This article starts at the very beginning of my own and personal story to the cloud and to where I am today in my career: Back in 2015, when I barely knew that something big as “AWS” existed.
Of course, being a tech nerd since I started my career, I knew what “AWS” was and that I also had glimpse at guessing its tremendous power and opportunities, but I was not aware of the details and of the possibilities I would see.
How we started
At that time me and my team had built out a lift and shift solution on EC2 instances, where our product was manually deployed on. We aimed to grow our business, but we knew that this would not be possible without automation. Our product had different automation requirements and we did automate these running the required jobs through the Windows task manager.
Now, as we decided to be able to offer our service to other and accitional customers, we needed to find additional possibilities for automation and better operational support.
The first thing that we did was to move away from manually provisioning EC2 instances towards using Cloudformation for bringing up the instances and all of the required infratructure (VPC, sub-nets, load balancers, etc.). This already helped us a lot towards being able to deliver our solution faster. But we still had these Windows tasks which needed to be set up on the different instances. And this is where we looked at additional services in AWS to be able to replace these windows tasks with other possibilities.
Adding Serverless capabilities to the mix
At that time, we looked at using AWS Lambda and Stepfunctions – where were a “brand new thing” at that time – to be able to automate and orchestrate our workflows. With StepFunctions being really new, we recorded a “This is my architecture” video at re:Invent 2018. To be honest, when we started to look at Lambda and StepFunctions, I personally was not very convinced. Coming from a Windows / Java background, moving orchestration capabilities “outside” the “server” (=EC2 instance) feeld wrong as I had not thought about orchestrated workfloads which could run across multiple infrastructure components before.
Through StepFunctions, we orchestrated retrieving data, starting a new EC2 instance, automatically installing our software on it and then running the required workfload. AWS Lambda helped us in this case to be able to start EC2 instances programatically. At the same time StepFunctions gave us the possibility to get an overview on the current status of the executions through the AWS Console. The integration with CloudWatch, which was already available at that time, allowed us to implement alarms and enabled monitoring of execution time.
During the process of testing and implementing this orchestration, we regularly hit new obstacles – e.g. a specific instance type not being available in an availability zone or a different error while reading data from S3. We often thought about giving up our approach, but moved on after seing the benefits of automation and being less dependend on a specific EC2 instance.
Orchestrating workflows using AWS StepFunctions is way easier today than at the time that I was part of this project. In 2017, there were only minimal possibilities of direct integrations with other AWS Services from AWS StepFunctions (like Lambda). Today, AWS StepFunctions offers more than 200 service integrations, “normal” workflows (which are quite expensive) and “express” workflows.
I have been using StepFunctions in different projects lately, also in my project around building my own online & mobile game using serverless technologies at pegasus-galaxy.net.
How do you orchestrate your serverless workflows?
What are your experiences with AWS Step Functions?