Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Amazon EC2 & Scalr – Roles, Instances, Regions, Availibility Zones & ELB

In this blog I will briefly describe some terminologies that you will frequently encounter when deploying an application on Amazon EC2 and while using Scalr for application management in Amazon EC2. I will then describe how these objects work together in harmony. To gain a better understanding of their working we need to first understand what they mean.


A role is a machine image and as the name indicates, it serves a specific purpose of an application in the cloud. Typically a role is an abstraction of an instance (defined next). A role helps in defining a template which consists of a set of installations, needed to fulfil a specific function of an application. For example, a typical application will have web servers, cache servers and data servers. All three can serve as a role (Apache2 + PHP + APC Role, Memcached Role and MySQL Role). Roles are generally assigned to a farm (a set of instances working together to accomplish a task) and have their own security groups. For example, an application role can be made public while caching and database roles should be kept private and internal to the network.


Unlike a Role, that does not have any physical existence, an Instance is a physical existence of a Role. There can be multiple instances running for a particular role. Roles are templates and Instances are actual implementations of those templates.


Amazon EC2 infrastructure is spread across the globle in different regions. These regions are geographically seperated and provide an opportunity to run an application in different regions thus making an application fault tolerant. Also application can serve requests to the clients from the closest region. Regions are completely isloated from each other. Following are the regions available in Amazon EC2:
US East (Northern Virginia)
US West (Oregon)
US West (Northern California)
EU (Ireland)
Asia Pacific (Singapore)
Asia Pacific (Tokyo)
South America (Sao Paulo)

Availibility Zones

Availibility Zones are locations within a Region where instances can run. They help in making instances in a region failure proof. We can run instances in a region in one or more availibility zones or distribute the instances equally among the availibility zones. Availibility Zones inside are region are connected to each other.

Elastic Load Balancer

Elastic Load Balance or ELB, as the name indicates distributes incoming traffic among many instances in availability zone or many availibility zones. ELB also checks for unheathy instances in an availability zone and routes the incoming traffic to healthy instances. ELB supports sticky sessions and has the ability to terminate SSL at the balancer level so the application servers do not need to perform SSL decryption. When you launch an ELB in a region, make sure that it routes the traffic to the availability zones that carry instances. By default an ELB will distribute traffic among all availability zones inside a region. Be sure to select only the availablity zones that carry instances, otherwise the application will face timeouts.

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