Google Cloud Summit … done

13th October 2018 1 By Jonny

I’ll answer the outstanding question from my previous entry straightaway. Yes, there is such a thing as a free lunch. However, when you’re one of 1500+ needing to be fed at roughly the same time, it’s not going to be a bespoke meal that will live long in the memory. 

Starting off

My day began, early as usual, with the usual routine of making sure that son #1 caught his bus to school. Instead of going back home though, I was off to the Kerry Hotel, in Hung Hom for the day. Registration opened at 8:00am for a keynote that was scheduled for 9:30am. Sometimes registration can be a rugby scrum and a long and painful process. Conveniently, I arrived at the venue at about 8:05am. There were plenty of registration spaces available. Some were labelled ‘Invited Guests’, ‘Press’, and ‘General Attendees’ (these labels may not be 100% accurate …). I didn’t think I qualified as an Invited Guest somehow, and I definitely wasn’t ‘Press’, so general attendee I guess I was. Registration was quick and easy, and then it was time to grab a coffee and browse the sponsor/partner area. There was a decent selection of sponsors/partners listed, some local, some more multinational. Some were obvious partners of Google, e.g. HKT, RackSpace, others less so, e.g. VMware and Citrix.

I’m not a huge one for chatting to sponsors at these events – and when they do find out I’m a TAM for a software vendor the booth staff usually move on from me quite quickly as they realise I’m not really the person who’s going to be a sale for them. The whole point of visiting these booths is for the swag anyway, and I didn’t score very well here. Citrix gave me a four port USB2 hub in return for my business card. Hmmm – I’m really not too sure what I’m supposed to do with that. Master Concept gave me mug mat, again for a business card, and for having a spin on their mini-roulette wheel.

At this point I headed upstairs to where the main auditorium (Grand Ballroom) was located, and where it turned out all the Google booths were also located. Partners and sponsors downstairs, Google upstairs, thanks! In my mind the day would have been all about GCP, but there were sizeable booths for GSuite, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Pay, Google Assistant, as well as the expected GCP pieces.

Onto the keynote

The keynote was due to start at 9:30am, but there was apparently some kind of technical problem which delayed it by about 20 minutes. I found myself sitting reasonably near the front beside some guys from HSBC (for those who know my history of being in Hong Kong, that’s kind of amusing that HSBC keep turning up). We were able to have a good chat before proceedings got underway, and the HSBC guys were invited into the ‘reserved seats’ closer to the front and my new friend charitably brought me along with them. Admittedly, we were only 2 rows closer, but still …

he main auditorium

The auditorium was big – there were three of these screens along the length of the stage (the room would later be sub-divided for the breakout sessions. Attendance was listed at 1500+ which feels like a big number for a single day event, but did feel about right. I guess being free helps boost numbers too.

During the keynote, given by Rick Harshman (Google Cloud APAC head I think), he reaffirmed that Hong Kong would be a GCP region in 2018. This had previously been announced earlier this year, and to be honest I expected they would announce it is now available during this event. Either that was never the plan or the schedule has slipped somewhat, but still listed for 2018. As anyone who has been to these kind of events before knows, the keynote is usually about ‘cheerleading’ for your product and not too much actual detail provided, and this was no different. Other speakers would then come on to get into more of the details of the GCP offering, and what became apparent to me is that GCP are heavily pushing kubernetes, machine learning, and serverless. There was barely a mention of VMs. They also had a section on GSuite as that falls into their cloud business – noting they have 4M+ paying customers for GSuite compared to 3M last year.

The Google presenters were also very explicit in detailing how open their solutions are and that they are heavily committed to open source and building communities. Obviously, kubernetes was put front and centre of this, but also mentioned were cgroups (added to the kernel by Google and that this is what makes containers possible), Istio, and Spinnaker. The message was that these projects don’t have to originate at Google for Google to contribute and take an interest in, but that they do also contribute their own projects. I don’t know why but it is always nice to your own employer namechecked during these sort of things, given that I personally have not contributed to this, but my employer’s name was up there.

Not just Google makes this possible …

Apparently the presenter here (I have forgotten his name) had his shoes custom made in the Google colours. The presentation did then explain that Google are releasing GKE on-premises (slowly at first). This will be the same GKE you get on GCP delivered locally via VMware vSphere, using Google’s ‘Container Optimised OS’. Having spoken to one of the kubernetes presenters later he expanded further that really it’s ‘just COOS, with an agent installed, so vSphere isn’t strictly necessary, that’s just what their customers have, and that the agent could in theory be installed on any kubernetes cluster’. This would make an on-premises kubernetes cluster manageable through the same GCP console as GKE … and incorporate Stackdriver monitoring for it as well. This is potentially very cool.

There was then a GSuite demo. I use GSuite at work and have used Google Docs for years. The idea of being able to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets wasn’t earth shattering to me. Part of the presentation involved highlighting the AI or machine learning they’ve added to GSuite by using ‘Explore’ in a spreadsheet and asking a question ‘what are the 3rd quarter average sales’ which would then return a pviot table with the answers. There was also one of my personal bugbears at these events present in this section. Humour. I’m not against humour at all. I just cringe when I see it forced into these presentations. We know it’s scripted, it’s usually clunky, and the delivery usually is poor, because it’s a poor tech doing the delivery and not a comedian (apparently timing is important). Besides which, no event is ever going to have a funnier demo moment than this.

The next part of the keynote had NextDigital (a local company) present something about how they’re doing something with Google Cloud. This part was in Cantonese, so he could have been talking about what food he likes to eat for all I know. Speaking of food … the final part of the keynote focussed on machine learning using AutoML. For the demo part, one the Google developers came on stage and explained he has put together a solution that will identify ‘dim sum‘. He explained he had six fridge magnets of different types of dim sum, and he would upload 100+ images of each magnet to the AutoML console in GCP. After a coffee break (allowing 10-15 minutes of machine learning to complete), he then had a Raspberry Pi with a camera module attached and 2-3 lines of python code. Using the camera to take a picture of a real dim sum dish, the picture would be submitted to GCP which would identify the disk based on AutoML, and then the Raspberry Pi would produce audio output of the dish name. I’ve seen a similar demo on-line before, but it’s still impressive to see it done.

The real reason I liked this demo is that they then had the HSBC CIO of Commercial Banking and APAC on stage to say that HSBC were using this technology to accurately identify documents with different chops (stamps), signatures, handwriting, and alignments on them. These documents needed to be identified for correct filing etc. and using AutoML HSBC can more accurately identify and more quickly identify documents than they could with their previous methods which were manpower intensive.

Did I already mention Google’s emphasis on serverless?

The conclusion of the opening session once again emphasised Google’s commitment to open source, and what they’re looking to bring next to existing projects. Knative serverless computing on kubernetes above.

With that, it was onto the breakout sessions. Slots were typically 50 minutes in length and covered a wide variety of topics – not in great technical depth though, given the audience and time available this makes sense. Of the sessions I attended:

GCP 101 – Your first week in the cloud I made a mistake attending this session. It was very basic and therefore boring. The presenter seemed to spend the majority of the session spinning up a VM on GCP.

Inside Cloud AutoML: a deep dive I originally thought this was a bit daunting, but there wasn’t much content here on machine learning. In fact the presenter (Markku Lepisto) was very amusing by skipping over parts of traditional machine learning and data science saying that he doesn’t understand data science, but fortunately AutoML means he doesn’t have to, so he can move on to the interesting part of having AutoML work. Obviously, TensorFlow was named as the central part of AutoML, using Google’s bespoke TPU chips. He also announced that the fourth generation of TPUs are available (or soon will be) which are much smaller and lower power consumption, and therefore ideal for IoT. Waymo’s (previously Google) self driving cars were cited as an example of what these chips can achieve.

Benefits and how to use GCP data centre in your region: Examples of Taiwan financial institutes using GCP A longwinded title for a session that I struggled to find interesting (immediately after lunch probably didn’t help). It was hosted by CloudMIle (GCP partner) CEO and I was hoping for some actual details of who they had served in Taiwan and the problems they had solved using specific solutions by going to GCP. Instead he highlighted as a partner they can do the billing for you (thereby meaning you don’t have to use a credit card with GCP directly), and then listed off  ‘a top 3 bank’ in Taiwan uses BigQuery and GCE, ‘a car insurance company’ using CloudSQL and GCP VMs, a ‘top 10 bank’ using TensorFlow. 

Kubernetes and Istio: the efficient approach to well-managed infrastructure This was delivered by two Google presenters (one of whom is a host on the kubernetes podcast listed above). Lots more energy in this session, they used a fictional company to explain how containers can solve developer problems, but add work to sysadmins. Adding kubernetes can solve the sysadmin headaches. By then adding istio you could supercharge the environment, which also pleased the product manager. The scenario then added a new encryption requirement from their CIO, and the presenters explained how Istio encrypts traffic and therefore this requirement was already met. As someone who didn’t know much about Istio beforehand, the presentation gave a great explanation, building on my existing kubernetes knowledge. The presenters were able to explain effectively how the proxies introduced by Istio could make microservice management that much easier (and better).

Embracing hybrid My employer has been promoting the concept of the hybrid cloud for years the ‘hybrid drum’ for quite some time. For Google, the ‘hybird’ here is really GKE on-premises and offering GCP management for GKE and GKE on-premises. It’s a compelling solution, and undoubtedly will provide competition for other kubernetes providers.

Build a cross platform mobile app in 30 minutes in Firebase This was the last session of the day, and I chose this one because I’d spoken to the presenter beforehand and he seemed like a decent speaker. The presenter is a Product Manager for serverless and he flew through using Firebase and Firestore and Cloud Functions to create an iOS app that would translate voice to the language of your choosing. Given the short amount of time available in each session, there was a lot of jumping through the code and some pasting or prepped parts of code (he did explain these pasted parts though – although a knowledge of Swift would have been helpful). By the end he did indeed produce an app for the iPhone that worked as described.

Summary

A much longer post than I originally intended. Sometimes I don’t half type a lot (of rubbish, some people might say). I enjoyed the day, there was some good content, and it was nice to be out of the office, and also to hear how some people are actually using the public cloud. Sometimes, in my job, it can feel a bit distant.

The swag was disappointing. In addition to the items mentioned above, Google gave me a ‘smarter digital city’ book, a blank notebook and pen (ok, these are useful), a canvas bag, two luggage tags in the shape of the GCP logo, and a USB pendrive (USB2 and a massive 8GB). Not a great haul.