The Quest for Cloud Compliance - Challenges and Available Tools

22.09.2017
Guido Lena Cota

In the last decade, cloud computing has emerged as the dominant solution for delivering reliable, scalable, and cost-effective IT infrastructures to enterprises. Here at kreuzwerker, we can share many success stories of how we helped our customers to boost productivity and performance of their businesses by migrating their IT systems to the cloud. Among the pioneers of the cloud revolution, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is today the de-facto leader in the cloud computing market. Crucial to the success of AWS is the range and quality of the services provided, its 'pay-as-you-go' pricing model, and by far the simplest and most user-friendly UI for DevOps. Thanks to these features, building complex cloud infrastructures using AWS can be done in a breeze, making the creation and modification of web resources stunningly easy. Perhaps, a little too easy, given the challenges and costs of maintaining a growing number of resources healthy and compliant. Our daily experience at kreuzwerker reminds us how complicated this issue can get, and yet how often it is overlooked. This is especially true for mid-large enterprises, in which the vast number of applications deployed over multiple AWS accounts and operated by different teams can make cloud governance maddening, to say the least.

AWS Config: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Knowing the importance of maintaining a fully functional and compliant cloud infrastructure, three years ago AWS released AWS Config, its solution for cloud governance. AWS Config includes an automatic resource compliance checker, which makes it easy to define the desired compliance policies as a collection of Config Rules. For example, a Config Rule may require that all Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances must be tagged with an "AdminMail", or that no Security Groups within a given Virtual Private Cloud allows unrestricted ingress access to the SSH protocol. If, during its life cycle, an AWS resource fails to satisfy any of the defined Config Rules, then AWS Config flags the resource as non-compliant, and a notification to some designated recipients can be sent right away.

AWS Config comes with a set of predefined Config Rules. These include common compliance checks, such as checking whether an AWS resource (e.g., an EC2 instance) has a given tag (e.g., "AdminMail"). In addition to predefined rules, which are limited in number and allow only minimal customisation, AWS Config supports the definition of custom rules. Note that the logic to evaluate the compliance of an AWS resource against a custom Config Rule must be provided as an Amazon Lambda function.

All in all, when it comes to cloud governance, AWS Config can be a great help. Nevertheless, there are some unattractive aspects and limitations that we would like to comment on.

The Case for a new Cloud Governance Tool

What we hope emerges from our discussion is the need for a flexible and unifying tool for designing, evaluating, and enforcing compliance rules on AWS cloud infrastructures. Driven by this need, and building on the many lessons learned from our customers and partners, we at kreuzwerker felt it was the time to develop our own solution. But this shall be the subject of our next post ; ) Stay tuned!

PS. have you already registered to the DevOpsDays Berlin 2017? We can't wait to meet you there to discuss this and other exciting topics!

Image credits for the cover image go to movietimes.com

Guido Lena Cota

As a seasoned Computer Science researcher, Guido has spent the last five years contributing his broad knowledge to this field throughout Europe. He has worked not only in Italy (University of Milan), but also in France (INSA de Lyon), and Germany (Universität Passau).

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