AWS Re:Invent 2018, day 5

Today was the last day of the conference and it’s starting to show. People are heading home, so sessions are not that crowded and last session ends around noon / 1pm. People wearing conference badges are thinning out and replaced with more regular tourists.
I managed to get into a very good chalk talk about Cloudformation given by Check Meyer and Ryan Lohan. So a big thanks to them! We had a good discussion about tooling, feature requests and so on. This is also something that many people might overlook. AWS prioritizes features and their implementation on the basis of feedback received from customers. You do not have to be APN partner, done certifications, or anything like that. As Amazon/AWS themselves say, they try to be the most customer-centric company there is. The most important thing is that instead of silently contemplating on a feature or bug you should make yourself heard. Join AWS Developers slack. Use Twitter, AWS forums, email their evangelists or talk to their employees at any event. If the barrier is still too big you can email me or my colleagues and we can bring your case to AWS. Make yourself heard!
Re:Invent 2018

Finally, some tips & tricks in case you find yourself in Re:Invent 2019!

First, don’t be too greedy. There are tons of good sessions but the thing is – the sessions are recorded and can be watched at a later time Youtube. Chalk talks, workshops and hackathons are not. You get to talk to product-teams or their representatives in those. I can highly recommend attending those and if there are competing sessions at the same time try to prioritize chalk-talks and workshops higher than breakout sessions.
Second, as I’ve mentioned in the first post, Las Vegas is designed to remove your money from you. There will be coffee/soda/water provided by Re:Invent as well as some snacks. The expo area is excellent if you want to eat something. There is usually food being served. Hotels are expensive and if you need to buy something there are multiple Walgreens (shops) on the Strip.
Third, keynotes by Andy Jassy and Werner Vogels are great. However, you should consider passing the keynotes if there are some other interesting happening at the same time. For example hackathons or gamedays. Keynotes are usually recorded and any announcements made are also published on Twitter, blogs and so on.
Fourth, when booking your schedule try to cluster up the sessions/workshops/etc you are attending. Moving from one venue to another takes time. Cluster your sessions on certain venues. For example, The Mirage and Venetian are very close to each other. Moving between them is much easier than moving from Mira/Venetian to Aria/Vdara. On the other hand, Aria/Vdara/MGM are situated relatively close to each other.
Fifth, pick your parties. There are TONS of different parties hosted by AWS partners. You cannot visit all so choose early.
Sixth, talk to people. That might not be the easiest thing to do especially for us Finnish whose culture is not extroverted. “Hey, my name is Aki. What do you with AWS?” and the conversation takes on.
Now it’s time to sign-off and get some rest before starting the long trip back home. Quoting Werner now it’s time to “Go build”.
Re:Invent
Jeff Bar, Abby Fuller and Simon Elisha before Twitch live

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AWS Re:Invent 2018, day 4

Today was Werner’s turn and boy he didn’t disappoint. The keynote was packed with some very welcome announcements. Again some of the announcements might be missing from the post but those can be found on Twitter, AWS blogs and from the news.
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As usual, Werner used a good portion of the keynote to emphasize how critical it is to have control over ones’ infrastructure. To avoid “black boxes” and to prepare for the fact that “everything fails all the time”. By now this shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone and if your architecture is not taking this into account you might be in for some nasty surprises in the future. In order to help companies assume best practices, AWS has a so-called “Well Architected Framework”. This set of guidelines and best practices should be familiar to anyone who is using AWS. Those of you who have done the AWS certifications it is the foundation to learn. Now AWS has come up with “Well Architected” self-service testing tool. It can be used to assess how well your development, operational and governance practices are aligned with the “Well Architected Framework”.
However the announcements today were mostly about serverless computing, namely AWS Lambda. There were some huge updates announced like custom runtimes, layers, ALB support, service integrations with step functions and IDE toolkits. The abstraction level keeps on raising and serverless-computing is becoming more and more mainstream.
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To easily sum up all the announcements it is now possible to have your lambda-functions be called by ALB while lambdas themselves can be running Rust, C++ or even Cobol and code can be shared between your functions. Your step functions can interact with other services and you can debug your lambda functions. Additionally API gateway now supports websockets. Streaming data has also become mainstream (pun intended) and even though AWS has Kinesis they announced managed Kafka. Running Kafka at scale is no trivial task so this should be a relief for anyone using Kafka but not wanting to handle the maintenance it requires.
Building systems without any servers at all is now much more feasible and serverless should nowadays be given very careful consideration when starting new projects. It could be said that serverless is a valid option for new development activities and instead of prejudice it should be embraced since serverless/Functions as a Service has come to stay.

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AWS Re:Invent 2018, day 3

Re:Invent
Today was a big day. Wednesday morning is usually the time for Andy Jassy (CEO of AWS) to give his keynote. This was the case this year also. The keynote was full of different announcements and it will be quite a task to go through all of them. I’ll leave some of them out and also include some announcements that weren’t in the keynote.

AI&ML

A huge chunk of the talk was about ML. Like Google has their TPU-processors to run ML models, AWS today announced Inferentia processors which should be available next year. Google has a head-start of several years so it is interesting to see how AWS’s offering can match Google’s. In addition to processors there were all kinds of enhancements so if ML is your thing you should definitely read the AWS blog posts about the new features. One thing I’m going to “kehdata” (Sorry English speakers, ‘daring’ is a rough translation of the term, but in Gofore it holds much more meaning. Email me and I’ll explain the concept) is AWS DeepRacer. DeepRacer is radio-controlled car with atom-processor, video-camera, ROS OS and so on. Would definitely be fun way for people to practice ML and reinforcement learning.

DynamoDB on-demand

Traditionally DynamoDB tables must have had both read capacity and write capacity defined and performance was pretty static in a sense (assuming your data is modelled correctly and you know your access patterns). Then came autoscaling which automatically tunes read/write capacity values based on your traffic. And we have the option for on-demand billing. Based on the blog posts and documentation the on-demand option scales very well right from the start without the need to specify read/write capacity. The cost model is interesting and more closely matches for example Lambda’s model where you only pay for what you use. If your DynamoDB usage is spiky then on-demand might be a very good fit, whereas continuous, huge volume of traffic is much more cost-effective to run on traditional mode where you specify the performance limits yourself.

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AWS Control Tower

For several years the best practice has been to distribute applications/services/teams into different AWS accounts and furthermore segregate development, testing and production into different accounts. Natural outcome from this is the fact that the number of AWS accounts in organizations has exploded. So far it has been pretty much DIY-solutions when trying to get overall vision of all your accounts. The bigger the organization, the more they feel pain from this.
Today AWS announced Control Tower which aims to alleviate some of these problems. Automating the set-up of a baseline environment, Control Tower uses existing services like Config, Cloudtrail, Lambda, Cloudwatch, etc. Read more about Control Tower from product page: https://aws.amazon.com/controltower/features/
As an AWS partner our company has a huge number of accounts, so for us Control Tower is a very welcome improvement. We are investigating what it exactly brings to table and where you might still need custom solutions. Stay tuned for more blog posts concentrating solely on Control Tower. Currently it is in preview, so signup and a bit of luck is needed to get early taste of it.

Amazon Timestream

Cloudwatch metrics isn’t exactly new. It has existed a long time and is de-facto solution for metrics collection from AWS services. In addition to Cloudwatch it is very common to see InfluxDB or Prometheus on our clients (usually combined with Grafana for visualization of time-series data).
Today AWS announced Amazon Timestream, a managed time-series database. Targeted solely for time-series data this puts Timestream into direct competition against Prometheus, InfluxDB or Riak TS or Timescale. Naturally this is excellent news if you don’t want to manage servers and want to have your time-series database as a service. No more EC2 instances running Prometheus, no more DIY solutions for HA and so on. AWS mantra has long been that let the “undifferentiated heavy lifting” for them and concentrate on your application and business-logic. Timestream follows this idiom perfectly. Timestream is currently in preview so signup and a bit of luck is needed to test it.

Quantum ledger database

Quantum ledger database and managed blockchain. Well now we have all the buzzwords in one blog. AI/ML handled already and now it is time for blockchain. AWS announced to day two services loosely related to each other, both are currently in preview. Quantum ledger database is database with central trusted authority, immutable append only semantics with the complete history of all the changes ever made. What does it have to do with blockchain? Well, all the changes are chained and cryptographically verified. There is huge amount of use cases! In addition to quantum ledger database AWS also announced managed blockchain which supports Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum (Hyperledger is first, Ethereum coming later).

CodeDeploy

There were other new features launched that might stay under the radar if the focus is only on the keynote. One that is very relevant for my current project is the CodeDeploy’s ability to do native blue/green deployments into ECS and Fargate. (more here: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/use-aws-codedeploy-to-implement-blue-green-deployments-for-aws-fargate-and-amazon-ecs/)
This will definitely be tested out next week.

AWS App Mesh

Also one more nice announcement was AWS App Mesh. Envoy-proxy based service-mesh  for EKS, ECS and K8s running on EC2. Like other service meshes the idea is that applications or micro-services do not need to have in-built functionality for service discovery (and possible load-balancing or circuit breaking). Service mesh takes care of it and applications are simpler to implement. App Mesh is in preview but more information can be found on Github: https://github.com/awslabs/aws-app-mesh-examples
Like I said this is not definite list of all the new changes. There are literally tons of new things! Let’s see if Andy left any announcements for Werner tomorrow (hopefully so).
Re:Invent

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AWS Re:Invent 2018, day 2

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Things are moving fast. Day 2 included a Partner keynote and didn’t contain so much technical announcements. The news in the keynote was mostly about the AWS Marketplace.

Marketplace

AWS introduced “Private marketplace”. Private marketplace allows customers to create a customized catalogue of pre-approved products from the AWS Marketplace. This allows administrators to select only products that are authorized or otherwise meet the criteria decided by your organization. The Private Marketplace can be customized with custom branding. Logo, texts and colour scheme can be changed to match your organization. All controls set up by administrators for the Private Marketplace are applied across AWS Organizations.
This kind of customization and pre-approved catalogues of SKUs can be useful for bigger organizations who wish to have control over what gets deployed. However, using this kind of feature will require vigilance on your offerings through the Private Marketplace. Introducing too much command & control may have a detrimental effect on agility and speed the cloud provides.
In addition to the Private Marketplace, AWS introduced container products in Marketplace. These container-products can be run on ECS, EKS and Fargate and they come in either as task definitions, Helm charts or Cloudformation templates. This announcement brings both VM’s and containers as first-class citizens on the Marketplace and it also offers sellers new options on how to distribute their software.

Ground Station

The marketplace wasn’t the only new fascinating release. Ground Station is service which will communicate with satellites in orbit. This basically means that launching a satellite and talking to it can be accomplished with a very small amount of money compared to the past when in addition to launch costs you would have to build your own ground station (radios, antennas, etc). Universities, schools and companies can now launch satellites if they want to. Space technology is being brought to the public and this will hopefully help to create new innovations and products/services.
I have to admit that “Satellite Communications as a Service” (should it be SCaaS) wasn’t even on the list when I’ve wondered what AWS might publish during the week. There are some caveats in the service though! You will need a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license and Norad ID of your satellite and you will need to contact AWS in order to activate the service so you cannot just arbitrary book antenna-time and start shooting radio messages to the sky.

CloudWatch Logs++

Amazon CloudWatch Logs Insights. These announcements bring Kibana-like features to Cloudwatch. It can read multiple formats and especially useful feature is that it autodetects field-names if your logs are JSON-formatted. This feature might reduce the need for ELK-stack. This brings a whole new level on Cloudwatch dashboards.

DynamoDB

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Finally, it is time to talk about DynamoDB. Today it was announced that DynamoDB now has transactions. Having transaction support makes it possible to use DynamoDB in huge amounts of new use-cases. Now DynamoDB is controversial subject especially among the developers (this is my experience, YMMV). Modelling your data into NoSQL-database is not always straightforward. Developers don’t usually have to care that much about data access patterns but modelling data so it fits nicely into DynamoDB access patterns are the first thing they have to think about. It has been my observation that developers tend not to like it.
If you want to know more I suggest that you watch this year’s DAT401 session on Youtube once it is available (DAT401 – Amazon DynamoDB Deep Dive: Advanced Design Patterns for DynamoDB).

Other news

Re:Invent
– Amazon Comprehend now understand medical text
– A new service AWS Elemental MediaConnect for video ingestion and distribution
Day 3 will be huge since Andy Jassy’s keynote is in the morning and it will be packed with updates.

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Aki Ristkari

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AWS Re:Invent 2018, day 1

Re:Invent 2018
Now that Re:Invent is at full speed the flurry of new features is relentless. Let’s go through a couple of the most noteworthy announcements from Day 1.

IoT

IoT has received a lot of love.

  • IoT sitewise (preview) is targeting entire plants and industrial equipment instead of small sensors normally associated with IoT.
  • IoT events (preview) is targeted for event correlation between multiple sensors and helps to recognise system-wide events and also enables alerting in such occurrences.
  • IoT greengrass is extended with external app-connectors, hardware root of trust (using Hardware Security Modules or Trusted Platform Modules) and more.
  • IoT Things Graph (preview) is an easy way for developers to build IoT applications. IoT Things Graph hides low level details and enables packaging as reusable components.
  • Also, Bluetooth Low Energy is now supported in Amazon RTOS (beta).

So overall there were quite a few announcements in the IoT space. If you are doing IoT there should some interesting features announced which makes life a lot easier.

AWS Transit gateway

AWS Transit Gateway
A new feature which allows users to connect their VPC’s and on-premise networks to a single gateway. Transit gateway acts as a centralised hub where VPC’s and on-premise connect as spokes. It includes support for dynamic and static routing. Since Transit gateway allows forwarding of DNS queries it is possible to resolve IP’s on other VPC’s that are connected to Transit gateway. In addition, there are monitoring, security and management using IAM and Cloudwatch. There’s also support for Equal Cost Multipath (ECMP) when routing via VPN connections to on-premise.
Overall Transit gateway is a huge step forward in networking. It makes creating complex topologies much easier. Especially enterprise-customers who might have multiple accounts used by multiple departments should now be able to create more uniform access to on-premise instead of connecting different VPC’s individually via VPN/Direct Connect.

AWS Global Accelerator

AWS Global Accelerator
If Transit gateway is useful for inter-VPC communications then AWS Global Accelerator is at least equally useful but targeted to the Internet. With Global Accelerator, applications can make use of the AWS global networking backbone. Global accelerator removes the need for managing different IP-addresses for different regions. Global Accelerator reserves 2 IP’s and anycasts on those globally. Traffic is directed to the AWS network in the nearest POP and from there it travels via the AWS network until it reaches its endpoint. Endpoints can be configured as different AZ’s or regions and are continuously health-checked. Global Accelerator greatly simplifies multi-region setups and provides smoother end-user experience.
This is definitely on my “gotta try it out”-list. One more step in making multi-region setups more common.

Nitros and more

With the new AWS hypervisor system called “Nitro” there is now a new instance type C5n featuring 100Gbps networking speed. Not much more about that can be said. More bandwidth is always good and for customers who are maxing out 10Gbps or 25Gbps this is a welcome relief.
Then we have a very interesting announcement. EC2 A1 instances. The interesting part is the 64bit ARM-processor with custom designed silicon called “Graviton”. That’s it – no x86. There are several Linux-distributions which can be run on these instances and it will intresting to see what kind of adaptation these machines will receive. Moving out of the AWS context it’s also interesting to see ARM-processors starting to take on areas normally dominated by x86 chips. Apple’s A10 chip and now Graviton from Amazon. Should Intel feel threatened? Time will tell.
Ever wondered what kind of server-fleet is running customers lambda-functions? Or Fargate-containers? Wonder no more since AWS has released “Firecracker” which is microVM for a running container. Will this technology find its way into other open-source projects?

Wrap up

Today’s announcements have been touching some very fundamental building blocks. Fundamentals have changed so much that developing multi-region applications or multi-account networking look a lot different than they did 24h ago.
More announcements and news are being released throughout the week. I’ll post again tomorrow tomorrow; let’s see what suprises AWS has prepared for us!

Aki Ristkari

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AWS Re:Invent 2018, day 0

Before diving into the technical aspects and the new announcements I’ll take a moment and write a bit about the time before the actual conference. If you have never participated before there are a couple of ‘gotchas’.

Travel early…

Travelling from Europe is tiring and it’s better to arrive early to give yourself time to recuperate. Also when travelling from Europe remember that if you have a connecting flight inside the USA you will have to do the customs/CBP stuff when you first land. This combined with the fact that your luggage must be collected from baggage claim and re-checked into the domestic US-flight means that you should reserve enough time for your connection, otherwise you will experience added stress and potentially miss your connection.

When in Las Vegas… 

Remember that the whole city is designed specifically to separate people from the contents of their wallets. Everything costs and more often than not the price is not cheap. Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert and the air is dry, this is something you should take into account if you have sensitive skin. For me, the effect of the dry air is best visible on my beard. In Finland, it is usually much more curly due to more humid air. Here it straightens out considerably. I bet you wanted to know that 🙂
Las Vegas Boulevard aka ‘The strip’ isn’t that long on the map but it is long enough that moving between different venues takes time. If at all possible try to plan your schedule so that you minimize moving between venues. AWS has booked shuttle buses, there’s a monorail and you can walk but all the options take time and most of the time there will be a sea of other attendees moving in addition to you.
Also, contact other companies and people. There is a huge amount of different smaller gatherings and parties organized by different companies. The opportunity to network and to get to know people is huge. Attending your local AWS meetups will help you connect with others.
In the end, the conferences usually are best experienced first hand. The technical information can be learned from streaming videos and Youtube-videos. Being visible and networking is something that won’t be possible if you don’t attend. Furthermore, attending with only one person is overwhelming. Absorbing everything that is available is a huge task. Combined with networking and possibly having a booth is even more overwhelming. Consider sending more people, preferably 2-3 and if you have clients with you or are having a stand in the expo you need even more. Naturally, for a consulting business, this might be a pretty big investment. There are the costs of the trip itself (tickets, flights, hotels, per diem, etc) but in addition to these, the attendees are not doing billable work. So attending Re:Invent can also be seen as a commitment, you are committed to your partnership with AWS.

Actual announcements and news!

On Sunday, 25th of November the actual Re:Invent hasn’t started yet, however, there are some program items already on Sunday, more specifically the Midnight Madness and Tatonka challenge. Midnight Madness is a launch party or pre-party and Tatonka challenge is an event where attendees try to eat huge quantities of chicken wings. I had the advantage that I live in Tampere which is the wing-capital of Finland. Long story short: I didn’t win Tatonka but in addition to Tatonka and Midnight Madness there was the first official launch: AWS announced ‘AWS Robomaker’.
chicken challenge
Robomaker is intended to help developers creating robotic applications. AWS has an extended open-source framework “ROS” and included extensions so it includes connectivity to the cloud. Robomaker aims to be a complete development environment and includes an integrated development environment, simulation possibilities and fleet management.
Robotics is not an area which would come up in my daily work. However, if you are working in such field this new offering might be useful for you. I also hope that offerings like Robomaker will help different ecosystems to grow. Making robotics and robot-development accessible to a bigger audience will help innovation and might produce completely new products and offerings.
In addition to Robomaker, there were also some interesting announcements and new features that were published during the last few days. However, these might go unnoticed on the grand scale of Re:Invent. Here are some of the new features sampled by me (my listing is not comprehensive)
EFS infrequent storage class – coming soon. EFS will be getting an infrequent storage class much like S3 has. Naturally, this helps with cost-control and should be interesting to anyone using EFS.

  • Amazon Rekognition. Improved facial analysis, detects faces with greater accuracy and confidence. Should be interesting if your use case includes Amazon Rekognition.
  • AWS DataSync. New service to automate transferring data between on-premises storage and S3 or EFS. This service is mostly aimed at hybrid solutions and cloud migrations. Definitely, something to check out if you are working in the hybrid/migration space.
  • S3 batch operations – preview. Simplify the management of huge amounts of objects. Bulk operations are usually custom code, developed by AWS clients themselves. Batch operations aim to reduce the complexity that bulk operations usually require. Moving objects, replacing tags or managing access controls. Use cases are almost limitless ranging from compliance to backups to data migrations.

 
That’s it for Sunday in Vegas. Let’s see what Monday brings!

Aki Ristkari

Aki Ristkari

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The GraphQL Finland 2018 conference was held recently (18-19.10.2018) at Paasitorni and was the first event of its kind in Finland. The conference brought a day of workshops and a day of talks around GraphQL. It was organized by the same people as React Finland as the good organisation showed. The talks were interesting, the venue was appropriate, food delicious, the atmosphere was cosy and the after party was awesome. Gofore was one of the gold sponsors and organized the afterparty at Kamppi.

All of the talks were live streamed and they are available on Youtube. I was lucky to get a ticket to the event and be able to enjoy the talks live. Overall, most of the talks were easy to comprehend although I only had a little experience with GraphQL through experiments and what I had learnt a couple of months ago at the React Finland 2018 conference.

“GraphQL is an open source data query and manipulation language, and a runtime for fulfilling queries with existing data. It was developed internally by Facebook in 2012 before being publicly released in 2015. It provides a more efficient, powerful and flexible alternative to REST and ad-hoc web service architectures. It allows clients to define the structure of the data required, and exactly the same structure of the data is returned from the server, therefore preventing excessively large amounts of data from being returned. – Wikipedia

You can also read the organizer’s summary of the event and check out the photos.
the GraphQL team on stage

(Life is hard, learning GraphQL easy)

Notes from the conference

The talks at GraphQL Finland were quite fast paced and more like lightning talks compared to the React Finland event: it was quite tough to digest all the new information. Fortunately, the talks were recorded so you can concentrate on interesting and relevant topics and get back to others later. Also, the sponsor’s lounge by Gofore and Digia provided a nice relaxing space to get your thoughts together. I have to say, Digia’s Star Wars Pinball machine was quite fun (smile)
The talks covered different aspects of GraphQL and surrounding topics in details. Here’s my notes from the talks which I found most interesting and watched live at the event.
Goforeans in the sponsor lounge

(Goforeans in the sponsor lounge)

Goforeans challenging attendees to foosball

(Goforeans challenging attendees to foosball)

Adopting GraphQL in Large Codebases – Adam Miskiewicz

The event started with Adam Miskiewicz’s story from Airbnb and incrementally adopting GraphQL. It’s simple to start using GraphQL in your project but adding it incrementally and carefully in huge codebases powering large distributed systems is not quite as straightforward. The talk dived into how Airbnb is tackling this challenge, what they’ve learned so far, and how they plan to continue evolving their GraphQL infrastructure in the future. Towards GraphQL Native!

Going offline first with GraphQL — Kadi Kraman

Kadi Kraman from Formidable Labs talked about going offline first with GraphQL. She did a nice interactive demo with React Native and Apollo 2. Users expect your mobile app to work offline and the tooling in GraphQL makes it reasonably straightforward to get your React Native app working offline. Slides

“Do this as you go and offline comes almost as a side-effect”

Life is hard and so is learning GraphQL — Carolyn Stransky

Life is hard, without documentation. Carolyn Stransky presented her story of ups and downs when learning GraphQL and documentation’s role in it. The problem with GraphQL is that – because there’s no “vanilla” GraphQL – there’s no central hub for all of the information and tooling necessary to learn it. It’s under-utilised and scattered throughout our community. The talk touched on how to better enable GraphQL docs for learning and comprehension and the slides pointed to good resources.

Database-first GraphQL Development — Benjie Gillam

Benjie Gillam from PostGraphile taught how a database-centric approach to GraphQL API development can give your engineers more time to focus on the important parts of your application. Adhere to GraphQL best practices, embrace the power of PostgreSQL, and avoid common pitfalls. Interesting slides.

graphql-php — Christoffer Niska

Christoffer Niska gave some good tips for software development: Don’t over-abstract, test everything, use static type checking, follow best practices, don’t prematurely optimise.

The (Un)expected use of GraphQL talk by Helen Zhukova showed the benefit of a single code base on the client and server side. Partly live coded with i.a. CodeSandbox. The any DB, in this case, was MongoDB.

Mysterious closing keynote — Dan Schafer

The mysterious closing keynote was Dan Schafer talking about GraphQL history, present and future. “Strive for single sources of truth”. Still lots of things to do in the ecosystem.

Afterwords

The last chance to practice your Finnish was at the Afterparty  🎉  at the Gofore office!

“Someone said your afterparty was the best conference party ever :)”

foosball

Foosball was popular also at the afterparty.

 
 

Marko Wallin

Marko Wallin

Marko works as a full stack software engineer and creates better world through digitalization. He writes technology and software development related blog and developes open source applications e.g. for mobile phones. He also likes mountain biking.

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Kalmar is a Global company providing cargo handling solutions and services to ports, terminals, distribution centres and heavy industry. Cargo handling and the container handling process is getting more and more automated. Looking at container terminal yards such as Hamburg or Rotterdam, it is clear that the automation of certain processes has already started.
The Gofore team consisting of Jonna Iljin, Joel Bergström and Christopher Klose participated in the Kalmar CoCreate workshop at the Terminal Operations Conference Europe in June 2018. During this conference within just 2 days, a new service idea was created. In this blog post, I will talk about what happened during this trip, what we did on the conference itself and what steps we have taken to reach our goal. This will give you a brief outlook on how you can enrich the creation of new services and how to look beyond the “obvious”.
The so-called Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV’s) are just one example of automated machinery which is already getting tasks via navigation computers. AGV’s coordinate routes to ensure that vehicles don´t collide with each other on the yard. These AGV´s are driving within a predetermined zone which is fenced and restricted for humans to enter. This means that as long as a human doesn´t enter the designated zone, the container handling process will continue smoothly. However, as soon as a human enters the fenced area all machinery has to stop to ensure safety. This raises the safety level for maintenance workers if they have to work on a vehicle that has broken down, but nevertheless, accidents do happen and then the whole process has to stop.

KALMAR CoCreate

The Gofore team were given the task to find solutions using the title, “how to create secure working environments for people in the fully automated terminal yard”. Kalmar wanted to generate ideas and find solutions.
We were able to discuss and learn about the differences between manually operated and automated container terminals from container terminal managers, from our Kamar mentors, and from other stakeholders in the container supply chain. We also learnt about deep-sea terminals and how they differ to short-sea terminals in terms of their processes, security and safety measures.

Arrival in Rotterdam and Team Dinner at Restaurant Thoms

This was the first time for me in the Netherlands and it was clear right from the beginning that Rotterdam is different to other cities I have visited. The city centre of Rotterdam has an unusual architecture which draws attention to it and you start wondering if people actually live in these buildings. Also unexpected to me were the cyclists. I mean, the Netherlands and the Dutch are known for cycling a lot, but having separate cycle roads alongside ‘normal roads’ is something which you don´t see too often in other countries. But even more fascinating to me was that no cyclist was wearing a helmet, which made me think “is it safer to wear a helmet or to build separate cycle roads?”
In the evening we had our first official meeting at Thoms, a restaurant close to the city centre of Rotterdam. There we first met the organizers from Kalmar, the other two teams participating in the Co-Creation, and our mentors from Kalmar who supported us during these days. Our mentors also helped with many insights and helped us find people who could give us more information from different perspectives. Mingling with all these people and getting an idea of what Co-Creation means to Kalmar, it was clear that we were all excited about the end results which would be presented on Wednesday to the TOC audience.
After getting to know each other during the aperitif, we continued with a long and copious dinner. Salad, carpaccio and muscles came as starters and it already felt as if this would be the main dish, but we continued with wonderful tasting steak and gilthead. It tasted amazing. While eating we were able to share many stories and have discussions about stereotypes from different countries and if they are true or not. It already felt as if had been acquainted for more than just an evening and it got pretty late. But all evenings have to end at some point, so we got a Dutch dessert called ‘warme brood pudding’ and had some rest before the real work started.

Beginning the journey

At 9 o´clock we had the first meeting of the day at the Co-Creation booth to go through upcoming events and the time we would have for ideating and preparing our pitch.
We even got amazing hoodies for the event! After that, we were able to prepare our material and get ready to dig into a new area which we haven´t known before.
Gofore Crew

But how did we start in this unknown area? 

We knew we didn´t have much time so it was important to understand the whole container handling process quickly. Therefore we interviewed our mentors, terminal managers and other visitors to TOC Europe in the morning. We soaked up all the information and wrote as much as possible down on post-it notes.
Interviewing mentors and terminal managers on process flow
 
I need to say this – it was a mess! So many insights, so many new terms and so many risks. After several hours of questioning and trying to understand what was happening, we needed a break. By now it was time for lunch, and breaks are always good if you have something to eat.
After lunch, it was time to structure all our information. We summarised our insights and with these insights written down, we were able to find bottlenecks and map these to the container handling process.
In the afternoon we had to start ideating what kind of approaches would be reasonable? What might be the right way? Which constraints would we face?
To not drift too far away with our ideas and visions, we constantly explained our ideas to our mentors and to terminal managers. This helped us to narrow down the options and look into the near future rather than a period 50 years from now.
After rushing through the day, the finishing time came quicker than expected and with it the feeling that a break to settle down all our thoughts was necessary.
We spent a relaxing evening in Rotterdam collecting our thoughts and running through our ideas, we knew that the next day would be tough!

Decision Day

Continuing where we ended the day before, final tweaks were made to our presentation in the morning and final interviews and discussions were completed to ensure our idea was correct. We prepared our pitch and started to align our speeches to form one cohesive proposal, and I have to say, Deadpool would have been proud of the growing hand in our speech.
Jonna speaking
Even though we only had a couple of minutes per team for our pitch, it was a nice experience and seeing so many people interested in our outcome gave us even more certainty that this was a great success. Many visitors and Kalmar members attended the final pitch and appeared to be deeply interested in our ideas.
To conclude the Co-Creation session, we were invited by Kalmar to their TOC after-party which was a blast. A great location, fantastic food and music and many more people who we were able to discuss our ideas and relax with.
Joel and Christopher, afterparty with drink
There is only one thing left to say, a big thank you to all the Kalmar people who made this possible. It was an amazing experience, even though exhausting. Seeing so many people interested in thinking outside the box made it clear that there is still a lot of work to do. We are excited at the prospect of taking our ideas forward and helping shape the future with Kalmar – stay tuned for more blog posts!
Additionally, we have to say thanks to the great photography team who made not only beautiful pictures but also made a great video as well. Have a look here: TOC video
Kalmar Co-Create

Christopher Klose

Christopher Klose

Driven by innovation and curiosity, Christopher strives to simplify daily work and reduce stress for users through smart solutions. Based on insights from user research and data analysis, he creates user-centred products and services that best suit the end user needs. His experience with human behaviour and the physiology of the human body supports his endeavour to create valuable and enjoyable solutions for users.

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