Amazon and its business partners produce a continual stream of summits, seminars, webinars and other events promoting the use and understanding of Amazon Web Services. These events are scattered all around the world, in cities such as NYC, Chennai and Seoul.

An AWS traveling theatre arrived in London recently so I headed down there to hear what they had to say. Would the event be an Amazon infomercial, distributed computing theory, or industry news on the state of the cloud?

The venue was the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, London. It’s just around the corner from Big Ben and the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the heart of the British government. This is the area where Victorian captains of industry ruled the British Empire. Now the new captains of industry are just passing through on their world tour (next stop: Melbourne).

The AWS London event was actually two separate events on two consecutive days, aimed at two types of customer.

At the beginning of each event, the events staff in the Central Hall dished out name badges, pastries and drinks in the reception hall to a crowd of a couple hundred people. A few AWS partner booths are on the borders of the room, but it’s a token effort – this is no big exhibition with a footfall of thousands.

Event 1: AWS Cloud for start-ups & developers

The crowd for part 1 was more “heavy tech” than “business admin”. There was a touch of the buzz of a start-up networking event where people swap stories and practice their pitches, but it was mostly a collection of men standing around looking awkward, perhaps because they were separated from their development environments. It was a relief when the technical talks started.

In a side conference room one of the Amazon marketing managers introduced a succession of speakers. Amazon solutions architects illustrated AWS cloud services with live demos, which actually worked properly.

Happy AWS customers described how they used the AWS cloud in their business. Well, partly. Ian van Reenen, CTO of remote management company Centrastage, gave a fair description of both his company and their use of AWS, such as how dynamoDB performs for them during their traffic spikes.  Anthony Rose, CTO of TV-related app company Zeebox, painted a picture of his company’s social media awesomeness, with a few AWS facts stuck on the end for decoration.

The event finished off with two hours of networking and free beer back in the reception room. Amazon CTO Dr. Werner Vogels was around at beer time, attracting smart-dressed guys with wheeled suitcases into his vortex.

Event 2: Cloud computing for the enterprise

This enterprise event had a different feel to the previous start-up event. Delegates were employees sent to learn more about Amazon. The average age went up by a decade. Casual clothes were replaced by business suits.

The day’s agenda was designed to equip an enterprise manager with the tools to make better use of AWS. Each speaker used a slide show for illustration, not the live demo favored by developers. The talks were delivered by VPs, not solution architects.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Vogels himself, giving a superb troop rally on the ways Amazon is transforming business.  He used examples of vast cost savings, threw in similes – did you know Amazon is like the Kit car in Knight Rider, and a firewall is like the moat around a castle? – and enthused about many Amazon services.

Real-life examples from the day were all enterprise scale: how Samsung saved millions of dollars, how Animoto scaled from 50 to 5,000 servers in 3 days, and how many international standards AWS complies with. The happy AWS customer talk by Robin Meehan, CTO of the system integrator Smart421, was also enterprise-scale: he described how they created a DR solution for Haven Power.

Was it worth going?

So what did I get from all this free food and speeches by big players?

Background knowledge. I gained a clearer understanding of who uses AWS spot instances. I felt the excitement of some enthusiastic entrepreneurs. I got the point of some AWS business partners. It’s not information I can use tomorrow. It’s illumination of the cloud territory we find ourselves in.