The Rackspace Guide to re:Invent 2016

Las Vegas Strip

It’s almost that time of year again. No, not Thanksgiving or even Christmas — it’s almost time for AWS re:Invent 2016!

We’re just over a week away from the start of Amazon Web Services’ largest user conference of the year, which is held in Las Vegas and is home to all the latest and greatest AWS technology.

Whether you’re a hardened veteran of re:Invent (or IT events) or a newbie, you’ll never see a spectacle quite like it. This year, 25,000 people will descend on the conference, making it the largest one to date. Given the size and scope of this event, it’s important to be prepared and pace yourself so you survive the week. Rackspace is going to be at re:Invent in force again this year (come see us in the Expo Hall at Booth #625), and the details below will give you an idea of how we’re getting ready.

What’s in my bag?

Whether you like to travel light with just a carry-on, or you’re bringing everything and the kitchen sink with you, it’s important to make sure you bring all the necessary supplies for the week. Everyone has different needs, but for a conference like re:Invent, it’s usually worth bringing the following essentials:

  • Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Advil, or some other pain reliever — even if you avoid the temptations of Vegas night-life, this is a multi-day conference with a lot of hardcore knowledge being transferred… sooner or later, everyone will get a headache.
  • Comfortable footwear — whether it’s trainers, loafers or that comfortable pair of clown boots you bought as a joke, you will walk a LOT (at one re:Invent I managed to walk ~20 miles a day just between hotels and around the conference). You need comfy footwear or you will not make it out of Vegas alive.
  • Layered clothes — Vegas isn’t going to be a tropical paradise at this time of year, but while it might get chilly outside it could be warm in some of the sessions. Make sure you bring clothes that you can layer up (and carry easily) in case you need to adjust to different climates throughout the day.
  • Snacks you can easily throw in your bag, and eat on the move — it can be exhausting as you go through the week and although food is provided throughout the event, it never hurts to have a stash of quick and easy snacks to give you a burst of energy.
  • A lightweight bag, something you can keep your laptop and a few essentials in as you move about the conference daily — the trick is not to carry too much and get a sore back from the weight!
  • USB battery packs — you can probably pick up some of these as swag on the Expo floor, but it’s worth having at least one charged USB battery on you each day in case all the power outlets are being used.
  • Power adapters — they’re always useful, even if you’ve got a USB battery you want to be prepared to opportunistically charge from an outlet if you can find one. We like the multi-port adapters which let you charge a USB device and your laptop at the same time. Outlets are usually busy, so plugging two or more plugs in is unlikely to happen. If you do manage to score two outlets be prepared for dirty looks.
  • A refillable water bottle — there are generally lots of water stations throughout re:Invent, so having your own bottle to refill throughout the day will help you stay hydrated. The air inside the casino’s/hotels can be quite dry if you’re not used to it.
  • A “hygiene pack” similar to what you’d get on an international flight:
    • Hand sanitizer — because 25,000 people, right?
    • Earplugs (those parties can be LOUD)
    • Deodorant — be nice to your fellow attendees, just in case you’re partying all night and go straight to a session the next morning
  • Business cards because sometimes it’s nice to go old school when you meet a potential customer or partner.

You’re packed and ready…. what now?

I made it to Las Vegas!

When you land at McCarran airport, you’ll be happy to hear that Uber now operates from the airport to the strip — $20 – $30 will get you where you need to go. If Uber isn’t your thing, you can always take one of the normal taxis (watch out for the Rackspace branded red taxis around Las Vegas!) or an airport shuttle.

Where do I leave my suitcase?

If you haven’t already booked your ticket, travel and accommodation you’re likely to be disappointed — re:Invent is officially sold out, and most of the hotels will be fully booked. If you have a ticket, but no accommodation yet, we’d recommend you reach out to any of the hotels and try to negotiate a reasonable rate — be prepared for high prices. Hotels nearest the event are:

  • The Venetian / Palazzo
  • The Linq
  • Harrah’s
  • Treasure Island
  • The Wynn / Encore
  • The Mirage

I’m unpacked and ready to go — where is everything?

No matter where you end up staying for the week, you’ll need to know your way around the conference. This year, re:Invent will be spread across three separate hotels on the strip forming a “campus” (check out AWS’s video map here):

  • The Venetian
    • Bootcamps
    • Breakout Sessions
    • Certification Lounge & Exam centers
    • GameDay
    • Global Partner Summit
    • Hands-on Labs
    • Hackathon
    • Keynotes
    • Pub Crawl
    • re:Invent Central (the Expo hall where we’ll be located!)
    • Welcome Reception
  • The Mirage
    • Breakout Sessions
    • Industry Pre-Day
    • re:Source Mini-Cons
    • Security Jam
    • Workshops
  • The Encore
    • Bootcamps

If you’re arriving earlier in the week, save time and go register early. You can get your pass (and your AWS swag) before the lines get wild by going to one of the registration locations at either the Venetian, Wynn or Mirage between 6-10 p.m. on Sun., Nov. 27, and 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Mon., Nov. 28. Registration will be open throughout the week, but if can, avoid the lines and go early.

An important thing to remember about getting around at re:Invent, and Las Vegas in general, is that everything is further away than you think. Walking from the Wynn hotel next door to a session at the Venetian? You should probably leave yourself a good 10-15 minutes to get there.

Maintaining radio contact

Chances are you won’t be flying solo at re:Invent, and keeping in touch with your team is important. Wifi is pretty ubiquitous at the conference, and in Vegas in general — sticking to wifi will be kind to your batteries, but it can be patchy, especially with 25,000 cloud specialists in attendance. Try and make sure you have data available (check your plan if you’re an international visitor) and you can always fall back to SMS, but otherwise we like some of the following apps:

  • Slack (setup a new channel just for the conference)
  • WhatsApp groups function
  • GroupMe is useful/unique because it works across all platforms, even phones which only support SMS

One important point — make sure you keep your device on silent/vibrate when you’re in sessions. We all think our ringtones are the best, but it doesn’t mean everyone needs to hear them.

Plan your day, follow your plan

AWS re:Invent is a great learning opportunity and it’s important to make the most of the expertise and training that’s available to attendees. The session catalog has been open for a while now, and hopefully, you’ve found the sessions or tracks you want to attend. Make sure you select the appropriate session levels as there’s nothing worse than getting into a session that’s either too technical or not technical enough.

Standing room only

This year, there’s a seat reservation system in place but sessions filled up almost immediately — but don’t worry. You can still get into a session if you show up, but show up early if you haven’t reserved a seat, as it’s first come, first served. With a gap between sessions, you will have time to get there and claim your spot.

Keynotes

Do everything you can to attend the keynotes, as this is invariably where AWS unveils its latest innovations and products. It’s also a great spot to find out what other AWS users are doing with their services, and you’ll be surprised at some of the diverse workloads running on AWS today.

All work and no play

So we’re all going to re:Invent because it’s a great chance to learn and network with fellow cloud professionals, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the fun to be had in Las Vegas. With 25,000 people attending this year, chances are good you could just follow the crowd to the next bar or party. When it comes to food, however, it makes sense to make restaurant reservations whenever you can. There are plenty of great options in and around the conference hotels, so you can always find something when you need it. Some of our favorites:

  • at the Venetian or the Palazzo
    • Grand Lux Café
    • SUSHISAMBA
    • Public House
    • Rockhouse
    • Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
  • La Cave at the Wynn/Encore
  • Gordon Ramsey Fish & Chips at the Linq
  • Vegeway (for the vegans/vegetarians out there!)
  • Gordon Ramsey BurGR at Planet Hollywood Resort

You’ve been fed, now for watering

Once you’ve eaten a hearty meal somewhere, you can go and enjoy some of the Las Vegas nightlife — there are plenty of places to go and see, but don’t forget that AWS will have a few after-hours events for you to attend:

  • The AWS Pub Crawl
    • Wed., Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m. in bars across the Venetian/Palazzo. Check here for details.
  • Re:Play 2016
    • The party of the week, hosted by AWS at the Linq
    • Thurs., Nov. 31 from 8 p.m. till midnight
    • If you love EDM, you can’t miss this — previous live acts on the night have included DeadMau5, Skrillex and Zed.

Putting on our serious Racker hat for a moment, remember that whether it’s in Las Vegas or Texas this is a work event — we’re all representing our companies. If you play hard in the evenings, you have to work/learn as hard during the day. Make sure you get the most out of this great opportunity by keeping the mantra “all things in moderation” in mind.

Have fun, work hard, make history

It’s going to be a great week, and we’re excited to see you all in Las Vegas – it’s a great location for a great event, and we hope everyone will get to learn, network and enjoy themselves. Please come by our booth #625 at the Expo Hall and say hello!

James Cowe is the director of AWS Strategy & Architecture at Rackspace. He is an experienced technical leader with close to 20 years working across a variety of industries, experienced in building and delivering both consumer and core cloud technology strategies. He is passionate about combining new technologies with great ideas, to drive innovative experiences and solutions to real world challenges.

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