Picking the right AWS services for your application

Play this article

I will discuss using Amazon Web Services (AWS) to develop applications in this post. We will go over which services make more sense and how to use the services cost-effectively and efficiently. AWS offers many services, so we will only be able to cover some of them. Here are some you should know about.

Security

While AWS has created a secure cloud infrastructure, it is essential to note that security is not Amazon's sole responsibility. Instead, Amazon uses the Shared Responsibility Model, which states that AWS manages the security of the cloud, and security in the cloud is the customer's responsibility.

IAM Roles

When you have EC2 instances and your application needs to access other AWS services (like SNS, S3, etc.), there are two ways to grant permission to your EC2 instances. You can either manually assign credentials to the instance or use IAM Roles. The best practice is always to use the latter. Manually assigned credentials need to be rotated frequently, which can be messy when you have a lot of instances. You also risk getting the credentials extracted; thus, your applications are more vulnerable.

So, unless you connect from outside AWS (like your computer), you always need to use IAM Roles to grant permission.

Storage and Content delivery

Simple Storage Service

Data storage for your applications can be costly. There are a few factors to consider when storing data on AWS. These factors include; how often is the data accessed? How fast should be the data retrieval process? Can the data be reproduced easily? How long should the data be available?

A popular storage service on AWS is Simple Storage Service (S3). S3 can serve objects through a CDN to Cloudfront, can serve HTML files with Route 53, and allows managed access and versioning of objects. With S3, you can set lifecycle policies for your objects. For instance, you can specify a policy that deletes or archives your objects to Amazon Glacier after a certain period.

So if your application needs frequent access to the data, S3 is a service of your choice. You can further reduce your cost using S3 Reduced Redundancy Storage(RRS) instead of S3 standard storage. However, it would be best to use only RRS for easily reproducible data (thumbnails, etc.) or for that you can afford to lose.

If you have data that your application doesn't need to frequently access and when accessed, the retrieval time is not of importance; Amazon Glacier would be suitable. Amazon Glacier offers an archival storage type. Checking in and checking out items in Amazon Glacier can take several hours, hence the use for archival purposes only.

Databases

Relational databases

If your application needs to use a relational database, AWS offers RDS, a fully managed database for relational databases. Being a fully managed database means Amazon will handle the underlying software updates and patches. RDS supports the following databases: PostgreSQL, MySQL, Oracle, SQL, and Aurora. Aurora is just a more efficient fork of MySQL, and Amazon recommends using Aurora in production environments.

Another recommendation in production is RDS Multi-AZ deployment. When a Multi-AZ DB Instance is provisioned, AWS automatically creates a primary DB instance and synchronously replicates the data to a standby instance in a different Availability Zone. In the event of a failure on the primary DB instance infrastructure, AWS will perform an automatic failover to the standby database. There will be minimal or no downtime at all experienced by your application. Multi-AZ deployment is also important when AWS updates and patches the underlying database software. AWS will update primary and standby database asynchronously meaning your application is not affected.

NoSQL

Update: AWS now has Amazon DocumentDB service. Amazon DocumentDB is a scalable, highly durable, and fully managed database service for operating mission-critical MongoDB workloads.

A popular NoSQL database in the community is MongoDB. Usually, if they want to keep all the services on AWS, developers set up a MongoDB database on an EC2 instance. That means as a developer, you are responsible for any software updates to your database and ensuring the database is secure from the outside world. You also have to make sure the database is scalable. This sounds like a lot of work and responsibility already. An alternative would be DynamoDB, a fully managed NoSQL database service provided by AWS. DynamoDB is fully distributed and auto-scales which makes it fault-tolerant. AWS also manages the provisioning of all underlying hardware. You can specify the required throughput capacity as a developer, and DynamoDB will handle the rest.

Caching

You can further improve the performance of your application by implementing caching. For instance, you can cache database query results to avoid constantly hitting the database. You can also cache web sessions and any dynamically generated content. Amazon ElastiCache, a fully managed in-memory cache engine can be used with Redis or Memcached to achieve this.

Deployment Services

Elastic Beanstalk

If you want to get up and running quickly or don’t have the technical knowledge for building application environments, Elastic Beanstalk can be a deployment service of your choice. With Elastic Beanstalk, you can quickly deploy an entire application environment automatically. The service integrates with other AWS services, including Elastic Load Balancer, Auto Scaling, and EC2.

Amazon CloudFormation

CloudFormation offers developers an easy way to create and manage a collection of related AWS resources. It is essentially Infrastructure as code as CloudFormation templates are merely JSON files. This can be useful if you are to scale your application; you can use a CloudFormation template to build EC2 instances that belong to an Elastic Load Balancer. You can also use the templates in disaster recovery, reducing the time required to spin up a new environment. This was just an overview of the services that Amazon AWS has to offer. There are many essential services we didn’t cover, including Networking (Virtual Private Cloud, DNS etc.)