Day 4, Part 1: Visiting the AWS Loft
We had a busy day on Day 4 as we travelled between three different presentations. We began by visiting the Amazon Web Services (AWS) “loft”, a pop-up centre that advocates for, and supports developers using, Amazon’s cloud services. Despite it’s temporary nature, the three-storey set-up demonstrated AWS’s culture with everything from light up signs and posters to a beer machine and free ice cream. In the loft, they run technical consultations, bootcamps and even pitch competitions.
We had the opportunity to listen to Nate Slater, a solutions architect at AWS, give a presentation about scaling to your first 10 million users. During the talk, we learnt how you can effectively design your application so that it can be scaled and deployed easily while not increasing the initial development time. We were shown how, as your user base grows, different technologies can be used to accommodate the load and increase redundancy. The focus was on designing it to auto scale by quickly growing and shrinking within minutes, depending on the demand.
One of the key lessons from the presentation was that, with cloud services like AWS, scaling is really easy. At least compared to everything else. Previously, scaling meant pre-ordering servers and networking equipment months in advance based on predictions of usage. This meant massive infrastructure costs and a lot of wasted idle server time – a minor headache for a large company but a huge problem for a fledging startup. As we were shown in the presentation, this risk has now been alleviated with server instances able to be created or destroyed in seconds. It allows startups to grow easily and focus only on the product and not infrastructure restrictions.
While the presentation was very insightful on a technical level, it was the candidness with which they talked about 10 million users that was most interesting to me. I think it exemplified the difference between Australia and America when developing products – having the equivalent of 50% of the Australian population as customers seems far less daunting when it’s just 1/30th of your country’s population. This significantly larger domestic audience also amplifies the size, and visibility, of niche markets and makes it easier to connect with them when you are a small startup. The internet has mostly broken down this divide for web startups targeting consumers, however the geographical isolation of Australia still makes it difficult to validate and market hardware or enterprise software products.
Overall, it was great to see how easily we could scale when we needed to and the best ways to do so.