the surface of the conference. There were significant releases in Artificial Intelligence, Compute, Containers, Developer Tools, Hybrid Cloud and others. Please also see:

AWS re:invent 2016 | New Products & Services
Amazon Web Services YouTube channel