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Tips and Tricks to Speed AWS Deployment

Feb. 06, 2014
Rich Morrow


Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers increased agility, developer productivity, pay-as-you-go pricing and overall cost savings. But you might wonder where to start, what pitfalls exist and how can you avoid them? How can you best save time and money? Learn what you need to know and where to start before launching an AWS-hosted service.



Like many organizations, yours probably has investigated some of the services offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), and you've probably identified several that you would like to use. Although the benefits of increased agility, developer productivity, pay-as-you-go pricing, and overall cost savings are extremely attractive, you might wonder where to start. What pitfalls exist, and how can you avoid them? How can you best save time and money?

If you're a developer, a development manager, or a CIO who'd like to launch an AWS-hosted service like a pro, keep reading.

Low-Risk, High-Reward AWS Deployments

Trying to run before you can walk almost always ends in cuts and bruises. Your first project to launch on AWS should be something that is either easy to migrate or easy to build from scratch.

Greenfield projects (brand new ones that don't have any legacy) are by far the easiest to launch on any platform. When launching a greenfield project on AWS, you'll want to leverage existing architectures, Amazon Machine Images(AMIs), which are pre-built virtual machine images), and/or CloudFormation Templates (pre-built stacks of services that deploy from a template). The latter two are discussed in detail below.

Amazon publishes dozens of whitepapers and architecture diagrams, both of which you'll definitely want to review. If you're trying to build a standard system like a CMS, e-commerce website, ad server, or batch-processing engine, then you're likely to find a CloudFormation template that will get you 90% or more of the way, and you could be up and running in as soon as a day. With a greenfield project, you have the luxury of architecting "The AWS way," which is loosely coupled, highly-available, and scaled on demand.

Note: In the following paragraphs, we may be introducing some AWS terms or services that you're not familiar with. These services are covered later in the document, so feel free to skip ahead and come back for context if you need.

If you're looking to migrate all or part of an existing app, you'll want to focus on something that will let you get AWS experience with low risk. Content and media serving, internal CMS or collaboration engines, and proof-of-concept projects are all excellent choices for a first effort. The most tried and true path to get one of these apps moved from your systems to AWS is by doing it in three distinct phases: Forklift --> Integrate --> Optimize.

Forklift refers to just picking up your existing stack (maybe a combination of load balancers, servers, and databases) and moving that entire stack into AWS. In the forklift phase, you're single goal is to take what you have and deploy on AWS. You're simply trying to match your existing hardware and software to what AWS offers, and migrate over. In this phase, you're focusing on the AMIs, and matching your systems (like custom built load balancers and databases) to AWS resources (like Elastic Load Balancers and RDS-the database product).

Once you've forklifted an application over, you can easily validate its operation by running your existing regression, load, and security tests against the AWS stack. If you don't have these tests, you need to make their creation a priority, and ensure that they truly validate your existing stack's operation. After your AWS stack has passed those tests, you can do a formal cutover with DNS, shut down your old stack, and begin the "Integrate" phase on your AWS stack.

In the Integrate phase, you're now focused on truly integrating your app into AWS. You'll be looking for opportunities to do high availability or "HA" (ensuring that no single points of failure exist in your stack), save costs, and extend your security and disaster recovery capabilities. During this phase, you'll begin utilizing AWS features like autoscaling groups for your web and app servers, S3, and CloudFront for low-latency, cost effective serving of static content, and RDS multi-AZ hot failover for the database layer. You'll also begin fine-tuning your security, and may even leverage technologies like VPC, VPNs, and/or Identity and Access Management (IAM) (which is AWS' fine-grained access controls for users, groups, and servers/services).

After you've completed the integration phase, you may want to hyper-optimize your application in the Optimization phase. In Optimization, you're trying to squeeze out every last efficiency and cost savings that AWS offers. Some common activities in this phase are:

Code refactors (which probably push out some functionality like queues, email, and notifications to AWS services like SQS, SES, and SNS)
Advanced EC2 strategies like parallel processing, leveraging reserved, and spot instances
Integration with more esoteric AWS services like Simple Workflow (SWF) and Elastic Map Reduce (EMR) -hosted Hadoop


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