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AWS CloudFormation Templates

AWS CloudFormation is designed to help users procure new AWS resources faster and more efficiently.

What is CloudFormation?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a plethora of different tools for developers and business owners to use that make things run more efficiently. With how time-consuming and difficult balancing multiple services in an AWS environment can be, users need a way to create and manage AWS resources more efficiently.  This would otherwise cut down on significant amounts of time that could be spent on other crucial tasks during development.  AWS CloudFormation aims to simplify the provisioning process and helps users update software on the users’ schedule.  This can be easily conducted through a text file or one of the default templates AWS provides.  Resources can be managed or created individually or tethered together as a stack.

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Why use AWS CloudFormation?

It is significantly easier to deploy the resources an application needs by using templates.  These templates are infinitely reusable and can be applied to duplicate infrastructure in multiple AWS environments.  Templates are also highly configurable to the user’s needs with parameters, mappings, and conditions to tailor stacks upon creation.  Subsequent stacks will be constructed and configured to the specifics provided by the template.

CloudFormation provides rollback protection during stack creation and update operations. If the creation of a stack fails, CloudFormation will automatically roll back changes made to the stack. By default, everything will be deleted in the event of a creation failure, ensuring that the stack remains in its original state. Users also have the option to disable rollback, which can be useful for troubleshooting failures.

During stack update failures, CloudFormation ensures that the stack automatically rolls back to the previous known working state. This mechanism prevents any partial or incomplete resources from being left behind and maintains the stack’s integrity. The logs generated during the process can assist users in understanding the specific issue that led to the failure.

  • New templates can be created using JSON or YAML files.  There are no advantages from using one format over the other.
  • AWS CloudFormation templates are used to automate behaviors needed for maintaining best practice actions and are widely applicable to DevOps.  Additionally, developers can audit alternatives to automate deployments.
  • CloudFormation is better for scaling global infrastructure, regardless of where it is in the organization.
  • Templates are surprisingly compatible with third-party and private resources, whether it be management, provisioning, or modeling resources.  They even have circles of GitHub communities with projects that can be shared safely and systematically.

 

 

 

AWS CloudFormation templates

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How to use Templates

The primary objective is not to automatically procure resources as it is to automate how certain resources are set up with variables such as type, name, version, and security protocols for either inbound or outbound traffic established.  As previously mentioned, a JSON or YAML file will consist of all the resources compiled in a stack with full details on each, including version number, type, and security protocols for inbound and outbound traffic.

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  • Variables can be selected individually to avoid having to manually hard code them.
  • All resources will need to be declared, whether they are an S3 bucket or an EC2 instance.  Each resource will have multiple properties tied to it, each of which can have subproperties related to it.
  • Any output variables that need to be imported to other stacks will also need to be declared in the template.
  • Not all variables need to be chosen in order to deploy.  Variables can be declared as needed.
  • To avoid issues with regional-dependent variables, mapping will set conditions for selected variables that need to be in specific AWS Regions.
  • To make establishing variables easier, AWS does have a complete library of variables and other references to help make compiling templates easier.
  • Users can update the properties for resources in existing stacks. These changes can range from simple configuration changes, such as updating the alarm threshold on a CloudWatch alarm, to more complex changes, such as updating the Amazon Machine Image (AMI) running on an Amazon EC2 instance. Many of the AWS resources in a template can be updated, and we continue to add support for more.
  • Conditions help to establish certain circumstances under which new AWS resources are procured.  For example, users might want to differentiate using a template for when they are deploying to a production environment or a test environment.
  • Building on the declarative language of the template, the Transform section will declare any macros the template will be using.  These macros will then execute in the order they are specified, so be mindful of how they are listed.

Integrating Security Features

AWS CloudFormation Denied Tag
AWS CloudFormation Allowed Tag

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Security will be another concern. With AWS’s shared security responsibility policies, developers are responsible for specifying which inbound or outbound content should be screened. In addition to fully using AWS’s other security tools, how traffic going in or out will be scrutinized will need to be specified with the other variables.

IAM can be utilized with AWS CloudFormation to effectively manage authorization and access control within an AWS environment. By using IAM with CloudFormation, administrators can specify and enforce what actions different users or roles can perform in relation to CloudFormation activities.

With IAM policies, administrators can define which users have the authorization to carry out specific tasks related to CloudFormation—such as viewing stack templates, creating new stacks, or deleting existing stacks. Moreover, administrators can further refine access by specifying what AWS services and resources are accessible to each user. This level of control ensures that users can only interact with resources that have been explicitly granted to them, thus enhancing security and compliance measures within the AWS environment.

 

  • Under no circumstances should users have sensitive data in any of the variable categories, such as names.  Worse, embedding credentials into the templates by default.  If necessary, use a dynamic reference instead.
  • By its default, CloudFormation will encrypt data at rest, while it’s in transit, and while it is within the environment network.  However, customers are still responsible for setting encryption and storage policies.
  • There are options to validate templates before using them to ensure dependencies and syntax errors don’t occur before the template is used to create any AWS resources.

Conclusion

Templates are incredibly useful for setting up new AWS resources and environments with less effort on the developer’s part.  Setting up resources involves extensive variable configuration and setup before it can properly launch.  Better yet, templates can be repeatedly reused or shared within an organization with sufficient leeway in how those templates are utilized.

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