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Moving to AWS

Once the decision has been made to move to the AWS cloud, countless moving parts begin to churn. People need to be trained, infrastructure changes must take place, developers potentially need to code in a different way, and IT professionals must get up to speed on the cloud provider that has been chosen; there’s no time to waste. Larger companies will usually attempt to convey the message of what moving to the cloud means for them. It’s quite common for executives within the company to have strong opinions about what moving to the cloud will do. Sadly, these opinions are not usually based on technical knowledge or real hands-on experience with the cloud provider that has been chosen. Generally, companies utilizing cloud services fall into several mind-sets:

  • The corporate mentality—You currently have data centers, infrastructure, and virtualized applications. Ever-increasing infrastructure and maintenance costs are driving you to look at what options are available in the public cloud.

  • Born-in-the-cloud mentality—You’re a developer with a great idea, but you don’t want to maintain a local data center. In fact, you don’t have a local data center, and you want to get going as soon as possible.

  • The startup mentality—You’ve just lost your job due to a merger or buyout and are determined to strike out on your own. Your brand-new company has no data center but plenty of ideas combined with a distinct lack of cash.

  • The government client—You’ve been told that, to save costs, your government department is moving to the AWS cloud within a defined timeframe.

Each of these starting mind-sets will have differing points of view as to how it should start to migrate or design its cloud infrastructure and hosted applications. Coming from a corporate environment or government department, you will probably expect the cloud provider to have a detailed service-level agreement (SLA) that you can change to match your needs. You will also probably have expectations about how much detail you expect to be provided about the cloud provider’s infrastructure and services. In short, you expect to be in control.

If you have started with a public cloud services provider as an individual developer, or you’re working with a startup, you will probably have no comparison with current on-premise costs; therefore, the overall costs that you pay for using a cloud provider will be accepted for the short term but, over time, as your experience grows, your overall cloud costs will be analyzed and managed to be as optimized and as cheap as possible.

The reality is that moving to the cloud means you will be giving up an element of control. After all, it’s not your data center. At AWS, you’re not getting deeper into the infrastructure stack than the subnets that host your applications. Remember, the cloud is a data center; it’s just not your data center. Let’s start by looking at the available public cloud computing models of IaaS and PaaS and where AWS fits within these definitions.

Infrastructure as a Service

Most of the services AWS offers fall into the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) definition, as shown in Figure 1-3. This is certainly the most mature cloud model offering; virtualized servers and virtualized storage arrays are hosted on a software defined network with each customer’s infrastructure completely isolated as a private resource. Creating resources at AWS typically starts with the creation of what is called a virtual private cloud (VPC). Virtual servers, virtual hard drive volumes, and indeed complete managed services and products can be hosted on your isolated private network. You have the flexibility to create whatever architectural stack you desire at AWS using a vast number of services and utilities contained in the IaaS toolbox. Companies moving to the AWS public cloud will typically first start with IaaS because the compute and storage services closely mirror their current on-premise virtual environment.


Figure 1-3 Infrastructure as a service at AWS

IaaS cloud services at AWS are bundled with managed services. A managed service is built on the trio of compute, storage, and networking services and customized software providing something you want Amazon to manage and maintain rather than your having to do all the work. For example, AWS offers a managed service called relational database service (RDS). It will build, host, maintain, back up, fail over, synchronize, and monitor a pair of master/standby database servers for you, leaving you the single task of managing your data records. Many other managed services are available at AWS; in fact, many managed services have no additional charges to begin using. For example, an automation service called CloudFormation allows you to automate the procedure of building infrastructure stacks complete with the required compute, storage, networks, and load balancers required for your application stack. In fact, practically anything to do with building, updating, or deleting your infrastructure stacks at AWS can be automated with CloudFormation. Another handy service called CloudTrail is provided free of charge. It tracks and records all application programming interface (API) calls that are carried out in each of your AWS accounts for 90 days. And yes, you can configure CloudTrail to store your API calls forever in S3 storage.

Your internal applications that are running in your on-premise data centers are probably a vast soup of proprietary operating systems (HP, AIX, Linux) and of course Windows. Talk to most departments in a small to midsize corporate environment, and the end users typically express unhappiness with some of the current applications that they use daily. They have learned to live with the ongoing issues of each application. Talk to the IT administrators and developers in the corporate data centers; there very well could be a great deal of unhappiness with the inflexibility of the existing infrastructure that they have to use and manage.

On top of these issues, perhaps each department has its own IT infrastructure. My company once provided compute services for a midsized hospital with 25 separate networks. Typically, in a larger corporation, compute services can be heavily siloed between departments, or each line of business gets to make its own decisions.

Most companies with more than 100 employees have some semblance of virtual infrastructure for their servers typically using VMware. Virtualization was supposed to be the answer to controlling a company’s infrastructure costs. However, the cost for virtualization services has become extremely expensive to host, run, and maintain. Companies now know that capital and licensing costs are some of the biggest expenses they incur when running an ever-expanding on-premise private cloud. Replacing VMware with AWS-hosted virtualized servers and services removes a company’s need for hypervisor administration expertise. And the landscape of applications used by corporations is now widely available in the public cloud as hosted applications defined as software as a service (SaaS) applications. As a result, there is ever-growing interest at the department level or overall company level in using the public cloud to host applications. And the reality is, you may not have a choice. If you’re a Microsoft shop, the odds are quite strong that some of your everyday software applications such as Exchange and Microsoft Office are hosted by Microsoft Azure and Office 365, allowing you to completely replace some of your in-house software deployments. For more details on the compute platform at AWS, check out Chapter 4, “Compute Services: AWS EC2 Instances.”

If your company has no experience working with external cloud providers and you are a medium- to large-sized corporation, it’s a certainty your company will fit the private cloud model. Most of your company’s infrastructure will be hosted within several private data centers. For example, your primary data center may be in Philadelphia, and your second data center could be in Nashville. (If you’re a large enough company, your data centers may be spread across multiple continents.) The applications used will number in the hundreds or thousands. You may be lucky enough to have centralized IT standards, but these standards have become an issue due to the applications that multiple departments have installed or created over the years. Maybe if you’re unlucky, one of the central applications used by your company was developed by a summer student and plunked into production without a second thought.

At AWS, infrastructure resources are spread across the world in 20 different regions. If you are in a large population center, the odds are that Amazon is close by. If Amazon is not close by, you still may be able to connect into it through one of the edge locations. More details on regions, availability zones, and edge locations can be found in Chapter 2, “Designing with AWS Global Services.”

Platform as a Service

Platform as a service (PaaS) cloud providers enable your developers to create custom applications on a variety of popular development platforms such as Java, PHP, and Python. The developers don’t have to manually build the infrastructure components required for each application per se; the required infrastructure resources are defined at the beginning of the development cycle and are created and managed by the PaaS cloud provider. After applications have been developed and tested and are ready for prime time, the application is made available to end users using public URLs. The PaaS cloud provider will host and scale the hosted application based on demand. As more users use the application, the infrastructure resources will scale out or in as required. PaaS environments are installed on the IaaS resources of the PaaS cloud provider, as shown in Figure 1-4. In fact, IaaS is always behind all “as a service” monikers. Examples of PaaS providers include Cloud Foundry and Heroku.


Figure 1-4 IaaS hosts the PaaS layer

Expanding upon Cloud Foundry, this PaaS solution is the foundation of development at IBM Cloud, where the underlying infrastructure is hosted on the IBM public cloud and running a customized version of the Cloud Foundry platform components. Developers can sign up and focus on writing applications. All requests will be handled by the PaaS layer interfacing with the IaaS layer, where the compute, storage, load-balancing, and scaling services operate.

Another popular solution for developing applications in the cloud is Heroku, mentioned in passing earlier. Heroku allows you to create and run hosted applications using a variety of development platforms. Just like the IBM cloud, once the application has been written, Heroku hosts, balances, and auto scales the application as required and sends you a bill for hosting at the end of the month.

If you’re dealing with a PaaS provider, remember that programming languages change from time to time; therefore, APIs change as well, and usually without warning. If your developers don’t keep up to date, there can be issues when using a PaaS cloud development platform.

Digging into the details on the Heroku website, under “Security,” the site states that, “Heroku’s physical infrastructure is hosted and managed within Amazon’s secure data centers and utilize the Amazon Web services technology.” Heroku is owned by another cloud heavyweight, Salesforce. Salesforce indicated in 2018 that future expansion was going to be by utilizing Amazon data center resources. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

An additional reality is that one cloud provider’s PaaS system is not necessarily compatible with another cloud provider’s service. Both AWS and Microsoft Azure offer similar cloud services, but internally each cloud provider operates in a completely different fashion with a completely different set of APIs. There is no single standard for defining just what PaaS must be. Compatibility issues begin to reveal themselves at the lower levels of each vendor’s proposed solution. RESTful interfaces, manifest file formats, framework configurations, external APIs, and component integration are not necessarily compatible across cloud vendors. AWS deals with platform services using Lambda, the API Gateway, and several code deployment tools.

The applications that your company may have been developing and using internally will be a variety of two- and three-tier architectures with many local dependencies such as network storage, local storage, local users, and databases. The overall architecture design may have been adequate at the beginning but now is straining to function due to the age of the hardware, the sizing of the hardware, and the lack of any flexibility to change.

The distinct difference with on-premise design when compared to hosting applications at AWS is that provisioning hardware and waiting for it to be set up and configured is a thing of the past. In fact, there are many possibilities to consider when designing applications at AWS.

Your choice of language and development framework will determine the PaaS vendor you select. Do you do a lot of development in Python? Are you a Java developer? Amazon has a PaaS solution called Elastic Beanstalk that automates the deployment of applications developed in Java, Python, Ruby, and other development platforms on the required infrastructure components for each application including E2 instances or Docker containers, with load-balancing, auto scaling, and monitoring services.

Amazon has several development solutions, shown in Figure 1-5, including CodeBuild, CodeCommit, Elastic Beanstalk, CodeDeploy. These can be key components in your application deployment at AWS. Chapter 8, “Automating AWS Infrastructure,” covers these interesting managed services and additional details on automating your infrastructure.


Figure 1-5 Platform options at AWS

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