1. December 2017 17:26
by Aaron Medacco

AWS re:Invent 2017 - Day 1 Experience

1. December 2017 17:26 by Aaron Medacco | 0 Comments

Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts detailing my experience at AWS re:Invent 2017. If you're someone who is considering going to an AWS re:Invent conference, hopefully what follows will give you a flavor for what you can expect should you choose to fork over the cash for a ticket. The following content contains my personal impressions and experience, and may not (probably doesn't?) reflect the typical experience. Also, there will be some non-AWS fluff as well as I have not been to Las Vegas before.

AWS re:Invent 2017

My adventure starts at about Midnight. Yes, midnight. Living in Scottsdale, AZ, I figured, "Why not just drive instead of fly? After all, it's only a 6 hour drive and there won't be any traffic in the middle of the night." While that was true, what a mistake in retrospect. Arriving in Las Vegas with hardly any sleep after the road trip left me in pretty ragged shape for Monday's events. Next year, I'll definitely be flying and will get there on Sunday so I get can settle prior to Monday. I actually arrived so early, I couldn't check into my room and needed to burn some time. What better activity to do when exhausted than sit down at poker tables. Lost a quick $900 in short order. Hahaha! Truth be told, I got "coolered" back to back, but I probably played bad, too.

Once I got checked into my room at the Bellagio around 9:00am, I headed back to the Aria to get registered and pick up my re:Invent hoodie. Unfortunately, they didn't have my size, only had up to a Small. I couldn't help but smile about that. I ended up going to the Venetian later to exchange my Small for a Medium. Anyways, got my badge, ready to go! Or was I?

By the way, kudos to the Bellagio for putting these in every room. Forgot my phone charger. Well, the correct phone charger at least...

 AWS re:Invent 2017

...except it didn't have a charger compatible with my Samsung Galaxy S8. Kind of funny, but I wasn't laughing. Alright, maybe a little. Would end up getting one at a Phone store among one of the malls at the Strip. Oh yeah, and I also forgot to buy a memory card for my video recorder prior to leaving. Picked up one of those from a Best Buy Express vending machine. Vegas knows.

By this time I was crashing. Came back to my room, fell asleep, and missed 2 breakout sessions I was reserved for. Great job, Aaron! Off to a great start! 

Walked to the Aria to go check out the Certification Lounge. They had tables set up, food and drink, and some goodies available depending on what certifications you'd achieved. The registration badges have indicators on them that tell people if you're AWS certified or not, which they use to allow or deny access. I didn't end up staying too long, but there were a decent number of attendees with laptops open working and networking. Here's some of the things collected this year by walking around to the events: 

AWS re:Invent 2017

The re:Invent hoodie picked up at Registration (left) and the certification t-shirt inside the Certification Lounge (right).

AWS re:Invent 2017

Water bottle and AWS pins were given away at the Venetian Expo (top-left), badge and info packet at Registration (right), and the certification stickers at the Certification Lounge depending on which ones you've completed (bottom-left).

Headed over to the MGM Grand for my first breakout session, GPS: Anti Patterns: Learning From Failure (GPSTEC302). Before I discuss the session, I have to talk about something I severely underestimated about re:Invent. Walking! My body was definitely NOT ready. And I'm not an out-of-shape or big guy, either. The walking is legit! I remember tweeting about what I imagined would be my schedule weeks before re:Invent and Eric Hammond telling me I was being pretty optimistic about what I would actually be able to attend. No joke. Okay, enough of my complaining.

AWS re:Invent 2017

Waiting for things to get started.

AWS re:Invent 2017

Session about half-full. Plenty of room to get comfortable.

AWS re:Invent 2017

Presenter's shirt says, "got root?". Explaining methods for ensuring account resource compliance and using AWS account best practices when it comes to logging, backups, and fast reaction to nefarious changes.

This was an excellent session. The presenters were fantastic and poked fun at mistakes they themselves have made or those of customers they've talked to have made regarding automation (or lack thereof), compliance, and just overall bone-headedness (is that a word?). The big takeaways I found were to consider using services like CloudWatch, CloudTrail and Config to monitor and log activity in your AWS accounts to become aware when stupid raises it's ugly head. They threw out questions like, "What would happen if the root account's credentials were compromised and you didn't know about it until it was too late?", and "You have an automated process for creating backups, but do you actually test those backups?". From this came suggestions to regularly store and test backups to another account in case an account gets compromised and using things like MFA, especially for root and privileged users.

Additionally, the presenters made a good argument for not using the management console for activities once you become more familiar with AWS, particularly if you're leveraging the automation tools AWS provides like OpsWorks and CloudFormation as that kind of manual mucking around via the console can leave you in funny states for stacks deployed with those services. Along those lines, they also suggested dividing up the different tiers of your application infrastructure into their own stacks so that when you need to make changes to something or scale, you don't end up changing the whole system. Instead, you only modify or scale the relevant stack. Overall good session. If they have it again next year, I would recommend it. You'll get some laughs, if nothing else. The guys were pretty funny.

Once out, I had a meeting scheduled to talk with a company (presumably about upcoming Pluralsight work) at the Global Partner Summit Welcome Reception. Now, I'll admit I got a little frustrated trying to find where the **** this was taking place! AWS did a great job sending lots of guides with re:Invent flags everywhere to answer questions and direct attendees to their events, and these guys were godsends every time except when it came to finding this event. I think I just got unlucky with a few that were misinformed.

AWS re:Invent 2017

These guys were scattered all over the strip and inside the hotels. Very helpful!

First, I was told to go to the one of the ballrooms. Found what appeared to be some kind of Presenter's Registration there. Then, found another guide who said to go to the Garden Grand Arena. Walked over there, total graveyard, and ironically, a random dude there who wasn't even one of the re:Invent guides told me where it actually was. He also said, "Oh yeah, and unless you want to be standing in line all night, you might want to reconsider." It was late enough at this point, I figured I'd just head back to the Bellagio for a much needed poker session, so that's what I did. However, on the way back, holy ****, he was right. I've never seen a line as long as the one to get into the GPS Welcome Reception in my life. It went from the food court, through the entire casino, out of the casino, and further back to I couldn't tell where. Apparently, I was the only one who missed the memo, since everyone else knew where to go, but still, that line. 

Long hike back to the Bellagio, played poker for about 3 hours, lost $200 (man, I suck), and on my way back to my room discovered I didn't eat anything all day. LOL! Picked up a couple pizza slices and crashed for the night. A good night's sleep? Yes, please. Tomorrow would be better.


19. August 2017 19:11
by Aaron Medacco

No More Excuses for AWS S3 Bucket Leaks

19. August 2017 19:11 by Aaron Medacco | 0 Comments

You hear about it all the time. Customers of Amazon Web Services storing sensitive information in their S3 buckets leaking it to the world because of misconfiguration. Well, per one of the announcements at AWS Summit New York, there is no longer an excuse for misconfiguring an S3 bucket. AWS Config now has new managed policies that will evaluate your account for any S3 buckets allowing global read and/or write access. 

Exposed S3 Bucket

I won't regurgitate what's already been said on AWS's blog, which you can read here. AWS Config is a pretty easy service to set up. Just know that you'll be charged $2 for each rule you enable on your account, which shouldn't be a problem for any business or organization storing sensitive information in S3. 

You have no excuse anymore! Protect against your own incompetence. No matter how comfortable you are in AWS.


25. March 2017 12:23
by Aaron Medacco

Ensuring AWS Resources in Your Account are Tagged w/ Names Using Config

25. March 2017 12:23 by Aaron Medacco | 0 Comments

If you're like me, you want everything in your Amazon Web Services account to be organized and well kept. Whether it be EC2 instances, VPCs, RDS instances, or security groups, I want context around the resources in my AWS environment so I know what I'm working with. Tagging accomplishes this by allowing you to ascribe attributes that you define to everything in your environment. The most common tag is simply "Name", which at a minimum, usually provides some insight into whether the instance is a web server, test instance, database server, cache, etc. 

Note: Don't name your instance Foo.

This becomes difficult when you have more than one person managing an account. From a practical standpoint, it's unreasonable to mandate that every single component to every thing you build in AWS have a name. For instance, if someone didn't tag a NACL attached to one of your subnets, it's probably not a big deal. In a utopia that would be nice, but would get in the way of getting things done. That being said, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that infrastructure pieces such as EC2 instances, RDS instances, VPCs, EBS Volumes, ACM Certificates, ELBs, etc. always be tagged with a name.

AWS Config

The AWS Config service helps you ensure that practices such as tagging (among more important configurations like security and compliance) are maintained in your organization's AWS account. Simply specify what resources you want Config to record, select a predefined or new SNS topic to publish to, and create a rule defining what you want Config to keep tabs on. I'll assume you've gone thru the initial Config setup process for defining what resource you want recorded, the S3 bucket to store history and snapshots, and the SNS topic you want Config to publish to.

Adding a Config rule to monitor tagging:

  1. In your management console, navigate to the Config service.
  2. Click "Rules" in the sidebar.
  3. We're going to use an AWS managed rule, so browse the managed rule until you find "required-tags" and select it.
  4. Edit or accept the default name and description.
  5. Select "Resources" for the Scope of changes.
  6. Choose which AWS resources in your environment you want Config to monitor.
    By default, it's a large group, so you might want to customize this part unless you want to get notifications all day. 
  7. Under the rule parameters, change the value of "tag1Key" to "Name".
  8. Leave everything else, and click "Save".


That's it. Regardless of whether your environment adheres to this rule already, you'll likely receive several notifications right away. Config needs to evaluate the rule on the resources you selected, and mark them as COMPLIANT or NON_COMPLIANT. From this point, you can fix any NON_COMPLIANT resources and know that Config is tracking your environment going forward. The pricing for Config can be found here.


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