Installing a new SSL certificate in your ELB via CLI

For future me:

  1. Create the key and CSR:
    $ openssl req -out -new -newkey rsa:2048 -nodes -keyout
  2. Upload the CSR to your SSL vendor (in this case, DigiCert) and obtain the signed SSL certificate.
  3. Create a PEM-encoded version of the signing key. This is required for AWS/IAM certs. To check if your key is already PEM-encoded, just “head -1 site.key”. If the first line says “—–BEGIN PRIVATE KEY—–” then it’s NOT PEM-encoded. The first line should be “—–BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY—–“.
    $ openssl rsa -in -outform PEM -out
    writing RSA key
  4. Upload the certificate to the IAM keystore:
    $ aws iam upload-server-certificate --server-certificate-name star_site_20141014 --certificate-body file:///Users/evan/certs_20141014/site/certs/star_site_com.crt --private-key file:///Users/evan/certs_20141014/ --certificate-chain file:///Users/evan/certs_20141014/site/certs/DigiCertCA.crt
        "ServerCertificateMetadata": {
            "ServerCertificateId": "XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX",
            "ServerCertificateName": "star_site_20141014",
            "Expiration": "2017-12-18T12:00:00Z",
            "Path": "/",
            "Arn": "arn:aws:iam::9999999999:server-certificate/star_site_20141014",
            "UploadDate": "2014-10-14T15:29:28.164Z"

Once the above steps are complete, you can go into the web console (EC2 -> Load Balancers), select the ELB whose cert you want to change, click the “Listeners” tab, click the SSL port (443) and select the new cert from the dropdown.

The m3.medium is terrible

I’ve been doing some testing of various instance types in our staging environment, originally just to see if Amazon’s t2.* line of instances is usable in a real-world scenario. In the end, I found that not only are the t2.mediums viable for what I want them to do, but they’re far better suited than the m3.medium, which I wouldn’t use for anything that you ever expect to reach any load.

Here are the conditions for my test:

  • Rails application (unicorn) fronted by nginx.
  • The number of unicorn processes is controlled by chef, currently set to (CPU count * 2), so a 2 CPU instance has 4 unicorn workers.
  • All instances are running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (AMI ami-864d84ee for HVM, ami-018c9568 for paravirtual) with kernel 3.13.0-29-generic #53-Ubuntu SMP Wed Jun 4 21:00:20 UTC 2014 x86_64.
  • The test used to simulate 65 concurrent clients hitting the API (adding products to cart) as fast as possible for 600 seconds (10 minutes).
  • The instances were all behind an Elastic Load Balancer, which routes traffic based on its own algorithm (supposedly the instances with the lowest CPU always gets the next request).

The below charts summarize the findings.

average nginx $request_time
average nginx $request_time

This chart shows each server’s performance as reported by nginx. The values are the average time to service each request and the standard deviation. While I expected the m3.large to outperform the m3.medium, I didn’t expect the difference to be so dramatic. The performance of the t2.medium is the real surprise, however.

#	_sourcehost	_avg	_stddev
1	m3.large	6.30324	3.84421
2	m3.medium	15.88136	9.29829
3	t2.medium	4.80078	2.71403

These charts show the CPU activity for each instance during the test (data as per CopperEgg).


The m3.medium has a huge amount of CPU steal, which I’m guessing accounts for its horrible performance. Anecdotally, in my own experience m3.medium far more prone to CPU steal than other instance types. Moving from m3.medium to c3.large (essentially the same instance with 2 cpus) eliminates the CPU steal issue. However, since the t2.medium performs as well as the c3.large or m3.large and costs half of the c3.large (or nearly 1/3 of the m3.large) I’m going to try running most of my backend fleet on t2.medium.

I haven’t mentioned the credits system the t2.* instances use for burstable performance, and that’s because my tests didn’t make much of a dent in the credit balance for these instances. The load test was 100x what I expect to see in normal traffic patterns, so the t2.medium with burstable performance seems like an ideal candidate. I might add a couple c3.large to the mix as a backstop in case the credits were depleted, but I don’t think that’s a major risk – especially not in our staging environment.

Edit: I didn’t include the numbers, but the performance seemed to be the consistent whether on hvm or paravirtual instances.

Using OpenSWAN to connect two VPCs in different AWS regions

Amazon has a pretty decent writeup on how to do this (here), but in trying to establish Postgres replication across regions, I found some weird behavior where I could connect to the port directly (telnet to 5432) but psql (or pg_basebackup) didn’t work. tcpdump showed this:

16:11:28.419642 IP > Flags [P.], seq 9:234, ack 2, win 211, options [nop,nop,TS val 11065893 ecr 1811434], length 225
16:11:28.419701 IP > Flags [P.], seq 9:234, ack 2, win 211, options [nop,nop,TS val 11065893 ecr 1811434], length 225
16:11:28.421186 IP > Flags [.], ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1811520 ecr 11065893,nop,nop,sack 1 {9:234}], length 0
16:11:28.425273 IP > Flags [P.], seq 2:1377, ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1811522 ecr 11065893], length 1375
16:11:28.425291 IP > ICMP unreachable - need to frag (mtu 1422), length 556
16:11:28.697397 IP > Flags [P.], seq 2:1377, ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1811590 ecr 11065893], length 1375
16:11:28.697438 IP > ICMP unreachable - need to frag (mtu 1422), length 556
16:11:29.241311 IP > Flags [P.], seq 2:1377, ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1811726 ecr 11065893], length 1375
16:11:29.241356 IP > ICMP unreachable - need to frag (mtu 1422), length 556
16:11:30.333438 IP > Flags [P.], seq 2:1377, ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1811999 ecr 11065893], length 1375
16:11:30.333488 IP > ICMP unreachable - need to frag (mtu 1422), length 556
16:11:32.513418 IP > Flags [P.], seq 2:1377, ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1812544 ecr 11065893], length 1375
16:11:32.513467 IP > ICMP unreachable - need to frag (mtu 1422), length 556
16:11:36.881409 IP > Flags [P.], seq 2:1377, ack 234, win 219, options [nop,nop,TS val 1813636 ecr 11065893], length 1375
16:11:36.881460 IP > ICMP unreachable - need to frag (mtu 1422), length 556

After quite a bit of Google and mucking in network ACLs and security groups, the fix ended up being this:

iptables -A FORWARD -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN -j TCPMSS --clamp-mss-to-pmtu
iptables -A FORWARD -p tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN -j TCPMSS --set-mss 1500

(The above two commands need to be run on both OpenSwan boxes.)

OpenVPN CLI Cheat Sheet

Adding a regular user called testing

/usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k type -v user_connect UserPropPut

Add an autologin user called knock

/usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u knock -k prop_autologin -v true UserPropPut

Add an admin user called admin

/usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u admin -k prop_superuser -v true UserPropPut; /etc/init.d/openvpnas restart

Allow user testing to networks and via NAT

/usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k access_to.0 -v +NAT: UserPropPut; /usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k access_to.1 -v +NAT: UserPropPut; /usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli start

Allow user testing to networks and via ROUTE

/usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k access_to.0 -v +ROUTE: UserPropPut; /usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k access_to.1 -v +ROUTE: UserPropPut; /usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli start

Remove access to network entry 0 and 1 for user testing

/usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k access_to.0 UserPropDel; /usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli -u testing -k access_to.1 UserPropDel; /usr/local/openvpn_as/scripts/sacli start

Get installer with profile for user, in this case autologin

./sacli –user testing AutoGenerateOnBehalfOf
./sacli –user testing –key prop_autologin –value true UserPropPut
./sacli –itype msi –autologin -u testing -o installer_testing/ GetInstallerEx

Get separate certificate files for user, for open source applications

./sacli -o ./targetfolder –cn test Get5

Get unified (.ovpn file) for user, for Connect Client for example

./sacli -o ./targetfolder –-cn test Get1

Show all users in user database with all their properties

./confdba -u -s

Show only a specific user in user database with all properties

./confdba -u –prof testuser -s

Remove a user from the database, revoke his/her certificates, and then kick him/her off the server

./confdba -u –prof testing –rm
./sacli –user testing RevokeUser
./sacli –user testing DisconnectUser

Set a password on a user from the command line, when using LOCAL authentication mode:

./sacli –user testing –new_pass passwordgoeshere SetLocalPassword

Enable Google Authenticator for a user:

./sacli --key vpn.server.google_auth.enable --value true ConfigPut


Create CloudWatch alerts for all Elastic Load Balancers

I manage a bunch of ELBs but we were missing an alert on a pretty basic metric: how many errors the load balancer was returning.  Rather than wade through the UI to add these alerts I figured it would be easier to do it via the CLI.

Assuming aws-cli is installed and the ARN for your SNS topic (in my case, just an email alert) is $arn:

for i in `aws elb describe-load-balancers | grep LoadBalancerName | 
perl -ne 'chomp; my @a=split(/s+/); $a[2] =~ s/[",]//g ; print "$a[2] ";' ` ; 
do aws cloudwatch put-metric-alarm --alarm-name "$i ELB 5XX Errors" --alarm-description 
"High $i ELB 5XX error count" --metric-name HTTPCode_ELB_5XX --namespace AWS/ELB 
--statistic Sum --period 300 --evaluation-periods 1 --threshold 50 
--comparison-operator GreaterThanThreshold --dimensions Name=LoadBalancerName,Value=$i 
--alarm-actions $arn --ok-actions $arn ; done

That huge one-liner creates a CloudWatch notification that sends an alarm when the number of 5XX errors returned by the ELB is greater than 50 over 5 minutes, and sends an “ok” message via the same SNS topic. The for loop creates/modifies the alarm for every ELB.

More info on put-metric-alarm available in the AWS docs.

Setting hostname in an EC2 instance from the name tag

# pip install awscli
# HOSTNAME=`aws ec2 describe-tags --region us-east-1 --filters Name=resource-id,Values=`curl 2> /dev/null` Name=key,Values=Name --output text --query 'Tags[*].Value'`
# hostname $HOSTNAME
# hostname > /etc/hostname

Goodbye, pg_dump

I’ve been a Postgres user and administrator for a while. Over the years, my views on backups have evolved.

Originally, like most people, I started out with good old pg_dump. With a reasonably small database (under 50 GB) dumping to a flat text file is a fine option. I’d generally do something like pg_dump -Upostgres dbname | gzip > dbname.sql.gz to compress it on the fly and save space. For years this seemed perfect: dumping the entire database in a single transaction into a single file that can be restored anywhere.

But as my databases started growing larger and larger, the time it took to do a pg_dump grew as well. At a previous job, the database grew to nearly 2TB and the pg_dump took nearly 18 hours. We’d by that point already changed the pg_dump schedule from daily to weekly and then to three times a month and then finally to semi-monthly. Not only was it slow, but since it operated in a single transaction it wreaked havoc with normal database operation for queries that needed locks on tables locked by the dump.

When we moved the database from a physical RAID to a volume on our SAN, that gave us the opportunity to use LUN snapshotting rather than pg_dump (I just remembered I already wrote about that here). This let us move to a monthly pg_dump and more frequent snapshot-level backups that took up very little space. This was ideal on Compellent since the snapshots would auto-expire after however long you specified.

When I started at Yodle we were doing nightly pg_dumps and pretty soon we ran into the same problems I’d seen at Didit with the dump itself interfering with normal DB operation – the dump would start at midnight and run until 7-8 AM when I started, and after a few months it would still be running at noon. We discussed moving to wal archiving and making a basebackup to NFS but that would require a pretty massive amount of space, and as anybody who uses “enterprise storage” knows, that’s not something you want to do. We discussed building a whitebox file server for backups but nobody was really in love with that option – we’re trying to reduce the reliance on physical machines as much as possible. We talked about pushing it all to S3 but that seemed rather difficult.

When I attended NYC PgDay earlier this year, there was lots of discussion about WAL-E. I hadn’t ever head of WAL-E so I looked it up and was impressed. Basically, WAL-E handles archiving of wal to S3, but first compresses and pgp-encrypts it. It also handles pushing the basebackup to S3, also compressed and pgp-encrypted. This was just what we were looking for. We set it up and, amazingly, it worked perfectly. After a few weeks (and confirming we can restore from the wal-e backups) we moved our pg_dump to weekly, on the weekend when it doesn’t interfere with any user processes. We do a wal-e basebackup every 3-4 days or so and retain 3 of them. We retain all the wal so we can restore the DB to any point within the last ~10 days if needed. The best part is it’s faster than pg_dump, and since the basebackup doesn’t operate in a transaction (it’s a filesystem-level backup rather than an application-level backup) it doesn’t mess with user queries. There’s of course elevated IO during this time but our SAN has more than enough bandwidth.

We setup some basic monitoring of S3 (check the age of the most recent WAL and log it in Zabbix) just to ensure the backups are actually happening, and we’re at the point where we’re discussing moving pg_dump to monthly, or simply not doing it at all. Overall, wal-e has been a huge win for us, enabling better, faster backups that don’t interfere with the DB itself, and, while not free, aren’t ridiculously expensive. And since it’s in its own S3 bucket, you can tweak the bucket settings (e.g. enable RRS) to save money, and Amazon tells you exactly how much your backups cost you.

Load balancing in EC2 with Nginx and HAProxy

We wanted to setup a loadbalanced web cluster in AWS for expansion. My first inclination was to use ELB for this, but I soon learned that ELB doesn’t let you allocate a static IP, requiring you to refer to it only by DNS name. This would be OK except for the fact that our current DNS provider, Dyn, requires IP addresses when using their GSLB (geo-based load balancer) service.

Rather than let this derail the whole project, I decided to look into the software options available for loadbalancing in EC2. I’ve been a fan of hardware load balancers for a while, sort of looking down at software-based solutions without any real rationale, but in this case I really had no choice so I figured I’d give it a try.

My first stop was Nginx. I’ve used it before in a reverse-proxy scenario and like it. The problem I had with it was that it doesn’t support active polling of nodes – the ability to send requests to the webserver and mark the node as up or down based on the response. As far as I can tell, using multiple upstream servers in Nginx allows you to specify max_fails and fail_timeout, however a “fail” is determined when a real request comes in. I don’t want to risk losing a real request – I like active polling.
Continue reading “Load balancing in EC2 with Nginx and HAProxy”

Integrating Amazon Simple Email Service with postfix for SMTP smarthost relaying.

So, we’ve outgrown the 500 outbound messages/day limit imposed by Google Apps’s Standard tier. A wise friend suggested SendGrid, but I figured it was worth looking into what options Amazon provides. I found SES and am in the process of setting it up. Hopefully I can set it up as a drop-in replacement, obviating the need for code changes to use it. SES is attractive for us because:

Free Tier
If you are an Amazon EC2 user, you can get started with Amazon SES for free. You can send 2,000 messages for free each day when you call Amazon SES from an Amazon EC2 instance directly or through AWS Elastic Beanstalk. Many applications are able to operate entirely within this free tier limit.

Note: Data transfer fees still apply. For new AWS customers eligible for the AWS free usage tier, you receive 15 GB of data transfer in and 15 GB of data transfer out aggregated across all AWS services, which should cover your Amazon SES data transfer costs. In addition, all AWS customers receive 1GB of free data transfer per month.

Free to try? Sounds good.

After signing up, the first thing I did was download the Perl scripts. Create a credentials file with your AWS access key ID and Secret Key (credentials can be found here when logged in). The credentials file (aws-credentials) should look like this:


Make sure to chmod 0600 aws-credentials. To ensure it’s working, run:

$ ./ -k aws-credentials -s

If it doesn’t return anything it should be working correctly.

Next, you need to add at least one verified email address:

$ ./ -k aws-credentials --verbose -v

Amazon will send a verification message to with a link you need to click to verify the address. Once you click, it’s verified. It’s important to note that initially your account will only be able to send email to verified addresses. According to this thread, you need to submit a production access request to send to unverified To: addresses. I did this and got my “approval” email about 30 minutes later.

To send a test email:

$ ./ --verbose -k aws-credentials -s "Test from SES" -f
This is a test message from SES.

(Press ctrl-D to send.)

The next step is integrating the script with sendmail/postfix. The first thing I did was move my scripts to /opt/ (out of /root/) and attempt to run them with absolute pathnames (rather than ./ and I got perl @INC errors:

[root@web2 ~]$ mv amazon-email/ /opt/
[root@web2 ~]$ /opt/ -k aws-credentials -s
-bash: /opt/ No such file or directory
[root@web2 ~]$ /opt/amazon-email/ -k aws-credentials -s
Can't locate in @INC (@INC contains: /usr/lib64/perl5/site_perl/5.8.8/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib64/perl5/site_perl/5.8.7/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib64/perl5/site_perl/5.8.6/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib64/perl5/site_perl/5.8.5/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.8 /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.7 /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.6 /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.8.5 /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl /usr/lib64/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.8/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib64/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.7/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib64/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.6/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib64/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.5/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.8 /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.7 /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.6 /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl/5.8.5 /usr/lib/perl5/vendor_perl /usr/lib64/perl5/5.8.8/x86_64-linux-thread-multi /usr/lib/perl5/5.8.8 .) at /opt/amazon-email/ line 23.
BEGIN failed--compilation aborted at /opt/amazon-email/ line 23.

The problem is that isn’t in perl’s include path. To solve this, I tried adding the directory to the PERL5LIB environment var:

[root@web2 amazon-email]$ PERL5LIB=/opt/amazon-email/
[root@web2 amazon-email]$ echo $PERL5LIB
[root@web2 amazon-email]$ cd
[root@web2 ~]$ export PERL5LIB
[root@web2 ~]$ /opt/amazon-email/ -k aws-credentials -s
Cannot open credentials file . at /opt/amazon-email// line 54.
[root@web2 ~]$ /opt/amazon-email/ -k /opt/amazon-email/aws-credentials -s
Timestamp               DeliveryAttempts        Rejects Bounces Complaints
2011-04-27T20:27:00Z    1                       0       0       0
[root@web2 ~]$

This worked for setting all users’ PERL5LIB … but didn’t allow postfix to send the message. After a couple more attempts at doing this “the right way,” I just ended up dropping a symlink to in /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl and the @INC error went away.

After following Amazon’s instructions for editing and, I still was unable to send mail through Postfix, even though I could send directly through the perl scripts. I kept getting this error:

Apr 28 11:26:32 web2 postfix/pipe[27226]: A2AD33C9A6: to=, relay=aws-email, delay=0.35, delays=0.01/0/0/0.34, dsn=5.3.0, status=bounced (Command died with status 1: "/opt/amazon-email/". Command output: Missing final '@domain' )

Google led me to this blog post which led me to this other blog post which illuminated the problem: apparently the Postfix pipe macro ${sender} uses the user@hostname of the mail sender. Since the hostname of an EC2 machine is usually something crazy like dom11-22-33-44.internal, this is not likely a validated sending email address. So the solution proposed by Ben Simon was to create a regex to map user@internal to and have postfix map everything. This didn’t work for me or the guys, who changed it to map from user@internal to I found that you can eliminate the need for the mapping entirely by changing the entry to this:

  flags=R user=mailuser argv=/opt/amazon-email/ -r -k /opt/amazon-email/aws-credentials -e -f ${recipient}

The only difference between the above line and Amazon’s suggestion is that this replaces “-f ${sender}” with “” which is a validated email address.

After this I was able to relay email successfully through SES. Whew!

Update 5/26/2011: We’ve been relaying through SES without issues for a few weeks now. I recently ran to see how many messages we’re actually sending and it’s a lot lower than expected. I’m still glad we moved to SES though, since it has no hard cap like Google Apps does:

$ /opt/amazon-email/ -k /opt/amazon-email/aws-credentials -q
SentLast24Hours Max24HourSend   MaxSendRate
317             10000           5

Amazon EC2 – ext3 mkfs takes 30+ minutes?

I’ve been playing around with Amazon EC2 for a new project I’m working on and so far I’m really impressed. One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that it takes forever to create an ext3 filesystem on a new volume. For example, the below command took over 30 minutes to create the filesystem on a 300 GB volume:

# mke2fs -j -m0 /dev/sdf1
mke2fs 1.40.4 (31-Dec-2007)
Filesystem label=
OS type: Linux
Block size=4096 (log=2)
Fragment size=4096 (log=2)
39321600 inodes, 78642183 blocks
0 blocks (0.00%) reserved for the super user
First data block=0
Maximum filesystem blocks=4294967296
2400 block groups
32768 blocks per group, 32768 fragments per group
16384 inodes per group
Superblock backups stored on blocks:
32768, 98304, 163840, 229376, 294912, 819200, 884736, 1605632, 2654208,
4096000, 7962624, 11239424, 20480000, 23887872, 71663616

Writing inode tables: done
Creating journal (32768 blocks): done
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done

This filesystem will be automatically checked every 38 mounts or
180 days, whichever comes first. Use tune2fs -c or -i to override.

It took about 30 seconds do do everything up to the writing of the superblocks. Not sure why this takes so long, but it’s happened for every EBS volume I’ve formatted ext3. Annoying. Initially I thought it was hanging, and ended up terminating an instance that wouldn’t shutdown or let me cancel the operation. The terminated instance is still being displayed in the UI with a status of “terminated” and I can’t find any way to remove it from the list.