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Automating the Cloud: AWS Tools and Tips

By February 7, 2020Article

The amount of work that goes into deploying, managing, and monitoring a cloud system is significant so it makes sense that organizations would want to automate some of the more routine and tedious tasks. Thankfully, AWS fully understands this and has created several services to help you do just that. 

We’re taking a look at some options that are native to AWS, as well as introduce some third-party options that you can integrate into the workflow. Creating a mix of services enables the flexibility needed to simplify operations and, hopefully, increase your effectiveness and productivity when working in the cloud. 

AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda is a serverless computing service that allows you to run custom scripts and functions on Amazon servers without the need to provision or manage servers. The service supports code written in JavaScript, Python, Ruby, Java, Go, and .NET. To use Lambda, you simply need to upload the code you wish to run and specify whether you want it to be run manually, triggered by AWS services, or called directly from mobile or web applications. 

With this service, you can automate a significant portion of your cloud maintenance and monitoring, from deploying applications through CodePipeline to responding to data modifications in S3. While Lambda does not work with all AWS services, it can read events from Kinesis, DynamoDB, and SQS, and can be invoked by 15 different services, including S3, CloudWatch, and CodeCommit. 

Common use cases for Lambda include data processing and serverless backends. For data processing purposes, code can be executed in response to changes in data or system state, or the actions of users. This can facilitate real-time file processing, real-time stream processing, and Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) processes for big data analytics. For serverless backend creation, functions can be created to handle web, IoT, and third-party API requests which allow for the creation of personalized mobile app experiences and scalable, highly available web apps. 

Lambda does require at least basic programming knowledge if you wish to use it directly but there are pre-built functions that the AWS user community has made available, as well as tutorials with code samples, such as this one about automating EBS snapshots. The service is also frequently used with third-party integrations. 

AWS Systems Manager

AWS Systems Manager is a service that allows you to view operational data from the services you’re using and to automate operational tasks related to those services. Through it, you can group resources, like instances or storage buckets, and take bulk actions for instance deployment, patch application, and configuration changes. 

Systems Manager operates via automation documents, written in YAML or JSON, and includes predefined documents for common tasks, which you can easily customize. When creating and customizing documents, you can specify the actions you wish to take, their schedule and number of attempts, as well as what the response should be when an action fails or is completed. You can also dictate whether actions are role dependent, what resource states they’re triggered by, and whether they use branching logic. 

To use Systems Manager, you must configure an automation role, either through CloudFormation or Identity and Access Management (IAM), with permissions allowing access and modification of your services. 

Use cases for automating with Systems Manager include the creation and modification of machine images, the maintenance of CloudFormation stacks, the creation of tags, the launching of instances, and the calling and running of API actions. This service can be used in combination with Lambda functions for even greater functionality. 

AWS CloudFormation 

AWS CloudFormation is a service that uses JSON templates to automatically provision and manage your AWS resources as “stacks” of services or applications. With this service you can standardize your infrastructure components, allowing for faster configuration and troubleshooting, and automatically deploy and provision resources, minimizing manual effort and the chance of misconfigurations. 

A common use case for CloudFormation, in combination with CodePipeline, is the creation of a Continuous Delivery pipeline. To accomplish this, you must designate a CloudFormation template as a deployment action in your CodePipeline workflow, which will allow you to create or modify stacks and create or execute changesets so you can test how changes will impact your resources before implementing them. An added benefit of this combination is that it can be used to easily deploy and terminate pre-production and test environments for your applications. 

Third-Party Services

Third-party tools, like Jenkins or Ansible, are another good option for automating your AWS services. These services can often be deployed within AWS, either on top of EC2 instances or in containers. 

Ansible, which is an open-source automation platform, provides a variety of built-in modules for managing AWS. This includes functions for authentication, provisioning, security grouping, inventory, tagging, and autoscaling. 

Ansible functions through playbooks, which are designed to be easily readable by humans and are written in YAML format. You can use playbooks for everything, from simple configuration and deployment of remote machines, to multi-tier rollouts with rolling updates. 

Jenkins is another open-source tool. It provides an automation server most often used for Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) workflows. Jenkins is a Java-based program that can be configured through a web interface and includes a wide variety of plug-in options, including Pipeline AWS, which allows you to interact with AWS through API. 


By incorporating automation into your workflows, you can redirect the significant time and effort that would otherwise be spent on configuration and management to optimize cloud performance and productivity. As your cloud grows, it will only get more challenging to maintain, so adding automation early on can give you a significant head start on streamlining the process. 

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