Team Stax
Stax on Stax
15 Jun 2022

An Introduction To AWS CloudFormation

It is time-consuming and difficult to activate multiple applications on Amazon Web Services (AWS). That is because you will need to configure each application manually. In addition, there is a high risk of introducing inconsistencies or making errors during the deployment process.

The solution is to adopt AWS CloudFormation. But what is AWS CloudFormation, and how does it help? Read on to find out.

What is AWS CloudFormation?

AWS CloudFormation is a service from Amazon that you can use to manage your AWS resources. It enables businesses to focus their time and energy on running applications only. AWS CloudFormation's main benefit is that it removes the need to configure each resource manually.

CloudFormation consists of three concepts: stacks, templates, and changesets. A template is a text file that contains details of the processes and resources required to run an application. When a template is activated in AWS, CloudFormation identifies the resources needed in your account and organizes data flows and dependencies in the proper order.

The second key concept is something called stacks. These are the logical groupings of your templates and their resources. So maybe you would:

  • Set up the stacks on an application level, so every application has a different stack.
  • Combine multiple template files and deploy them simultaneously with the same stack.
  • Create nested stacks where you can have graph-like relationships between your stacks.

CloudFormation allows you to modify the stack even after you have deployed it. If you delete the stack, any created CloudFormation conditions, resources, data flows, and dependencies will be automatically deleted. It is also possible to automate the deletion and modification process so that you can save time.

The third main concept to know about is changesets. These are the differences between what CloudFormation has from your previous upload and what you are attempting to upload.

Changesets show you a preview of what CloudFormation will do in its incremental update. This is important because CloudFormation always looks at what has changed since your last upload and only performs updates on things that require it.

Traditionally, you would configure a specific Amazon service to provide certain resources. Once you have activated the resources, you will need to find a way to ensure that they work together. This process is complex, time-consuming, and error-prone.

AWS CloudFormation enables you to create or modify an existing template. This template has details about all the resources and their associated properties. This template can also be used to quickly activate and manage your resources.

If you feel like you no longer need a specific resource, you can simply delete it from the template. All this ensures that you can manage multiple resources from a central point. It also helps you to know the required CloudFormation export versus output processes.

The configuration process in CloudFormation is usually declarative. This means that you specify how you want the environment to be, and the tool will find a way to make that happen. As a result, the dependencies between resources are automatically modified, and you're not involved in the creation and deletion of resources. Moreover, it is up to the software to find the perfect sequence of activities that will create your desired CloudFormation conditional property. Nevertheless, you can choose to be involved as well.

CloudFormation versus Terraform

Both CloudFormation and Terraform are software that defines infrastructure, but they have differences. A key difference is that CloudFormation is limited to the Amazon web services ecosystem, but you can use Terraform for any public or private cloud system. Another difference is that Terraform uses the Hashicorp Configuration Language while CloudFormation uses JSON or YAML.

Benefits

AWS CloudFormation capabilities can be beneficial for organizations and individuals by:

Making your life easier

When AWS deploys CloudFormation, you can put together some conditions to do complicated tasks. CloudFormation is also great for regional expansion since you can quickly deploy resources to multiple regions with just a couple of clicks.

Helping secure systems

When you log into your AWS console, you can select CloudFormation parameters (Parameters are instances of computer programs and may be up to 10 lines of code. Read more here) can easily create resources on AWS. However, if you click the wrong buttons, you may expose your resources to security flaws. As a result, you will spend a lot of time and money trying to rectify the situations or prevent unintended processes.

When you use the CloudFormation template, you will be able to write code and test it before deployment. This ensures that you can quickly identify errors and delete them in advance. You'll also easily know what changes caused certain problems with your AWS resources.

Coding review infrastructure changes

When using infrastructure as code in CloudFormation, you can add an additional layer of verification to your infrastructure change process through code review. So, instead of someone just making changes to work in the console without anyone knowing, you can release your infrastructure updates through a change management process that is backed by code reviews.

Integrating with CI pipeline

CI stands for continuous integration. For example, you can attach your YAML or JSON template files to things like GitHub Hooks. Then, based on changes to your files, the template will automatically trigger a pipeline in AWS through the code pipeline and deploy all your changes through CloudFormation. So, it’s rapid and easy to introduce an entire CI pipeline for your infrastructure changes.

Having community support

CloudFormation has been around since 2011. Accordingly, tons of guides and many community volunteers will help you work through some of your problems. Therefore, you won't be alone if you face issues with CloudFormation.

Cost

There are no upfront commitments and no minimum fees when using CloudFormation. Instead, Amazon will charge for every handler operation. That means that you will pay to do DELETE, UPDATE, CREATE, LIST, READ, and CREATE operations.

AWS does provide resources to estimate your monthly CloudFormation bill. The calculator is within your CloudFormation console, and you can configure it depending on your selected resources and actions.

Working with the best

Leveraging CloudFormation requires working with the best team and a suite of tools. That is exactly what we do at Stax. We specialize in helping businesses migrate and manage their operations and data in public clouds. Our solutions are ideal for users with AWS CloudFormation accounts.

So, do you still have some questions about how CloudFormation works or how to get started? Contact us for more information.