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Amazon VPC Essentials

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Amazon VPC Essentials

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Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) is a great way to setup an isolated portion of AWS and control the network topology. It is a great way to extend your data center and use AWS for burst requirements. In this post, I will list down the key areas that one needs to consider when working with VPC. This will help one decide the best architecture / solution that may fit the given requirement.

Except Cluster Compute Quadruple Extra Large instances all other Instance types (including Micro) are available within VPC. Of course, be sure to check which Instance types are available in a region. For example Second generation Standard On-demand instances are available only in US-East

Know which services and which features of a service are available within VPC

  • Dynamodb, ElastiCache, SQS, SES, SNS and CloudSearch are not yet available in VPC
  • Amazon RDS Micro Instances are not available in a VPC at this time  - Update: AWS just announced (few minutes after posting this article) availability of Micro RDS Instances in VPC #paceofawsinnovation
  • RDS Instances launched in VPC cannot be accessed over the internet (through the end point). You will need a jump box (bastion) in the Public Subnet to connect to RDS or of course you can connect through the VPN from DC
  • DevPay AMIs cannot be launched within VPC
BGP is no longer a requirement for VPN connectivity from your devices. Static routing can be used for non BGP devices. But BGP is recommended since the liveness check that is performed is better. Also, each VPN conenctions has two tunnels for redundancy. If one of them goes down, the failover process is fairly simple in case of BGP
Customer Gateway Compatibility
The following customer gateway devices are tested and known to be working with AWS VPC. Make sure you are using one of these devices at the Customer Gateway side. Other devices may be compatible as well
  • Static Routing
    • Cisco ASA 5500 Series version 8.2 (or later) software
    • Cisco ISR running Cisco IOS 12.4 (or later) software
    • Juniper J-Series Service Router running JunOS 9.5 (or later) software
    • Juniper SRX-Series Services Gateway running JunOS 9.5 (or later) software
    • Juniper SSG running ScreenOS 6.1, or 6.2 (or later) software
    • Juniper ISG running ScreenOS 6.1, or 6.2 (or later) software
    • Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 (or later) software
    • Yamaha RTX1200 router
  • Dynamic Routing using BGP
    • Astaro Security Gateway running version 8.3 (or later)
    • Astaro Security Gateway Essential Firewall Edition running version 8.3 (or later)
    • Cisco ISR running Cisco IOS 12.4 (or later) software
    • Fortinet Fortigate 40+ Series running FortiOS 4.0 (or later) software
    • Juniper J-Series Service Router running JunOS 9.5 (or later) software
    • Juniper SRX-Series Services Gateway running JunOS 9.5 (or later) software
    • Juniper SSG running ScreenOS 6.1, or 6.2 (or later) software
    • Juniper ISG running ScreenOS 6.1, or 6.2 (or later) software
    • Palo Alto Networks PA Series running PANOS 4.1.2 (or later) software
    • Vyatta Network OS 6.5 (or later) software
    • Yamaha RTX1200 router
IP Ranges
When setting up a VPC you are essentially fixing the network of the VPC. And if the VPC requires VPN connectivity (as in most of the cases), care should be taken to choose the IP range of the VPC and avoid any IP conflicts.
  • Assess the IP ranges used at the customer gateway side
  • If the customer gateway side has more than one data center which already have VPN connectivity between them, assess all the data centers
  • Also check the MPLS link between the data centers and the IP range used by the MPLS provider
The above two points (Device Support & IP Range) becomes the critical point in setting up the VPC. If the chosen IP ranges result in IP conflicts, this will jeopardize the entire network architecture and can potentially bring down existing systems in the customer data center
Public and Private Subnets
The VPC network can be divided further in to smaller network segments called as Subnets. Any VPC will have at least one Subnet
  • You can setup a Public Subnet which will have internet connectivity. Instances launched within a Public Subnet will have both outbound and inbound (through EIP) internet connectivity through the Internet Gateway attached to the Public Subnet
  • Private Subnets are completely locked down. They do not have internet connectivity by default
  • Create number of Public and Private Subnets depending upon your architecture. Place all public facing servers such as web servers, search servers in the public subnet. Keep DB servers, cache nodes, application servers in the private subnet
Security Groups
VPC Security Groups are different from normal EC Security Groups. With EC2 Security Groups you can control the ingress into your EC2 Instance. With VPC Security Groups, you have the option to control both inbound and outbound traffic. When something is not accessible you have to check both inbound and outbound rules set in the VPC Security Group
ELB Security Group 
When you launch an ELB within VPC, you have the option to specify a VPC Security Group to be attached with the ELB. This is not available for ELB launched outside VPC in normal EC2. With this additional option, you can control access to specific ELB ports from specific IP sources. On the backend EC2 Instances' Security Group, you can allow access to the VPC Security Group that you associated with the ELB
Internal ELB 
When you launch an ELB within VPC, you also have additional option to launch it as an "Internal Load Balancer". You can use an "Internal Load Balancer" to load balance your application tier from the web tier above. Please refer to my  earlier article on Internal Load Balancer
NAT Instance 
By default the Private Subnets in a VPC do not have internet connectivity. They cannot be accessed over the internet and neither can they make outbound connections to internet resources. But let's say you have setup a database on an EC2 Instance in the Private Subnet and have implemented a backup mechanism. You would want to push the backups to Amazon S3. But the Private Subnet's cannot access S3 since there is no internet connectivity. You can achieve it by placing  a NAT Instance in the VPC
  • Through NAT Instance outbound connectivity for Private Subnet Instances can be achieved. The Instances will still not be reachable from the internet (inbound)
  • You need to configure the VPC Routing Table to enable all outbound internet traffic for the Private Subnet to go through the NAT Instance
  • AWS provides a ready NAT AMI (ami-f619c29f) which you can use to launch the NAT Instance
  • You can have only one NAT Instance per VPC
  • Since you can have only one NAT Instance per VPC, you need to be aware that it becomes a Single Point Of Failure in the architecture. If the architecture depends on the NAT Instance for any critical connectivity, it is an area to be reviewed
  • And you are limited by the bandwidth availability of a single NAT Instance. So do not build architecture that will have internet bandwidth requirements from the Private Subnet with NAT
Elastic Network Interface
This is a powerful feature of VPC which lets you solve many problems around licensing, hosting multiple SSL websites, etc...
  • You can attach multiple ENI's per Instance essentially creating multiple private IPs and possibility of attaching multiple EIP's per Instance
  • One interesting result of attaching multiple ENI's per Instance is this: previously you are used to launching EC2 Instances in a Subnet. Now EC2 Instances can span across Subnets. For example 
    • You can have two ENIs - one attached to the public Subnet and other attached to the private Subnet
    • You attach a Security Group to each of these ENIs. The Security Group of public Subnet ENI will allow access on port 80 from the internet but no access on, let's say, port 22
    • The other Security Group attached to the Private Subnet ENI will allow port 22 access from the VPN gateway essentially securing the Instances more
  • If there are products that have licenses tied to the MAC address, you can now set the MAC address to the ENI and have the EC2 Instance derive the them from ENI
Private IP and Elastic IP
  • You can fix the Private IP of the Instance when you launch Instances within the VPC.  Let's say, you plan to launch multiple tiers (web servers and search servers) within a Subnet and have multiple Instances for each tier. Make a logical allocation of IP ranges for each tier. For example, to for web servers. Whenever you launch any Web Server Instance use one of the private IPs from the logical list. This will help in management of the potentially vast number of Instances
  • Private IP of an Instance do not change if you stop and start the Instance
  • If you attach an Elastic IP to the Instance, the EIP does not change if you stop and start the Instance

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