Recently in EC2 Category

understand the commitment you are making to pay for the entire 1-3 years

Amazon just announced a change in the way that Reserved Instances are sold. Instead of selling the old Reserved Instance types:

  • Light Utilization
  • Medium Utilization
  • Heavy Utilization

EC2 is now selling these new Reserved Instance types:

  • No Upfront
  • Partial Upfront
  • All Upfront

Despite the fact that they are still called “Reserved Instances” and that there are three plans which sound like increasing commitment, the are not equivalent and do not map 1-1 old to new. In fact the new Reserved Instances are not even increasing commitment.

You should forget what you knew about Reserved Instances and read all the fine print before making any further Reserved Instance purchases.

One of the big differences between the old and the new is that you are always committing to spend the entire 1-3 years of cost even if you are not running a matching instance during part of that time. This text is buried in the fine print in a “**” footnote towards the bottom of the pricing page:

reduce the risk of losing control of your AWS account by not knowing the root account password

As Amazon states, one of the best practices for using AWS is

Don’t use your AWS root account credentials to access AWS […] Create an IAM user for yourself […], give that IAM user administrative privileges, and use that IAM user for all your work.

The root account credentials are the email address and password that you used when you first registered for AWS. These credentials have the ultimate authority to create and delete IAM users, change billing, close the account, and perform all other actions on your AWS account.

You can create a separate IAM user with near-full permissions for use when you need to perform admin tasks, instead of using the AWS root account. If the credentials for the admin IAM user are compromised, you can use the AWS root account to disable those credentials to prevent further harm, and create new credentials for ongoing use.

However, if the credentials for your AWS root account are compromised, the person who stole them can take over complete control of your account, change the associated email address, and lock you out.

I have consulted companies who lost control over the root AWS account which contained their assets. You want to avoid this.

Proposal

Given:

  • The AWS root account is not required for regular use as long as you have created an IAM user with admin privileges

  • Amazon recommends not using your AWS root account

  • You can’t accidentally expose your AWS root account password if you don’t know it and haven’t saved it anywhere

  • You can always reset your AWS root account password as long as you have access to the email address associated with the account

Consider this approach to improving security:

With Amazon’s announcement that SSD is now available for EBS volumes, they have also declared this the recommended EBS volume type.

The good folks at Canonical are now building Ubuntu AMIs with EBS-SSD boot volumes. In my preliminary tests, running EBS-SSD boot AMIs instead of EBS magnetic boot AMIs speeds up the instance boot time by approximately… a lot.

Canonical now publishes a wide variety of Ubuntu AMIs including:

  • 64-bit, 32-bit
  • EBS-SSD, EBS-SSD pIOPS, EBS-magnetic, instance-store
  • PV, HVM
  • in every EC2 region
  • for every active Ubuntu release

Matrix that out for reasonable combinations and you get 492 AMIs actively supported today.

The EC2 create-image API/command/console action is a convenient trigger to create an AMI from a running (or stopped) EBS boot instance. It takes a snapshot of the instance’s EBS volume(s) and registers the snapshot as an AMI. New instances can be run of this AMI with their starting state almost identical to the original running instance.

For years, I’ve been propagating the belief that a create-image call against a running instance is equivalent to these steps:

  1. stop
  2. register-image
  3. start

However, through experimentation I’ve found that though create-image is similar to the above, it doesn’t have all of the effects that a stop/start has on an instance.

Specifically, when you trigger create-image,

  • the Elastic IP address is not disassociated, even if the instance is not in a VPC,

  • the Internal IP address is preserved, and

  • the ephemeral storage (often on /mnt) is not lost.

I have not tested it, but I suspect that a new billing hour is not started with create-image (as it would be with a stop/start).

So, I am now going to start saying that create-image is equivalent to:

use concurrent AWS command line requests to search the world for your instance, image, volume, snapshot, …

Background

Amazon EC2 and many other AWS services are divided up into various regions across the world. Each region is a separate geographic area and is completely independent of other regions.

Though this is a great architecture for preventing global meltdown, it can occasionally make life more difficult for customers, as we must interact with each region separately.

One example of this is when we have the id for an AMI, instance, or other EC2 resource and want to do something with it but don’t know which region it is in.

This happens on ServerFault when a poster presents a problem with an instance, provides the initial AMI id, but forgets to specify the EC2 region. In order to find and examine the AMI, you need to look in each region to discover where it is.

configure your own ssh username in user-data

The official Ubuntu AMIs create a default user with the username ubuntu which is used for the initial ssh access, i.e.:

ssh ubuntu@<HOST>

You can create other users with your preferred usernames using standard Linux commands, but it is difficult to change the ubuntu username while you are logged in to that account since that is one of the checks made by usermod:

$ usermod -l myname ubuntu
usermod: user ubuntu is currently logged in

There are a couple ways to change the username of the default user on a new Ubuntu instance; both passing in special content for the user-data.

Approach 1: CloudInit cloud-config

Each AMI publisher on EC2 decides what user (or users) should have ssh access enabled by default and what ssh credentials should allow you to gain access as that user.

For the second part, most AMIs allow you to ssh in to the system with the ssh keypair you specified at launch time. This is so common, users often assume that it is built in to EC2 even though it must be enabled by each AMI provider.

Unfortunately, there is no standard ssh username that is used to access EC2 instances across operating systems, distros, and AMI providers.

Here are some of the ssh usernames that I am aware of at this time:

Worth switching.

Amazon shared that the new c3.* instance types have been in high demand on EC2 since they were released.

I finally had a minute to take a look at the specs for the c3.* instances which were just announced at AWS re:Invent, and it is obvious why they are popular and why they should probably be even more popular than they are.

Let’s just take a look at the cheapest of these, the c3.large, and compare it to the older generation c1.medium, which is similar in price:

Here’s a useful tip mentioned in one of the sessions at AWS re:Invent this year.

There is a little known API call that lets you query some of the EC2 limits/attributes in your account. The API call is DescribeAccountAttributes and you can use the aws-cli to query it from the command line.

For full JSON output:

aws ec2 describe-account-attributes

To query select limits/attributes and output them in a handy table format:

My favorite session at AWS re:Invent was James Saryerwinnie’s clear, concise, and informative tour of the aws-cli (command line interface), which according to GitHub logs he is enhancing like crazy.

I just learned about a recent addition to aws-cli: The --query option lets you specify what parts of the response data structure you want output.

Instead of wading through pages of JSON output, you can select a few specific values and output them as JSON, table, or simple text. The new --query option is far easier to use than jq, grep+cut, or Perl, my other fallback tools for parsing the output.

aws --query Examples

The following sample aws-cli commands use the --query and --output options to extract the desired output fields so that we can assign them to shell variables:

Ubuntu AMIs

Ubuntu AMIs for EC2:


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