AWS re-Invent: One Revolutionary Event, Three Unique Takeaways

AWS re:Invent 2017 was the largest global conference focused on cloud computing, bringing together some of the brightest minds in the IT world.  ePlus sent three of our experts to re:Invent in Vegas to view the conference through three lenses: Digital Infrastructure, Cloud, and Security.  Here’s what they have to share about their Amazonian experience.

Mike TrojeckiDigital Infrastructure Lens: 
Mike Trojecki, Vice President of Solutions,
My experience at re:Invent was pretty amazing—and different—from other typical conferences.  The culture was different.  The size was different.  In fact, the estimates that I heard ranged from 40,000 to 45,000 attendees.

Wow, Let’s Talk Culture

As I walked around on day one, I quickly noticed that thick bushy beards, black rimmed glasses, tattoos, and retro tech shirts were the UoD (or Uniform of the Day for those non-military types).  There was an excitement that I haven’t seen at a conference in long time, maybe even ever.  As I sat in the overflow room for Andy Jassy’s keynote where he unveiled AWS’ plans to release an ungodly number of new features and services, I quietly took notes.  Mr. Jassy excitedly explained that Aurora, AWS’ relational database engine was going to support multi-master replication allowing you to provide reads and writes across multiple availability zones.  A large, tattooed, bearded bear of a man, with rings that would make Guy Fieri jealous, literally jumped out of his seat and let out a loud, “YEAH!”  Did I mention that I was in the overflow room?  I haven’t seen enthusiasm like this during all of my days of being an engineer and solutions architect.  And honestly, it got me pretty pumped up about the future of technology.

Changing the Game

I went to re:Invent to focus specifically on IoT, analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning.  What I learned is that while the infrastructure is still the most important piece of the puzzle, the new infrastructure is the cloud.  It’s a serverless infrastructure built around hundreds and hundreds of services like RedShift, Lambda, CloudFormation, DynamoDB, AWS IoT, Greengrass, Kinesis, S3, and a whole lot more.  Everyone in this industry knows that Amazon has changed the game, and now others like Google and Microsoft are significant players as well.  I believe that hybrid will still be the play for the time being but it’s easy to see how AWS has made that confusing.

It’s all about the Use Case

For 15 years, I have been working with customers to help provide solutions to their IT challenges.  I was most certainly not the smartest engineer, but I knew where to find the smarter people and how to understand my customers’ business.  After my week in Las Vegas, this thought kept me from being completely overwhelmed.  This world is no longer about the technology itself—but how the technology is being used to impact employees, customers, constituents, students, and others.  I was able to sit down with a current customer and a few prospective customers too.  The conversation quickly went from, “How cool was that [insert new AWS service here]!” to, “Could you use this feature to improve your customers’ experience?”  These are the new conversations in my business today.  Amazon taught me a very important lesson again: rather than the technology, it’s the use case that matters most.


Joe BrownCloud Lens:
Joe Brown, Vice President of Solutions, ePlus 
I’d say my three main takeaways from Re:Invent this year were the sheer size, a focus on the partner ecosystem, and the excitement surrounding the new services being offered.  I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the size of the conference, but the audience was huge.  There was definitely a high-energy buzz at all the events. 

A Place and Respect for Partners

There was certainly a distinct difference in the posture and focus on partners at re:Invent 2017. In the past, AWS tolerated partners as a necessary route to market—with value being placed on partners’ ability to act as consultants and managed services providers.  It was refreshing to see a new sense of respect and value for partners.

AWS will be launching a new partner program in January that will categorize partners into four primary areas. My understanding is that the categories will be: Reseller, Consulting, Managed Services, and Solutions Provider. Each of these categories will come with a set of requirements to participate as well as a corresponding set of incentives based on a tiered structure and the value that AWS believes they offer. This new approach to the channel will accelerate AWS’ momentum within the partner community and likely cause even more partners to flock.

A Remarkable Pace of Services

AWS released an impressive number of services at re:Invent as usual, with roughly 60 new services across 15 categories with the bulk of them being in the Compute, IoT, Database, and Machine Learning. Andy Jassy took direct shots at Oracle as being an overly-expensive database that isn’t keeping up with the way customers want to use technology. He suggested that the new Aurora database offered by AWS is more scalable, higher performing, and lower cost. This was mentioned two days in a row in keynote presentations, and it’s clearly an attack point for AWS.

AWS shared its plans to launch as many as 1,300 services this coming year, which keeps pace with 2017 and is enviable across the industry.  It will be interesting to see the impact and importance of this magnitude of services to customers—and how it affects their adoption and utilization of the full portfolio being offered.

In summary, the conference was impressive due to the size of the audience, the partner ecosystem that participated, and the total number of services that were released. The highlight for me was the anticipated changes to the channel partner programs. 


Sam CurcioSecurity Lens:
Sam Curcio, National Principal Architect, ePlus

As I headed to Vegas for re:Invent 2017, my goals were to learn more about the direction Amazon is taking towards a few key areas (outlined below).  I attended many sessions, and the resounding foundation of the messaging was to approach the cloud on a per-application or per-project basis and to have a strategy before going to the cloud.  Let me dive a bit deeper into the sessions and topics that interested me the most.

Identity and Access Management and CIAM

AWS has built out a large number of ways for customers to leverage their own SAML IDP environments or federated environments, or a combination of SAML, OAUTH, Federation, AWS housed accounts, or even OPENID from Google, Facebook, and Twitter.  It also provides the ability to mash all those together with roles and privileges from an administrative, customer, automation, and orchestration perspective.

AWS continues to implement solutions to allow third-party services partners like ePlus to work inside customer tenants while only having to pass minimal information once the initial configuration and trust has been established, thus diminishing the need to store access keys on multiple systems. 

Automation, Orchestration, and Security

I heard a great session from Reuters about the many hard lessons the organization learned that cost a great deal of time, money, and impact on productivity over the years—but that led to its existing maturity.  This type of real-world experience was a great opportunity to bolster attendees’ mindset around the importance of designing cost-effective, secure, and scalable cloud environments.

The Shared Responsibility model is now assumed and present in all the slides but AWS seems to stay clear of recommending any vendors when it comes to firewalls, endpoints, and so on (which is to be expected) nor does it share what it is doing from an internal security perspective.

Being Fully Committed

Organizations considering the cloud have many choices available from AWS, Azure, Rackspace, Google, and others. The cloud evolution is moving very quickly, and you can’t participate or even compete in the game if you’re on the sidelines.  You have to be fully committed to completely understanding not only the technology today but the vision and direction of the future of that technology. This represents an opportunity for ePlus to provide guidance to customers on how to best leverage a private, public, or hybrid cloud approach while maintaining inherit requirements for regulatory, compliance, profitability, scalability, and flexibility concerns.    

Overall, I feel re:Invent 2017 was a great learning experience and peer networking experience and worth attending in the future.

The Net-Net…Net

So there you have it folks, the ePlus “take” on AWS re:Invent 2017 as seen through three lenses: Digital Infrastructure, Cloud, and Security.   We guide our strategy on these three pillars, so it seemed appropriate to report back from such a significant event along that same thought pattern.  We hope you enjoyed our insights.  Reach out to one of us directly if you’d like to discuss in more detail.


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