Why I Use AWS EC2 Reserved Instances

by Jeff Loughridge

Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2 reserved instances provide a simple-to-use method for reducing AWS costs for small business like mine. When my free tier expired last year, I’d heard of reserved instances but didn’t recognize how the how simple it is to save money using them rather than on-demand instances.

We’re been told that EC2 instances are not servers. I agree completely. People who use EC2 instances as simple VPS-like servers are using a fraction of AWS’ capabilities. You can find very inexpensive VPSs from Joe’s Datacenter (btw, kudos to Joe’s for native IPv6). If you are not technically inclined, you’ll find VM with cpanel already pre-installed much easier to use than AWS EC2. I choose AWS because I wanted experience with the API and other AWS services.

If you run your company’s web page on EC2, the instance will be running 24×365. You can commit to a certain number of hours using reserved instances. AWS charges an upfront fee in addition to reduced hourly fees.

Let’s look at an example. You decide on a micro instance for a lightly utilized web server (I recommend you test your load on a micro instance before buying reserved instances. Some people are unhappy with the performance.). We’ll use a Linux instance in the Northern Virginia region.

All prices listed from 3/30/2013 in USD.

The cost for an on-demand Linux instance is $0.02/hour, or about $175/year.

The cost for a reserved Linux instance (light utilization) has an upfront cost of $23. The hourly pricing is $0.012/hour, or about $105/year. Add in the $23 upfront fee for a total of $128/year.

27% savings isn’t bad at all.  Increasing the commitment or selecting a bigger instance increases the discount. AWS claims on its web site that the savings can be up to 65%. In absolute terms, this is chump change for a person serious about running a business. Even so, I think awareness of the savings with reserved instances is good to know if you are setting up instances for friends, family members, and charities.

Check out AWS’s reserved instance page for additional information.


Cloud Panic – A Cautionary Tale

by Jeff Loughridge

For almost an hour yesterday, I thought my AWS instance that hosts my company website was irrecoverable. Randy Bias suggested that virtual servers should be like cattle- when they get sick, you shoot them. My instance was sick, but I needed it to return to health to avoid a significant time rebuilding the server.

The AWS team has done an amazing job engineering the platform; however, as with all systems, failures happen. While I was testing a php script, I lost connectivity to my website. Shortly after, my ssh session disconnected. The AWS management console showed that my instance was stuck at 100% CPU utilization.

I tried to stop the instance. The instance got stuck in stopping state. Apparently this is a common problem, as a question on EBS-backed instances getting stuck in stopping state has made its way into the AWS EC2 FAQ. The company points to an issue with underlying host when this occurs.

Getting my website back online should have been as a simple as a few clicks. This is the cloud, right?

Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to be the case for me. Although I regularly backed up critical directories on the server, I hadn’t taken a snapshot in almost six months. Not good!

I wanted to try stopping the instance using the EC2 command line tools…but I had deleted the virtual machine on my laptop that had the tools installed. I quickly fired up an instance of the AWS Linux AMI because this AMI has the tools pre-installed.

While I was uploading my certificate and private key to the new instance, my instance escaped the stopping state purgatory. I restarted it, and my site was restored.

I have advice for wannabe sysadmins like me who host their company websites on AWS.

  1. Do a gut check. If downtime for your site results in revenue loss, consider outsourcing to a professional.
  2. Install EC2 tools on a server that you can access in case of emergency. Set up the certificate and private key in advance and verify that it works periodically.
  3. Take snapshots prior to major changes on the server and practice restoring your instance from a snapshot.
  4. Learn mysql basics. You should know how to backup and restore your database from the command line.

I got lucky that my instance recovered. Take steps to ensure that you don’t have to rely on luck to save your behind.

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A Press Release is Not an IPv6 Network Strategy

by Jeff Loughridge

A strategy for enabling your network for IPv6 requires significant planning. The planned future state must be an IPv6-only network rather than dual stack. How do you get from an IPv4-only network to there? I’ll cover some broad themes, as the details are too many for a single post. I’ll also share my thoughts on what an IPv6 strategy is not.

Take the hypothetical conversation between two network engineer colleagues.

Engineer 1: What’s our strategy for IPv6?

Engineer 2: We posted a press release. Check it out on our media relations page.

Engineer 1: <Reads press release> Hmm. OK. I see that we’re going to provide our customers access the IPv6 Internet by end-of-year 2013. How are we going to do that?

Engineer 2: You know…I’m not sure who’s working on that.

A press release–or any other high-level assertions about IPv6 enablement– is not an IPv6 strategy. It a goal and only that. You can’t roll out a scalable, production-quality service without focusing on crucial aspects of the deployment. Some examples follow.

  • IPv6 addressing schemes
  • Address assignment mechanisms
  • Internal and 3rd party applications/services
  • Security
  • IP infrastructure tools and systems
  • Transition technologies
  • Remote access
  • End system and network IPv4/IPv6 protocol interaction
  • Routing protocol selection

The carriers write detailed network design documents for new services and infrastructure components. The design document is shared with all stakeholders and revised based on feedback. This practice should be adopted by enterprises and other entities that operate large IP networks. There is necessary complexity in IP networks that can’t be informally passed along in organizational memory. Experience tells us that writing documentation is time-consuming and that engineers don’t like doing it. I believe a formalized design document is an absolute requirement for network changes on the scale of IPv6 introduction.

If the IPv6 design document is thorough and communicated throughout the organization, you’ll be positioned to avoid issues such as a department continuing to invest in IPv4-only hosts, applications, and network infrastructure. The lack of last-minute surprises helps you meet your IPv6 goals and breaks your dependence on the rapidly depleting IPv4 space.

Get those IPv6 design documents written. When you have an actionable plan, then you can issue the press release.

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Layer 2 Oriented Designs Fail at Internet Scale

by Jeff Loughridge

This post’s title summarizes a tenet of designing large IP networks. Layer 3 networks have numerous advantages in efficient use of available paths, troubleshooting (think visibility), and fault domain containment to name a few.

The tech industry’s market leaders offer evidence of Layer 3’s superior scaling properties. The world’s largest ISPs use Layer 3 oriented designs as do content providers Google and Facebook. Amazon’s AWS, the undisputed leader of public cloud providers, is built on Layer 3. Wonder why you can’t get broadcast or multicast in your EC2 instance? Now you know.

Layer 2 still has too much focus in the network designs of several segments of the industry. The mobile broadband providers–with their history of walled-garden environments–will need to re-architect their networks on a Layer 3 foundation. Keeping up with the massive influx of bandwidth (at ~$50 USD/month per subscriber!) forces this change. These Layer 2 relics contribute negatively to the cost per bit and customer satisfaction.

Layer 2 oriented designs are also dominant in corporate data centers and corporate networks in general. I’ve probably heard every reason why the Layer 2 focus is necessary. I’d argue that over 90 percent of Layer 2 requirements stem from old assumptions about building corporate IT infrastructure. Of course, overhauling these networks is non-trivial, and I don’t underestimate the massive effort required. But it can be done. An excellent 2008 Network World article called The Google-ization of Bechtel describes Bechtel’s IT revamp. If Bechtel can fundamentally change its IT architecture, why can’t your organization?

Before investing in hacks to make Layer 2 scale, consider how a Layer 3 oriented design can reduce outages, simplify new service introduction, and scale existing services to meet business needs.

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IPv6 – Just 96 More Bits?

by Jeff Loughridge

My favorite professor in college joked that the answer to most questions in computer science is, “It depends.” How true. I’ve found few absolutes in my years working on IP networks. If you compare IPv6 (128 bit address space) with IPv4 (32 bit address space), is IPv6 just 96 more bits?

IPv6–with its long hexadecimal addresses–can be intimidating for engineers who have built a career on IPv4 networking. I recall my hesitation to get involved in turning up customer tunnels to Sprint’s IPv6 overlay network in the early 2000s. I felt that I could fix any problem thrown my way on IPv4. Why invest time to learn IPv6 when its adoption was so limited? Clearly, my sentiment my short-sighted, and I corrected my thinking.

I take the reassuring approach in talking to engineers who are new to IPv6. Gaurab Upadhaya of Limelight Networks put it well: only 96 more bits, no magic. After engineers understand IPv6 basics such as addressing, SLAAC, and neighbor discovery, they’ll begin to understand that the simple, connectionless packet service provided by IP is the same for both versions. Routing is routing (albeit with OSPFv3 for IPv6). The best practices for building scalable IPv4 networks carry over to IPv6 largely intact.

I tend to emphasize the differences between IPv4 and IPv6 in talking about network strategy, design (including migration and transition mechanisms), security, and business continuity. In these areas, the protocol deviations drive the discussion. Let’s take security.  IPv6 implementation introduces new attack vectors. Neighbor Discovery and Router Advertisements, not present in IPv4, can be   subject to denial of service and spoofing. Also, there is new way for malcontents to communicate with your infrastructure. Does your security policy align for IPv4/IPv6 and does it account for IPv6-specific security issues?

IPv4 exhaustion is imminent; engineers and IT leaders will be forced to make critical decision about IPv6 in 2012. Their discussions will likely include aspects of both IPv4/IPv6 similarities and differences.  As long as organizations are having these talks with the intent to act in the near term, they are better off than they would be by ignoring IPv6.

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A Milestone for my Business

by Jeff Loughridge

January 2012 marks the three-year anniversary of striking out on my own under the Brooks Consulting moniker. I’ve had a blast providing services to companies such as Clearwire, T-Mobile, Alcatel-Lucent, and Cisco. I’m excited to be working on IPv6, LTE, cloud to corporate network integration, and other fascinating aspects of our industry.

That’s enough on me.

This post is about thanking my professional and social network for advice, feedback, referrals, and business. I am thankful to have met so many people during my ten years at Sprint and my time working independently who have been gracious with their time. Although I have a small budget for online advertising, my engagements will almost always stem from personal/business ties. I hope to continue to finding ways to give back to my network. I will be in the 51% of businesses that survive the first five years, and I am confident that I’ll have many more people to thank in 2014.


The AWS VPC and the Network Engineer

by Jeff Loughridge

Amazon AWS is doing amazing things with its IaaS platform. As a networking guy, I find the networking features very impressive. AWS made a wise choice in using Layer 3 as the networking foundation. I suppose AWS engineers recognize what should be a widely held belief in networking–Layer 2 does not scale. The connection of the VPC to corporate data centers presents a compelling value proposition for customer interested in offloading work to the cloud. What I want to focus on in this post is how the integration of cloud and corporate network affects the network engineer.

I design IP networks for my clients. I know my way around basic Linux system administration and can probably figure most things out with patience and Google. I respect talented sys admins who understand the service that the IP network provides to their systems and can communicate simple network conditions (e.g., “I can’t ping the default gateway”). Who will be integrating the VPC and the corporate network? Clearly, both network engineers and sys admins will be involved. You wouldn’t want a sys admin making critical IP design decisions any more than you’d want me standing up a hadoop cluster.

Network engineers will have to adapt their thinking to the virtualized environment. This is a new way of thinking about moving packets. Networking components in the physical world are about as un-elastic resources as possible. I would argue more so than servers. Getting to a point in which network engineers can grasp the flexibility in VPC is going to require investment on their part in learning–the same way learning IS-IS would for an engineer who knows OSPF.

Educating network engineers in VPC networks is in Amazon’s best interests. It’s going to be guys like me who will get calls from potential clients wanting to tie their VPC into their network. The existing documentation does little to further that goal. I had to reach the VPC guide several times before obtaining a degree of comfort. Elastic Network Interfaces? Implied routers? Subnet routing tables? These concepts are not intuitive for network engineers.

Here’s how I recommend that Amazon could educate my networking brethren.

  1. Write a guide on the VPC intended for network engineers. Think about how Juniper write JUNOS documentation for engineers with an Cisco background. This is a very effective way to quickly get smart folks up-to-speed.
  2. Document use cases & recommended architectures for VPC that involve VPC to VPC and VPC to data center connectivity. Cisco excels in this area with its Cisco Validated Designs. Mimic their approach. Today, the documentation is limited to connecting a VPC gateway to a router with IPsec. This barely scratches the surface of how customers will use the networking capabilities of the VPC.
  3. Create online training that steps through the configuration of a VPC. Adding a hands-on component with “actual” VPCs shouldn’t be that difficult for a company that does virtualization at a massive scale.
  4. Talk to internal and external networking savvy engineers. I’ve met some sharp engineers who work on Amazon’s backbone. By engaging them and engineers outside of Amazon, the company could gain valuable insight on networking.

Migrating to the VPC should be as frictionless as possible for businesses. The accelerated set-up of a stable and scalable VPC will translate into more revenue for Amazon.


Adventures in AWS, DNS, and IPv6

by Jeff Loughridge

This post describes how I used AWS Elastic Load Balancers and Route 53 to enable IPv6 connectivity to the zone apex of my company’s domain.

Recently I moved my company’s page to Amazon’s AWS. I needed IPv6 support, and the hosting company I was using kept promising IPv6 in 2 to 3 months but never delivered. I used the process I outlined in a previous post to make my site reachable via IPv6 using Elastic Load Balancers. I recommend reading that post before continuing if you don’t know how to do this.

In implementing IPv6 connectivity for my site, I stumbled on a problem that I had not considered. The URL for my company is http://brooksconsulting-llc.com. The URL is already long; I don’t want to put http://www.brooksconsulting-llc.com on company material, email signature, and business card. The “naked” domain, meaning the top of the zone, is called the zone apex. Per RFC 1034, CNAMEs cannot co-exist with required NS and SOA records. The IPv6 hack using AWS Elastic Load Balancers needs a CNAME. Fortunately, AWS does some proprietary magic and accommodates CNAMEs at the zone apex (see announcement here).

You must use AWS’s Route 53 tool for your zone. This wasn’t a problem for me. I prefer Route 53’s zone management GUI over GoDaddy’s. I realized that the Route 53 GUI appears not to support AWS’s on-the-fly conversion from CNAME to A/AAAA record. I had to use the CLI tools to add the records. I used the elb-associate-route53-hosted-zone command twice–once with the –rr-type A (the default) and once with the –rr-type AAAA flag–to add the entry. For more information, check out this section of the Elastic Load Balancing Developer Guide.

I posted a question to ServerFault to see if there was a way to perform the association in the Route 53 GUI. Jesper Mortensen provided a very helpful response. He believes the association can’t be made in the GUI.

Does all of this sound daunting? Well, I probably took a more difficult path than necessary. I’ve read that DNS30 has a GUI to manage Route 53 that includes a method to instruct Route 53 to do the CNAME to A/AAAA record conversion. You may want to take this approach, especially if you don’t already have the EC2 and Load Balancing API tools installed on your system.

In responding to my question at ServerFault, Jesper pointed out that there is an effort underway to standardize the use of CNAMEs at the zone apex. The Internet Draft is here.


UPDATE (1/5/2012) – A friendly engineer from the AWS Route 53 team contacted me and provided instructions for creating alias resource record sets in the Route 53 console. I confirmed that these work.

Here are the steps.

1. click create record set
2. for zone apex record just leave the name field blank
3. select the type of alias you want to make A or AAAA (all steps after this are the same for both types)
4. Select the yes radio button.
5. Open the EC2 console in another tab and navigate to the list of your load balancers.
6. Click on the load balancer and look at the description tab in the pane below the list. Sample output below

DNS Name:
new-balancer-751654286.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com (A Record)
ipv6.new-balancer-751654286.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com (AAAA Record)
dualstack.new-balancer-751654286.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com (A or AAAA Record)

Note: Because the set of IP addresses associated with a LoadBalancer can change over time,
you should never create an “A” record with any specific IP address. If you want to use a friendly
DNS name for your LoadBalancer instead of the name generated by the Elastic Load Balancing
service, you should create a CNAME record for the LoadBalancer DNS name, or use Amazon Route 53
to create a hosted zone. For more information, see the Using Domain Names With Elastic Load Balancing

Status: 0 of 0 instances in service

Port Configuration: 80 (HTTP) forwarding to 80 (HTTP)

Stickiness: Disabled(edit)

Availability Zones:

Source Security Group:

Owner Alias: amazon-elb

Hosted Zone ID:

7. Now copy the Hosted zone ID in the above case ‘ Z3DZXD0Q79N41H’ and paste it into the field labeled ‘Alias Hosted Zone ID:’
8. Now copy the DNS Name in the above case ‘ new-balancer-751654286.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com‘ and paste into the field ‘ Alias DNS Name:’
-Just an FYI this DNS name is the same for both A and AAAA alias records. (do not use ‘ ipv6.new-balancer-751654286.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com‘)
9. Click create record set or at this time you can select yes to weight the record and provide a weight between 0-255 and a setID such as ‘my load balancer’

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The Case for IP Backhaul in Cisco’s IP Journal

by Jeff Loughridge

Carrier Ethernet is an interim step toward true IP-centricity in mobile networks. Along with the IP-enablement of alternative access vendor (AAV) networks, some architectural changes are needed in the mobile core and RAN. These opinions are the crux of my “The Case for IP Backhaul” article in Cisco’s IP Journal.

Check it out at http://www.cisco.com/web/about/ac123/ac147/archived_issues/ipj_14-3/ipj_14-3.pdf.


How to Share Content over IPv6 with AWS EC2

by Jeff Loughridge

Although EC2 instances are not IPv6-capable as of this writing, Amazon has implemented IPv6 for its US East (Northern Virginia) and EU (Ireland) Elastic Load Balancers. I’ll demonstrate how to make IPv6 content available using EC2 and the load balancers. Please note that Amazon is currently offering new customers EC2 micro instances at no charge if you remain under certain thresholds.

Instance Set-up

  1. Install a Linux-based Amazon Machine Instance. If you want to follow along with this tutorial, use a Ubuntu 10.04 LTS instance that Canonical uploaded to the Community AMIs (AMI ID ami-63be790a). Use US East or EU (Ireland) servers. If this is your first time setting up an instance, I recommend viewing Greg Wilson’s tutorial on Youtube.
  2. Log in using the “ubuntu” user name. Use the ssh private key as described in the video.
  3. Install the packages required for a LAMP server. A simple way to do this is to “sudo tasksel --section server”. Select “LAMP server” in the graphical installer. Strangely, the LAMP selection does not install PHP. I did this manually with “sudo apt-get install php5-cli”.

Load Balancer Set-up

  1. Click on “Load Balancer” in the “Network & Security” left panel of the AWS Console. Click the “Create Load Balancer” button.
  2. Give your load balancer a name. I used the default HTTP entry. For the health check, I used the default settings.
  3. Add your instance to the load balancer.
  4. Now that the load balancer is created, place a check next to its entry so that detailed information appears in the bottom panel.
  5. Write down your IPv4, IPv6, and dual stack DNS names.
  6. Click on the Instances tab in the bottom panel. Make sure the instance’s status indicates “In Service”. Note:  I’ve noticed that the time required for the health check to add the instance into service can be 20 – 45 minutes.

Testing DNS and Load Balancer

  1. Use dig or nslookup to verify that you get A (IPv4) and AAAA (IPv6) records. This verification step is primarily for your information.
  2. ubuntu@ip-10-244-171-28:~$ nslookup
    > Jeff-LB-Test-1796974432.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com
    Non-authoritative answer:
    Name: Jeff-LB-Test-1796974432.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com
    > set type=AAAA
    > ipv6.Jeff-LB-Test-1796974432.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com
    Non-authoritative answer:
    ipv6.Jeff-LB-Test-1796974432.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com has AAAA address 2406:da00:ff00::3213:dcb8
    Authoritative answers can be found from:
    > dualstack.Jeff-LB-Test-1796974432.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com
    Non-authoritative answer:
    dualstack.Jeff-LB-Test-1796974432.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com has AAAA address 2406:da00:ff00::3213:dcb8
    Authoritative answers can be found from:

  3. Create a script called test.php with the following text.
    $headers = apache_request_headers();
    $ip = $headers["X-Forwarded-For"];
    if($ip) {
      print "X-Forwarded-For header is $ip";
    else {
      $ip =  getenv('REMOTE_ADDR');
      print "IP is $ip";

    Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancers will set the X-Forwarded-For header to the IPv6 source address. If the connection is made via IPv4, the X-Forwarded-For variable is undefined. Put this script in /var/www.

  4. Using your web browser, access http://yourIPv4DNS/test.php, http://yourIPv6DNS/test.php, and http://yourDualstackDNS/test.php. Assuming you are accessing from a dual stack IPv4/IPv6 end host that prefers IPv6, you will see an IPv4 address, an IPv6 address, and an IPv6 address respectively.


Congratulations! Your content is now available over IPv6. Now you can set the CNAME record for your domain to the dual stack DNS name so that users can type in your domain and reach your site via IPv4 or IPv6. For more information on how to use CNAME’s with Amazon EC2, see Using Domain Names with Elastic Load Balancing.

I hope this post encourages people to make content available over IPv6. The days of assuming all end hosts are reachable via IPv4 are over. Amazon’s EC2 and Elastic Load Balancers make transitioning content to IPv6 simple.