Favourite AWS Services

I’m a fan of Amazon Web Services. Mainly from a technical perspective, as it’s not necessarily cheaper to move from on-prem to on-cloud – so always read the small-print before uplifting your whole datacentre ;). Infact, it interested me so much I sat the Certified Solutions Architect exam last year and thoroughly enjoyed going through the material and labbing along the way.

I like to keep a track of updates to current AWS services, but also new ones that are released and thought I’d highlight 5 of my current favourite offerings.

5. Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)

EC2_Icon

EC2 is the bread and butter of AWS. It provides you with all the compute grunt you could ever wish for or need. Need 5 Linux VMs for a web server cluster? Or how about the ability to auto-scale when demand requires it, then spin those same servers down automatically when demand tails off? Don’t worry, EC2 can do just that, as well as a vast amount more.

To spin up an EC2 instance (VM) you have a few options. You can:

  • Use their quick start utility, which provides you with ~30 of the most popular AMI’s (Amazon Machine Images) to choose from. Think your standard, hardened versions of Amazon Linux, RedHat, SUSE, Fedora and then your Windows and Ubuntu variants too
  • Choose an AMI that you have created yourself, perhaps a specific build of server with pre-install software
  • Head over to the AWS Marketplace and utilise for free, or buy specific software that runs in the cloud. Think F5 from Big-IP, Splunk or Juniper etc
  • Launch a community AMI that has been created by a member of the community

It’s frighteningly easy to get up and running, just make sure to terminate the instance/s when you’re finished playing otherwise the costs can soon start to build without you even knowing.

Intro to EC2 Video

4. Kinesis

Kinesis_Icon

If you’re interested in processing or analyzing streams of data – think Twitter for example, then Kinesis and  is a really useful service.

You can use it to build custom applications to collect and analyze streaming data for a bespoke set of needs or requirements. One example could be monitoring Twitter for every time the tag #JustinBieber (whoever he is….) is seen, then pushing that data through Firehose to the analytics engine to present users with personalised content – graphs, diagrams, feeds etc. Powerful stuff.

As per AWS Kinesis FAQs , a Kinesis stream flow:

Kinesis_Flow

Amazon Kinesis Streams enables you to build custom applications that process or analyze streaming data for specialized needs. You can continuously add various types of data such as clickstreams, application logs, and social media to an Amazon Kinesis stream from hundreds of thousands of sources. Within seconds, the data will be available for your Amazon Kinesis Applications to read and process from the stream.

3. Trusted Advisor

Trusted_Advisor

Trusted Advisor is like having your own AWS architect on-hand, 24 hours a day, to audit your AWS account and tell you where it’s vulnerable, where you could save money and how you could increase performance. Whenever you want.

Trusted_Advisor_Checks

It’s pretty simple – if you use AWS, you should be using TA.

2. Identity & Access Management

IAM

IAM is certainly in the top 3 of the most important AWS services. With it you can pretty much control all access to all of your accounts resources, whether they be groups or individuals.

Straight out of the box you will want to create users (then swallow your root credentials to keep them safe…) and manage their identities by granting generic or bespoke permissions. This way they’ll only have access to the resources they need.

1. Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)

VPC

As a Network bod myself, VPC is of real interest to me. It allows you to provision you own isolated CIDR block, allocate subnets and configure routing tables, all within AWS. You can then architect your solutions in a virtual network that you have defined and could, in theory replicate your on-prem, private IP schema’s in the cloud!

You can also create a hardware Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection between your corporate datacenter and your VPC and leverage the AWS cloud as an extension of your corporate datacenter.

AWS VPC FAQ.

I feel that the VPC gives a little bit back to the Network Engineer, as in they’ve just seen half their DC shifted to VM’s in the cloud so still get to play with IP subnetting and IP allocation in the Cloud.

A Quick AWS explanation of VPC can be found here.

If you want more AWS content than any normal person could ever be able to digest, then head over to the AWS YouTube channel.

I.

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Website Resilience in AWS

In February of this year Amazon Web Services suffered a pretty bad outage on it’s S3 (Simple Storage Service) platform, which is used by millions of it’s customers, predominantly for hosting websites and the issues caused many of these sites to go dark.

Now, although to some degree one should expect their hosted content to be unavailable at some point, when hosted externally in the public cloud (they don’t offer 100% availability, derr!), it would appear those impacted decided to skimp on resilience.

Non-resilient Website

The above diagram illustrates a regular website being hosted on AWS. You type in a domain name, a lookup is performed via AWS’s DNS service – Route 53, you’re forwarded on to a Linux or Windows VM running your web server code and your content is passed to the requester via S3 buckets. If you’re popular enough to have comments/feedback etc then this is stored in a back-end RDS database.

Now let’s take S3 buckets, data is replicated within an Availability Zone (which houses more than two data centres), but not across different AZ’s or geographical regions, you can configure this, but must pay for the benefit.

Website_Resilient_Regions
Website Resilience

In this scenario, you mitigate any real possibility of your business critical website going dark, as even if Amazon have S3 issues in an AZ or even a region, the likelihood of two zones going dark would require something pretty spectacular (read: devastating) to occur.

You have DNS resolution occurring using multiple ELBs (Elastic Load Balancers), therefore if one lookup fails you still have a second juicy AZ or region to fall back on and point your requesting users at.

There are a few more bells and whistles to the above diagram, notably a CloudFront distribution to serve cached files to users from geographically closer servers. And also the use of Auto-Scaling groups to automatically scale up and down my web server cluster if demand warrants it.

The recent AWS outage shows us that we all need to think about how important and costly would it be off domain X were to go offline.

I.

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