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Master AWS CloudFormation templates with these five tips

AWS CloudFormation enables businesses to automate much of their cloud infrastructure. Read this expert advice to ramp up with the service.

The transition to DevOps takes more than a simple flip of the switch. With this multistep development and deployment model, IT teams must identify tools and services that will guide their transition, as well as manage the infrastructure that provides the backbone for applications.

In many cases, a DevOps team will use infrastructure as code (IaC) to automate stages of the application deployment process. This enables application code to reach testing and production more quickly than with traditional methodologies. In AWS, developers and IT teams define IaC via CloudFormation.

AWS continues to add features and functionality to CloudFormation, including StackSets to group resources in multiple accounts or regions, and blockchain templates. These capabilities hint at growing customer demand for infrastructure and resource automation. Here are five expert tips that explain how AWS CloudFormation templates help enable DevOps strategies.

Automate your cloud infrastructure

With AWS CloudFormation templates, a DevOps pro can define a stack, which is a set of resources, for simple apps that require only an instance or two or an elaborate application with many microservices. While AWS provides sample templates for individual services and workloads, it's also possible to customize resource allocation, conditions and configurations. Additionally, developers can set parameters to automate granular details, which avoids extra work at runtime.

CloudFormation can even handle dependencies on a basic level -- though you might need to manually override the resource creation order on occasion. By defining these elements of a cloud environment, DevOps teams can focus on building and enhancing applications and get them out to end users more quickly.

Don't skimp on the details

Just because you can build quickly doesn't mean you should cut corners on the back end. A DevOps team can check AWS CloudFormation templates into version control and automatically test for infrastructure reliability. Also, don't forget to apply AWS Identity and Access Management policies to CloudFormation templates. Administrators should carefully grant and restrict access to these templates, as changes to CloudFormation stacks have an impact on existing resources.

Once they've defined, checked and established permissions, teams can integrate third-party tools, such as Puppet and Ansible, for server configuration management. AWS CloudFormation templates enable this support through metadata and helper scripts. Additionally, CloudFormation lets developers take a modular approach to building stacks, ensuring that each department can code the relevant details and resources into a template.

Test, then inject IaC into continuous delivery

When it defines AWS CloudFormation templates, a DevOps team hopes to treat IaC in the same manner it would treat application code, which means subjecting it to version control and testing in a repository. An admin can report and audit infrastructure configuration changes to ease potential troubleshooting. It's also important to identify the proper OS for your instances and possibly audit node configurations.

Once the IaC is ready for deployment, implement it into a continuous delivery (CD) pipeline to enable teams to release apps and updates more quickly than with traditional development lifecycles. The DevOps team can follow stack success or failure through a stage in the pipeline and intervene if something goes wrong. Otherwise, the CD pipeline automatically stands up the infrastructure you define, along with the application stack that runs on top of it.

Deploy stacks across multiple regions

As businesses expand operations internationally, they spin up resources and services in multiple AWS regions and availability zones to reduce latency. Many AWS users clamored for a way to automate these international infrastructure resources, and AWS responded with StackSets, which enables CloudFormation stack deployment not only across multiple AWS regions, but also across multiple accounts -- a boon for large organizations.

But first, admins need to configure access and create target accounts for templates. From there, they can ensure resource deployment in accordance with business objectives across all regions and accounts.

Experiment with blockchain

AWS' foray into blockchain began in earnest when it released sample Blockchain Templates in CloudFormation. The new templates configure resources necessary for distributed ledgers, such as Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric. These Blockchain Templates are a start for AWS customers, such as banks or healthcare companies, who want to build these networks.

Market demand for AWS-supported blockchain initiatives likely led to these newly created templates, though the cloud provider has yet to follow in the footsteps of its competitors and offer a stand-alone blockchain service. AWS' blockchain efforts trail comparable offerings from IBM and Microsoft, but these templates could attract smaller shops that can configure and launch CloudFormation stacks to build a blockchain network.

This was last published in June 2018

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