AWS Re:Invent was Awesome!

by Adrian Cockcroft

There was a very strong Netflix presence at AWS Re:Invent in Las Vegas this week, from Reed Hastings appearing in the opening keynote, to a packed series of ten talks by Netflix management and engineers, and our very own expo booth. The event was a huge success, over 6000 attendees, great new product and service announcements, very well organized and we are looking forward to doing it again next year.

Wednesday Morning Keynote

The opening keynote with Andy Jassy contains an exciting review of the Curiosity Mars landing showing how AWS was used to feed information and process images for the watching world. Immediately afterwards (at 36'40") Andy sits down with Reed Hastings.

Reed talks about taking inspiration from Nicholas Carr’s book “the Big Switch” to realize that cloud would be the future, and over the last four years, Netflix has moved from initial investigation to having deployed about 95% of our capacity on AWS. By the end of next year Reed aims to be 100% on AWS and to be the biggest business entirely hosted on AWS apart from Amazon Retail. Streaming in 2008 was around a million hours a month, now it’s over a billion hours a month. A thousandfold increase is over four years is difficult to plan for, and while Netflix took the risk of being an early adopter of AWS in 2009, we were avoiding a bigger risk of being unable to build out capacity for streaming ourselves. “The key is that now we’re on a cost curve and an architecture… that as all of this room does more with AWS we benefit, by that collective effect that gets you to scale and brings prices down.”

Andy points out that Amazon Retail competes with Netflix in the video space, and asks what gave Reed the confidence to move to AWS. Reed replies that Jeff Bezos and Andy have both been very clear that AWS is a great business that should be run independently and the more that Amazon Retail competes with Netflix, the better symbol Netflix is that it’s safe to run on AWS. Andy replies “Netflix is every bit as important a customer of AWS as Amazon Retail, and that’s true for all of our external customers”.

The discussion moves onto the future of cloud, and Reed points out that as wonderful as AWS is, we are still in the assembly language phase of cloud computing. Developers shouldn’t have to be picking individual instance types, just as they no longer need to worry about CPU register allocation because compilers handle that for them. Over the coming years, the cloud will add the ability to move live instances between instance types. We can see that this is technically possible because VMware does that today with VMotion, but bringing this capability to public cloud would allow cost optimization, improvements in bi-sectional bandwidth and great improvements in efficiency. There are great technical challenges to do this seamlessly at scale, and Reed wished Andy well in tackling these hard problems in the coming years.

The second area of future development is consumer devices that are touch based, understand voice commands and are backed by ever more powerful cloud based services. For Netflix, the problem is to pick the best movies to show on a small screen for a particular person at that point in time, from a huge catalog of TV shows and movies. The ability to cheaply throw large amounts of compute power at this ranking problem lets Netflix experiment rapidly to improve the customer experience.

In the final exchange, Andy asks what advice he can give to the audience, and Reed says to build products that you find exciting, and to watch House of Cards on Netflix on February 1st next year.

Next Andy talks about the rate at which AWS introduces and updates products, from 61 in 2010, to 82 in 2011 to 158 in 2012. He then went on to introduce AWS Redshift, a low cost data warehouse as a service that we are keen to evaluate as we replace our existing datacenter based data warehouse with a cloud based solution.

Along with presentations from NASDAQ and SAP, Andy finished up with examples of mission critical applications that are running on AWS, including including a huge diagram showing the Obama For America election back end, consisting of over 200 applications. We were excited to find out that the OFA tech team were using the Netflix open source management console Asgard to manage their deployments on AWS, and to see the Asgard icon scattered across this diagram. During the conference we met the OFA team and many other AWS end users who have also started using various @NetflixOSS projects.

Thursday Morning Keynote

The second day keynote with Werner Vogels started off with Werner talking about architecture. Starting around 43 minutes in he describes some 21st Century Architectural patterns which are being used by, AWS itself, and are also very similar to the Netflix architectural practices. After a long demo from Matt Wood that used the AWS Console to laboriously do what Asgard does in a few clicks there is an interesting description of how S3 was designed for resilience and scalability by Alyssa Henry, the VP of Storage Services for AWS.

Werner returns to talk about some more architectural principles, a customer talk from Animoto, then announces two new high end instance types that will become available in the coming weeks. The cr1.8xlarge has 240GB of RAM and two 120GB solid state disks, it’s ideal for running in memory analytics. The hs1.8xlarge has 114GB of RAM and twenty four 2TB hard drives in the instance, it’s ideal for running data warehouses, and is clearly the raw back end instance behind the Redshift data warehouse product announced the day before. Finally he discussed data driven architectures and introduces AWS Data Pipeline, then Matt Wood comes on again to do a demo.

Thursday Afternoon Fireside Chat

The final keynote, fireside chat with Werner Vogels and Jeff Bezos has interesting discussions of lean start-up principles and the nature of innovation. At 29'50" they discuss Netflix and the issues of competition between Amazon Prime and Netflix. Jeff says there is no issue, “We bust our butt every day for Netflix”, and Werner says the way AWS works is the same for everyone, there are no special cases for, Netflix or anyone else.

The discussion continues with an introduction to the 10,000 year clock and the Blue Origin vertical take off and vertical landing spaceship that Jeff is also involved in as side projects.

Netflix in the Expo Hall and @NetflixOSS

The exhibition area was impressive, with many interesting vendors that highlight the strong ecosystem around AWS. Netflix had a small booth which was aimed primarily at recruiting, but also provided a place to meet with the speakers and to meet people using the @NetflixOSS platform components. Over the last year Netflix has been gradually open sourcing our platform. While we aren’t finished yet, it is now emerging as a way for other companies to rapidly adopt the same highly available architecture on AWS that has been very successful for Netflix.

More Coming Soon

There were a large number of presentations at AWS Re:Invent, the organizers have stated that videos of all the presentations will be posted to their YouTube channel, and some slides are already on Netflix also archives its presentations on and we plan to link to the videos of Netflix talks when they are posted, here’s a list of what’s coming, with links to some of the slides.

Wed 1:00–1:45 
Coburn Watson 
Optimizing Costs with AWS

Wed 2:05–2:55 
Kevin McEntee 
Netflix’s Transcoding Transformation

Wed 3:25–4:15 
Neil Hunt / Yury Izrailevsky 
Netflix: Embracing the Cloud

Wed 4:30–5:20
Adrian Cockcroft 
High Availability Architecture at Netflix

Thu 10:30–11:20 
Jeremy Edberg 
Rainmakers — Operating Clouds

Thu 11:35–12:25 
Kurt Brown 
Data Science with Elastic Map Reduce (EMR)

Thu 11:35–12:25 
Jason Chan 
Security Panel: Learn from CISOs working with AWS

Thu 3:00–3:50 
Adrian Cockcroft 
Compute & Networking Masters Customer Panel

Thu 3:00–3:50 
Ruslan Meshenberg/Gregg Ulrich 
Optimizing Your Cassandra Database on AWS

Thu 4:05–4:55 
Ariel Tseitlin 
Intro to Chaos Monkey and the Simian Army

Originally published at on December 3, 2012.

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