Just about two weeks ago, on October 11th, and together with Google, we organised Flyby , a full-day event about Google Cloud Platform at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam. Googlers gave short presentations about their platform throughout the day and we were on hand to showcase inspiring websites and applications built on Google services.

We had a great time! And so did a lot of cool people who showed up: the Rijksmuseum, Intralot Athens, ProQuest NY, Malmberg, ThiemeMeulenhoff, Philips, Staatsloterij, Fabrique, Aegon, D-reizen and others all sent people to come listen to us, in some cases, brag about projects we’re doing with them.

So what did we talk about? One of our newest hires, Matthijs, took to keeping track of the various talks throughout the day. Here’s a quick overview.

“So who the f*ck is Q42?”

Our founder and CTO, Kars, kicked off the event with a short introduction of Q42, explaining what we do and what makes us tick. One of the most important goals is to create “a happy place for nerds”.

He explained that we strongly believe that if engineers are happy and get all the tools and context they need, they will write better code, build better products and be more honest about ideas, risks and mistakes.

Kars’ natural enthusiasm leaked through into his presentation. “So we all know Google, but who the f*ck is Q42?” led to snickering in the back of the room by the Googlers who were up next.

Joining forces

“We realise that nowadays it’s not just about creating a website or completing a project,” said Kars. “It’s about strategic partnerships. So we need to work together and not only think about strategies and business cases but also about hardcore coding and technical architecture. To make a difference, it’s key to bring the real technical decisions closer to the client. You can’t abstract all the technical stuff away, there’s a strong need to open up and join forces there.”

So why do we love App Engine so much that we decided to spend half a day talking about it? Kars: “With each project we want to join forces with the customer and focus on solving their problems instead of setting up infrastructure over and over again. With App Engine we can code what we want, put it online, and it just runs, scales up or down, no worries!”

Google’s turn

After the kickoff, two Googlers, Eric Morse and Barak Regev, came up to talk about trends in cloud computing as kind of an introduction to the whole concept.

They showed how fast cloud platforms are growing right now and described how the convergence of cloud, social and mobile are beginning to influence almost every IT-related decision. Another trend is the exploding amount of data that is being generated and of course there is the whole shift towards mobile; content has to be available wherever we want, whenever we want.

A big question for many of our clients is security. So James Snow, responsible for security and compliance at Google, took the stage to talk about all the precautions Google takes to keep data safe. They have dozens of data centers for redundancy, work only with authorised employees and vendors, have 24/7 guard coverage, backup power UPS and generators etc. Furthermore, files are split up and stored on multiple machines, file names are random and they obfuscate data so that it isn’t human readable.

“As a Googler it’s a little odd to talk about the cloud platform,” began Jesse Jiang next. Google is cloud, she said, to the point of inventing the term “cloud computing” in order to describe their business. She talked about how their infrastructure has been designed to allow for fast innovation by abstracting complexity away from engineers so they can focus on adding value.

Two App Engine engineers, Peter S Magnusson and Adam Eijdenberg, gave great presentations on the architecture of Cloud Platform. They showed how App Engine and Compute Engine enable you to build and run websites and applications on the same systems that power Google’s own applications. And it’s easy to get started: Google provides you with familiar development tools and services. App Engine scales seamlessly, so you don’t have to do anything special to scale up. Then once your app is running, it takes very little effort to keep it running.

The last Googler up on stage was Matt McNeill, talking about “big data”. Google’s ambition is to power the world’s applications, analytics, and services. The strategy is to develop a best-of-breed set of core services, and make them easily accessible from two complementary approaches to applications development — platform as a service and infrastructure as a service. Matt showed a cool demo where he used BigQuery to quickly find the longest word in a work by Shakespeare that also has its own Wikipedia page. It only took a few seconds.

Case studies

After we got all the ins and outs of these services it was time for us to show off some of the great stuff we can do with them! We chose three projects we are currently working on and are very proud of. Two of them are “classified” projects so unfortunately we can’t really go into detail here, but they should launch soon so the whole world will be able to see what we’ve been up to.

Schooltas

Kars began by showing the Schooltas app and website. Schooltas is of strategic importance for publisher ThiemeMeulenhoff, targeting 900,000 students.

“Right now, Schooltas is being used by 70 high schools as a pilot project,” Kars claimed while going through the slides. “Every day over 20,000 personal notes have to be processed and this is for only a few thousand kids. Imagine what would be needed if the project takes off and sees a nation wide roll out!” So scalability and speed is of utmost importance, as are up-time and stability.

After talking about the numbers, Kars gave a short demo of Schooltas on an iPad. He showed how the app makes PDF documents interactive by allowing students to draw on them, leave notes in specific places and share them with others, and even do homework by writing directly on them. He then switched to the HTML5 version, which is an exact copy, and showed how changes in the app are reflected instantaneously on the web version.

Rijksmuseum.nl

Next, Jasper gave a very exclusive sneak preview of the new Rijksmuseum website. 125,000 high resolution images will be available online for the public to view. To make this happen, all these images are chopped up into “tiles”, creating 6 million files resulting in 220GB of data. These images have to be delivered fast so they used the Blob store, the Google CDN and App Engine to make it all work seamlessly and blazing fast.

Then Jasper gave a demo. It was amazing. Like a window into the future. Kars said, “I honestly think this will be the best museum website in the world.” You should have been there!

A new product by Philips?

Finally, Philips’ George Yianni gave a preview of a new product we’ve been working on with Philips for two years now. With a worldwide launch at hand they needed something that would scale up easily and the ability to grow in different directions on a global scale. App Engine was the perfect match for it.

Wrap up

After we blew everybody’s minds with all the awesome stuff we’ve been working on ;-), we split up into parallel breakout sessions so that everyone could get a chance to ask their questions of Googlers and Q’ers.

Earlier in the day we had asked everyone to write down their questions on post-it notes and stick them on flip-over boards throughout the room, and this was the time to go ahead and ask those questions. A few of us tried to harass Google a little by asking annoying questions like “Why would I use App Engine over Azure or AWS?” much to their amusement (they even seriously answered them!). And asking a question by post-it note entered you into a raffle to win a Galaxy Nexus. Congrats to the winners!

We ended the day with more good food and refreshing drinks. We believe it’s safe to say that the conference was a big success, but maybe we should have some of the attendees convince you:

#flyby conferentie van @q42 en @google was ontzettend gaaf. Veel mensen ontmoet en veel geleerd. Ooh en natuurlijk gratis eten en drank ^^ — Rik Nijessen (@gewoonrik)

After todays’ #flyby Im dedicated to do something with the #computeengine preview account. #letthegeekingbegin — Maurice van der Meer (@mauriez)

#flyby by @q42 was a mind blowing conference. I met a lot of great google people.#isowantthatphone — Anton Vanhoucke (@antonvh)

Een zeer geslaagd en inspirerend evenement! Thnx @q42 & @google#flyby — Vincent Demmenie (@vincentdemmenie)

Thanks to Kars and Jasper for giving talks, Rahul and Cynthia for producing the event, Katja and Chris for recording and photographing the whole thing, and Google for co-hosting. And of course, thanks to everyone who showed up! Organising an event like this was a first for us. We really had a good time and it seems everyone who came did too, so expect more cool events like this in the near future. Hope to see you all there!

P.S. Check out some photos of Flyby over on our Facebook page!