This post is courtesy of Roberto Iturralde, Solutions Architect.
Today’s modern architectures are increasingly microservices-based, with separate engineering teams working independently on services with their own feature requirements and deployment pipelines. The benefits of this approach include increased agility and release velocity.
Microservice architectures also come with some challenges, particularly when they make up parts of a public service or API. These include enforcing engineering and security standards and collating application logs and metrics for a cross-service operational view.
It’s also important to have the microservices feel like a cohesive product to external customers, for authentication and metering in particular:
- The engineering teams want autonomy.
- The security team wants a cross-service view and to make it easy for the teams to adhere to the organization’s guidelines.
- Customers want to feel like they’re using a unified product.
The AWS toolbox
AWS offers many services that you can weave together to meet these needs.
Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service for deploying and managing a unified front door to your applications. It has features for routing your domain’s traffic to different backing microservices, enforcing consistent authentication and authorization with fine-grained permissions across them, and implementing consistent API throttling and usage metering. The microservice that backs a given API can live in another AWS account. You don’t have to expose it to the internet.
Amazon Cognito is a user management service with rich support for authentication and authorization of users. You can manage those users within Amazon Cognito or from other federated IdPs. Amazon Cognito can vend JSON Web Tokens and integrates natively with API Gateway to support OAuth scopes for fine-grained API access.
Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and management service that collects and visualizes data across AWS services. CloudWatch dashboards are customizable home pages that can contain graphs showing metrics and alarms. You can customize these to represent a specific microservice, a collection of microservices that comprise a product, or any other meaningful view with fine-grained access control to the dashboard.
AWS X-Ray is an analysis and debugging tool designed for distributed applications. It has tools to help gain insight into the performance of your microservices, and the APIs that front them, to measure and debug any potential customer impact.
AWS Service Catalog allows the central management and self-service creation of AWS resources that meet your organization’s guidelines and best practices. You can require separate permissions for managing catalog entries from deploying catalog entries, allowing a central team to define and publish templates for resources across the company.
There are many options for how you can combine these AWS services to meet your requirements. Your decisions may also depend on your expertise with AWS. The following features are common to all the designs below:
- Amazon Route 53 has registered custom domains and hosts their DNS. You could also use an external registrar and DNS service.
- AWS Certificate Manager (ACM) manages Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificates for the custom domains that route traffic to API Gateway APIs in a given account.
- Amazon Cognito manages the users who access the APIs in API Gateway.
- Service Catalog holds catalog products for API Gateway APIs that adhere to the organizational guidelines and best practices, such as security configuration and default API throttling. Microservice teams have permission to create an API pointed to their service and configure specific parameters, with approvals required for production environments. For more information, see Standardizing infrastructure delivery in distributed environments using AWS Service Catalog.
The following shows common design patterns and their high-level benefits and challenges.
Single AWS account
Microservices, their fronting API Gateway APIs, and supporting services are in the same AWS account. This account also includes core AWS services such as the following:
- Route 53 for domain name registration and DNS
- ACM for managing server certificates for your domain
- Amazon Cognito for user management
- Service Catalog for the catalog of best-practice product templates to use across the organization
Use this approach if you do not yet have a multi-account strategy or if you use AWS native tools for observability. With a single AWS account, the microservices can share the same networking topology, and so more easily communicate with each other when needed. With all the API Gateway APIs in the same AWS account, you can configure API throttling, metering, authentication, and authorization features for a unified experience for customers. You can also route traffic to a given API using subdomains or base path mapping in API Gateway.
A single AWS account can manage TLS certificates for AWS domains in one place. This feature is available to all API Gateway APIs. Having the microservices and their API Gateway APIs in the same AWS account gives more complete X-Ray service maps, given that X-Ray currently can’t analyze traces across AWS accounts. Similarly, you have a complete view of the metrics all AWS services publish to CloudWatch. This feature allows you to create CloudWatch dashboards that span the API Gateway APIs and their backing microservices.
There is an increased blast radius with this architecture, because the microservices share the same account. The microservices can impact each other through shared AWS service limits or mistakes by team members on other microservice teams. Most AWS services support tagging for cost allocation and granular access control, but there are some features of AWS services that do not. Because of this, it’s more difficult to separate the costs of each microservice completely.
Separate AWS accounts
When using separate AWS accounts, each API Gateway API lives in the same AWS account as its backing microservice. Separate AWS accounts hold the Service Catalog portfolio, domain registration (using Route 53), and aggregated logs from the microservices. The organization account, security account, and other core accounts are discussed further in the AWS Landing Zone Solution.
Use this architecture if you have a mature multi-account strategy and existing tooling for cross-account observability. In this approach, an AWS account encapsulates a microservice completely, for cost isolation and reduced blast radius. With the API Gateway API in the same account as the backing microservice, you have a complete view of the microservice in CloudWatch and X-Ray.
You can only meter API usage by microservice because API Gateway usage plans can’t track activity across accounts. Implement a process to ensure each customer’s API Gateway API key is the same across accounts for a smooth customer experience.
API Gateway base path mappings are local to an AWS account, so you must use subdomains to separate the microservices that comprise a product under a single domain. However, you can have a complete view of each microservice in the CloudWatch dashboards and X-Ray console for its AWS account. This creates a view across microservices that requires aggregation in a central AWS account or external tool.
Central API account
Using a central API account is similar to the separate account architecture, except the API Gateway APIs are in a central account.
This architecture is the best approach for most users. It offers a balance of the benefits of microservice separation with the unification of particular services for a better end-user experience. Each microservice has an AWS account, which isolates it from the other services and reduces the risk of AWS service limit contention or accidents due to sharing the account with other engineering teams.
Because each microservice lives in a separate account, that account’s bill captures all the costs for that microservice. You can track the API costs, which are in the shared API account, using tags on API Gateway resources.
While the microservices are isolated in separate AWS accounts, the API Gateway throttling, metering, authentication, and authorization features are centralized for a consistent experience for customers. You can use subdomains or API Gateway base path mappings to route traffic to different API Gateway APIs. Also, the TLS certificates for your domains are centrally managed and available to all API Gateway APIs.
You can now split CloudWatch metrics, X-Ray traces, and application logs across accounts for a given microservice and its fronting API Gateway API. Unify these in a central AWS account or a third-party tool.
The breadth of the AWS Cloud presents many architectural options to customers. When designing your systems, it’s essential to understand the benefits and challenges of design decisions before implementing a solution.
This post walked you through three common architectural patterns for allowing independent microservice teams to operate behind a unified domain presented to your customers. The best approach for your organization depends on your priorities, experience, and familiarity with AWS.