Wednesday, August 30, 2017

AWS Professional Certifications - time to get to work!

Alright so I haven't been very focused on getting any new I.T. certifications since last November. Last November I got 3 AWS associate certifications and the time has come for me to invest some time in getting one or two of the AWS Professional level exams behind me.

What makes this way easier is you can now take AWS exams in Iowa where last fall I had to drive into Chicago. Don't get me wrong I love Chicago but 8 hrs round trip in a single day isn't that fun.

For the last few months I have been working on an enterprise identity management project so with that said I haven't worked with the cloud much at all. I haven't even thought about pursuing these exams until a few days ago.

My goal is to get at least one AWS Pro cert before I attend the AWS: reInvent conference this November. I will start studying in the next few days and I will try and summarize what I am learning here for others to use if they want. By taking time to type things out it will help me as well.

I guess that's it for now - more to come!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Real World: RightScale Optima

Introducing RightScale Optima

Earlier this year we ran several cloud management tools through the proof of concept process and ended up purchasing RightScale. You can read more about how we picked it here.

One part of having access to RightScale is the ability to use their new tool Optima. If you haven't heard of Optima yet think about AWS's trusted adviser, but on steroids. Optima has intelligence built into it to review all of your cloud environments and then make suggestions that could save you money.

RightScale Optima Screenshot
*This screen image is NOT from my RightScale implementation

Here are a couple of use cases where we have found value.

#1 - When we first started toying around with the cloud we were deploying everything in AWS to the Northern California region. At some point we decided to migrate everything to North Virginia and when I say everything it was clear that we focused mainly on our EC2 instances. Optima identified there were some storage volumes left in Northern California that hadn't been connected to a compute instance in months. This is very practical savings.

#2 - We invest a decent amount of effort when we are deploying a new project or service to the cloud. Everything is looked at in detail and I can say with confidence when something gets deployed at the moment it goes live all the I's have been dotted and T's have been crossed. In the real world though new instance types for cloud virtual machines continue to get released. At the time when we deployed a solution we were correct but with Optima we have discovered where we could swap out instance types with new ones and save real money every hour (or minute because it works with Azure too).

#3 - Because so many people now have the ability to deploy compute instances it isn't uncommon to fall back to your pre-cloud way of thinking. What I mean by that is pre-cloud you would deploy a server and it was expected to be up and running 24/7/365. The idea of turning it off when you weren't using it was a very foreign concept. In the cloud the correct way of thinking is only power on your machines when you are actually using them. Optima can identify potential savings by suggesting different instances that based on usage could save money by implementing a schedule. That is the type of savings that is right in front of you but unless you are part of that project you wouldn't know what is and isn't needed to be powered on all the time. At the very least it raises the question and encourages you to go have that conversation.

It does other things as well but I just wanted to take a minute and share a little about how it has helped me and we haven't even scratched the surface of really using RightScale yet.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Total AWS Cost for Iowa Code Camp

I have been asked a few more times to elaborate on my personal costs associated with my talks on AWS (Amazon Web Services) and cloud computing at the recent Iowa Code Camp. Last night I got my invoice so I thought I would just share exactly what I was charged and what an invoice looks like.

If you are considering moving to the cloud after you get sold all the bells and whistles it ALWAYS comes down to money. Yes I am serious.

In preparing for my talks I deployed a bunch of EC2 instances and ELB (Elastic Load Balancers) both directly and via CloudFormation Templates. I had to also setup a bunch of Key Pairs and Security Groups. How many servers did I deploy? I would guess around 30 but they didn't stay powered on very long - they were deployed and then powered off. Keep in mind I am also still in my first year with this email address / account so I could take advantage of the free tier.

My total invoice for the month of July 2017 is .41 cents. Yes 41 pennies is all it took!!

I am thinking most of my expenses were because I left an instance powered on after I ran a test and forgot to power it off until the following day.

Looks like I also paid 3 pennies because I considered storing my source code for my demo app on an S3 bucket before I moved it to a public GitHub repository.

Now you know exactly what I spent that day.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Speaking at my First Iowa Code Camp Conference #ICC19

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present on two different topics at the 19th Iowa Code Camp located at the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Coralville, Iowa. Not only was this my first year speaking at this event it was my first time even attending this event. I was impressed on how well this one day event was put together. I am only estimating here but I would guess there was a little over 200 attendees. What makes that impressive is this event is held on a Saturday so this was people taking time away from their personal lives to grow professionally.

Both of my talks were held in the same room which was nice because after the first one I had complete confidence that my laptop was working and I had the correct adapters etc to make everything work. Again I am not sure what the room's capacity was but I enjoy the smaller rooms because it often times makes people more comfortable and they start to interact more. When I have spoke to larger rooms/groups in the past it's hard to not just talk to the first few rows.

While I was preparing for this event my family, friends and coworkers asked questions that all had a similar theme: Why are you doing this? Are you getting paid? What's the point? Are you looking for a new job? What's in it for you? Why? Why? Why?

I like doing things like this. I love meeting new people. I enjoy learning about what other people / companies are doing and can I learn from their mistakes, can they learn from mine? Did I get paid? No, in fact after parking I actually paid to go to this event.

I don't think the question should be "why am I taking a Saturday to get better?" the real question is "why aren't you?"

The next time you hear about Iowa Code Camp I would highly recommend attending. It's a real conference! There were 6 presentations going on at a single time and each talk lasted a little over an hour. That means there was a lot of content being shared by speakers and for the attendee the admission was free. An all day tech conference that includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments and an unlimited opportunity to meet other local people working in the same field fighting the same fights as you.

I truly want to thank each person who attended my talks. You took time out of your day to come and listen to me speak and for that I am grateful. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

AWS vs Azure: Compare getting started promotions

One question that I routinely hear is should my company / project go with Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services? Without knowing anymore than that I unfortunately can't answer that. There is a huge overlap of services that each company offers but there are also unique situations where either cloud platform could be named the victor.

Today I want to review what each platform provides you for free to help you learn the differences that would benefit your project or company.

What did you just say? Each company gives you free shit while you try and learn / use their cloud products. Let's take a look at what each gives you.

The details around what Amazon offers you can be found here:

They give you a bunch of services for free or until a certain threshold is reached. Honestly if you are just spinning up things to see how they work the free tier is amazing. After 12 months some items are no longer free and you would need to pay the regular rate for those items. On the other hand some items such as DynamoDB or SQS always have a free tier. In my opinion that is because to use those free services you probably will be paying for others.

The first thing most people think about is compute or virtual machines and Amazon gives you 750 hours during your first year. You don't get a real powerful machine but it's more than enough if you want to look at deploying servers etc.

Microsoft Azure has published their free tier / trial here:

Like Amazon they provide a bunch of free things that you can deploy and test out. As far as compute goes you get a $200 credit that will expire after your first 30 days. In this sense I do like Amazon's better because as an adult who works I can't always test what I need in 30 days, that time slips away pretty fast. You might be thinking "Shawn Woodward that is crazy! If you focus you can get anything you need completed in 30 days". I get where you would be coming from but in my case that simply isn't the case.

If you haven't looked at cloud technologies yet be prepared to be a bit overwhelmed. It's NOT just virtual machines running on somebody's hardware. If you don't have a development background a decent amount of services might seem rather foreign to you. Everything they offer someone has been doing that same functionality inside a corporate walls before you just might not be aware of it.

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


In an effort to keep this page fairly technical and not fill it with other projects that fall more than a few feet from a keyboard I would like to introduce Woodward Acres. This is another project where I hope to share other non technical items. Anyone who knows me is aware that my family lives on about 6 acres of land located in Jones County, IA.

Owning and operating an acreage is a lot of work but it comes with a different flavor of rewards too.

We always have a never ending project list and this is where I will try and share those stories.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Preparing for Iowa Code Camp

July 22, 2017 is the Iowa Code Camp Conference that will be held at the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Coralville, IA. Here is the session schedule. I will be presenting on two topics and I wanted to write a short description of my process and my concerns while I prepare.

I have recently been rather busy with a bunch of different things. Trying to keep perfectly transparent this event has arrived a little sooner than I had hoped. It's not that I am not prepared, I know the topics but I haven't sat down and put together my outline yet. That's what I am going to put together this weekend.

The details: I have two talks to give and the length of each is roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes. Topic one is AWS Cloud Formation Templates and the other is Amazon Auto Scaling Groups.

My goal: Introduce those that are new to these topics and cover as much detail as I can without appearing to be scattered or overwhelming anyone. I love it when people are interactive so be sure to leave time for Q and A.

My concerns: My hope would be to run my demos live but that means I need the internet to be 100%. I was assured last night that they have never had issues which pretty much means I am sure to have issues. One idea I have is to record my demos now so I can focus on talking about it while people watch. I know this kinda sucks but it would just be a backup.

Side note: In my past I taught at a local college and one day I showed up to class to teach, I forget what it was, maybe html or doesn't matter. As I walk toward my room I see 30 students standing outside the room and as I get closer they tell me the door is locked. There is a key pad on the door but I have no idea what the code is. Keep in mind a giant winter storm is taking place and this is a night class. Some of these students drove an hour to get here because that is how serious they are taking their education. Then I show up and don't have the ability to open the door. Needless to say I lost some credibility that day but quickly earned it back.

Ever sense then I tend to assume something is going to go wrong but try to have a backup plan in place.

My outline will probably follow something like this:

  • Brief introduction of myself and what I hope the benefits of sitting with me for an hour will provide to the person.
  • Show a couple of slides
  • Demo 1
  • Couple more slides while I explain how we expand on Demo 1
  • Demo 2
  • What did we see so far and why does it matter to you
  • Expand a bit further with more slides
  • Demo 3
  • Keep an eye on the clock....if it went faster than expected have another set of data to show or be prepared to move on to Q & A
I am not promising that I will have 3 demos or 4 or maybe only 2 - the point is I like to go with the flow and keep things interactive with the people. My intention is to provide value to the people who are taking time out of their weekend to come and visit me. Make it worth their time. Maybe when they are eating supper that night they can think - "Wow that Shawn Woodward guy didn't stink as much as I thought he would". 

It should be fun and I am looking forward to meeting each of you!

See you next weekend.