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AWS re:Invent 2021 Highlights from Las Vegas

Gordon McKenna

Gordon McKenna
CTO, Public Cloud

This year’s AWS re:Invent event in Las Vegas was notable for several reasons. First, it’s the 15th anniversary of AWS, and the 10th Anniversary of re:Invent. It was the also the first keynote address of the newly-minted AWS CEO, Adam Selipsky, who rejoined AWS a few months ago, succeeding Andy Jassy, Amazon’s new CEO. And we were back in person for the first time since 2019, with in-person attendance estimated at 28,000!

Here are some of my takeaways from this action-packed conference:

Selipsky’s keynote invoked the stories of pathfinders throughout history: individuals whose accomplishments into uncharted territory transformed the world: from Hank Luisetti, who invented basketball’s running jump shot that forever changed the dynamics of the game, to Roscoe Brown, a pioneering Black fighter pilot and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, credited with 68 combat missions and shooting down two German fighter jets. Another pathfinder highlighted was Florence Nightingale, known as the “Lady with the Lamp.” Selipsky noted that she was a closet data geek: she discovered the link between hygiene and disease that transformed healthcare, spotting patterns and collecting data, essentially inventing the practice of preventive medicine, and transforming hospital care.

Why these stories? Well, as Selipsky noted, “When you get pathfinding right—it’s transformative.” He painted AWS and its customers as pathfinders too—changing the way that enterprise technology is bought and used. “In the 15 years since we launched AWS, the cloud has become not just another tech revolution, but an enabler of a fundamental shift in the way that businesses actually function,” Selipsky said. “There’s no industry that hasn’t been touched, and no business that can’t be radically disrupted.”

One thing Selipsky stressed is that we are still in the early days of the cloud. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy estimated back in April that less than 5% of all IT spend happens on the cloud and that there is still a tremendous opportunity to optimize and enhance IT infrastructure. “Ultimately what the cloud and AWS offer is the ability to transform,” Selipsky stated, echoing the theme of transformation running throughout the keynote. “The cloud is an opportunity to reimagine everything—it provides a pathway to real transformation.”

Selipsky announced a boatload of upgrades to existing technologies and some entirely new services. Of the dozens that were introduced, there were some that really piqued my interest including:

  • A new Graviton 3 server chip that performs 25% faster than Graviton 2, consumes 60% less energy and offers 3x faster performance for ML workloads. The new Graviton looks to offer customers a compelling price-performance argument compared to Intel and AMD’s x86 server chips.
  • A new AWS Mainframe Modernization service brings the cloud to the mainframe, empowering organizations to migrate, modernize, and run mainframe workloads on AWS. And, according to AWS, the solution has already proven to cut mainframe migration time by 67%.
  • A new AWS Private 5G service that will allow users to easily launch and manage their own private mobile network with automatic configuration, no per-device charges, and shared spectrum operation. AWS provides all the hardware, software, and SIMs needed for Private 5G, making it a one-stop solution that is the first of its kind.
  • Data Exchange for APIs: This tool allows customers to subscribe to APIs in Data Exchange, call them using AWS SDK and govern from any AWS API call like IAM and CloudTrail, allowing customers to call third-party APIs the same way they call any other AWS service to continue to power their applications, analytics and machine learning models with more data from more vendors and more formats.
  • AWS Lake Formation: now a customer can set up secure data lakes in a matter of days, not weeks or months. New features include simplifying data loading and optimizing storage.
  • IoT Twinmaker: a faster and easier way of creating and using digital twins of real-world systems to monitor and optimize operations. Users can get started with creating digital twins of equipment, processes, and facilities by connecting data from different sources like equipment sensors, video feeds, and business applications without moving data into a single repository.

re:Invent this year showed AWS with a new maturity. While AWS is known for helping scrappy startups like Airbnb, Lyft and Slack grow into huge businesses, this year Selipsky’s keynote focused on older, established organizations like United Airlines, Goldman Sachs and 3M to demonstrate the depth and breadth of its services and how AWS helped them transform.

And on a final personal note, it was truly gratifying to see so many women at the conference this year, and so many dynamic female speakers. In fact, 2/3s of the Ensono contingent in Las Vegas this year were women. It was the most women I’ve ever seen at a tech event, and it’s an encouraging trend.

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