Tag Archives: Redundancy

Amazon S3 Update: New Storage Class and General Availability of S3 Select

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/amazon-s3-update-new-storage-class-general-availability-of-s3-select/

I’ve got two big pieces of news for anyone who stores and retrieves data in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3):

New S3 One Zone-IA Storage Class – This new storage class is 20% less expensive than the existing Standard-IA storage class. It is designed to be used to store data that does not need the extra level of protection provided by geographic redundancy.

General Availability of S3 Select – This unique retrieval option lets you retrieve subsets of data from S3 objects using simple SQL expressions, with the possibility for a 400% performance improvement in the process.

Let’s take a look at both!

S3 One Zone-IA (Infrequent Access) Storage Class
This new storage class stores data in a single AWS Availability Zone and is designed to provide eleven 9’s (99.99999999%) of data durability, just like the other S3 storage classes. Unlike those other classes, it is not designed to be resilient to the physical loss of an AZ due to major event such as an earthquake or a flood, and data could be lost in the unlikely event that an AZ is destroyed. S3 One Zone-IA storage gives you a lower cost option for secondary backups of on-premises data and for data that can be easily re-created. You can also use it as the target of S3 Cross-Region Replication from another AWS region.

You can specify the use of S3 One Zone-IA storage when you upload a new object to S3:

You can also make use of it as part of an S3 lifecycle rule:

You can set up a lifecycle rule that moves previous versions of an object to S3 One Zone-IA after 30 or more days:

And you can modify the storage class of an existing object:

You can also manage storage classes using the S3 API, CLI, and CloudFormation templates.

The S3 One Zone-IA storage class can be used in all public AWS regions. As I noted earlier, pricing is 20% lower than for the S3 Standard-IA storage class (see the S3 Pricing page for more info). There’s a 30 day minimum retention period, and a 128 KB minimum object size.

General Availability of S3 Select
Randall wrote a detailed introduction to S3 Select last year and showed you how you can use it to retrieve selected data from within S3 objects. During the preview we added support for server-side encryption and the ability to run queries from the S3 Console.

I used a CSV file of airport codes to exercise the new console functionality:

This file contains listings for over 9100 airports, so it makes for useful test data but it definitely does not test the limits of S3 Select in any way. I select the file, open the More menu, and choose Select from:

The console sets the file format and compression according to the file name and the encryption status. I set delimiter and click Show file preview to verify that my settings are correct. Then I click Next to proceed:

I type SQL expressions in the SQL editor and click Run SQL to issue the query:

Or:

I can also issue queries from the AWS SDKs. I initiate the select operation:

s3 = boto3.client('s3', region_name='us-west-2')

r = s3.select_object_content(
        Bucket='jbarr-us-west-2',
        Key='sample-data/airportCodes.csv',
        ExpressionType='SQL',
        Expression="select * from s3object s where s.\"Country (Name)\" like '%United States%'",
        InputSerialization = {'CSV': {"FileHeaderInfo": "Use"}},
        OutputSerialization = {'CSV': {}},
)

And then I process the stream of results:

for event in r['Payload']:
    if 'Records' in event:
        records = event['Records']['Payload'].decode('utf-8')
        print(records)
    elif 'Stats' in event:
        statsDetails = event['Stats']['Details']
        print("Stats details bytesScanned: ")
        print(statsDetails['BytesScanned'])
        print("Stats details bytesProcessed: ")
        print(statsDetails['BytesProcessed'])

S3 Select is available in all public regions and you can start using it today. Pricing is based on the amount of data scanned and the amount of data returned.

Jeff;

Leveraging AWS Marketplace Partner Storage Solutions for Microsoft

Post Syndicated from islawson original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/leveraging-aws-marketplace-partner-storage-solutions-for-microsoft/

Designing a cloud storage solution to accommodate traditional enterprise software such as Microsoft SharePoint can be challenging. Microsoft SharePoint is complex and demands a lot of the underlying storage that’s used for its many databases and content repositories. To ensure that the selected storage platform can accommodate the availability, connectivity, and performance requirements recommended by Microsoft you need to use third-party storage solutions that build on and extend the functionality and performance of AWS storage services.

An appropriate storage solution for Microsoft SharePoint needs to provide data redundancy, high availability, fault tolerance, strong encryption, standard connectivity protocols, point-in-time data recovery, compression, ease of management, directory integration, and support.

AWS Marketplace is uniquely positioned as a procurement channel to find a third-party storage product that provides the additional technology layered on top of AWS storage services. The third-party storage products are provided and maintained by industry newcomers with born-in-the-cloud solutions as well as existing industry leaders. They include many mainstream storage products that are already familiar and commonly deployed in enterprises.

We recently released the “Leveraging AWS Marketplace Storage Solutions for Microsoft SharePoint” whitepaper to walk through the deployment and configuration of SoftNAS Cloud NAS, an AWS Marketplace third-party storage product that provides secure, highly available, redundant, and fault-tolerant storage to the Microsoft SharePoint collaboration suite.

About the Author

Israel Lawson is a senior solutions architect on the AWS Marketplace team.

The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 2

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/factors-for-choosing-data-center/

Rows of storage pods in a data center

This is part two of a series on the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the different types of data centers, the importance of location in planning a data center, data center certification, and the single most expensive factor in running a data center, power.

In Part 2, we continue to look at factors that need to considered both by those interested in a dedicated data center and those seeking to colocate in an existing center.

Power (continued from Part 1)

In part 1, we began our discussion of the power requirements of data centers.

As we discussed, redundancy and failover is a chief requirement for data center power. A redundantly designed power supply system is also a necessity for maintenance, as it enables repairs to be performed on one network, for example, without having to turn off servers, databases, or electrical equipment.

Power Path

The common critical components of a data center’s power flow are:

  • Utility Supply
  • Generators
  • Transfer Switches
  • Distribution Panels
  • Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
  • PDUs

Utility Supply is the power that comes from one or more utility grids. While most of us consider the grid to be our primary power supply (hats off to those of you who manage to live off the grid), politics, economics, and distribution make utility supply power susceptible to outages, which is why data centers must have autonomous power available to maintain availability.

Generators are used to supply power when the utility supply is unavailable. They convert mechanical energy, usually from motors, to electrical energy.

Transfer Switches are used to transfer electric load from one source or electrical device to another, such as from one utility line to another, from a generator to a utility, or between generators. The transfer could be manually activated or automatic to ensure continuous electrical power.

Distribution Panels get the power where it needs to go, taking a power feed and dividing it into separate circuits to supply multiple loads.

A UPS, as we touched on earlier, ensures that continuous power is available even when the main power source isn’t. It often consists of batteries that can come online almost instantaneously when the current power ceases. The power from a UPS does not have to last a long time as it is considered an emergency measure until the main power source can be restored. Another function of the UPS is to filter and stabilize the power from the main power supply.

Data Center UPS

Data center UPSs

PDU stands for the Power Distribution Unit and is the device that distributes power to the individual pieces of equipment.

Network

After power, the networking connections to the data center are of prime importance. Can the data center obtain and maintain high-speed networking connections to the building? With networking, as with all aspects of a data center, availability is a primary consideration. Data center designers think of all possible ways service can be interrupted or lost, even briefly. Details such as the vulnerabilities in the route the network connections make from the core network (the backhaul) to the center, and where network connections enter and exit a building, must be taken into consideration in network and data center design.

Routers and switches are used to transport traffic between the servers in the data center and the core network. Just as with power, network redundancy is a prime factor in maintaining availability of data center services. Two or more upstream service providers are required to ensure that availability.

How fast a customer can transfer data to a data center is affected by: 1) the speed of the connections the data center has with the outside world, 2) the quality of the connections between the customer and the data center, and 3) the distance of the route from customer to the data center. The longer the length of the route and the greater the number of packets that must be transferred, the more significant a factor will be played by latency in the data transfer. Latency is the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. Generally latency, not speed, will be the most significant factor in transferring data to and from a data center. Packets transferred using the TCP/IP protocol suite, which is the conceptual model and set of communications protocols used on the internet and similar computer networks, must be acknowledged when received (ACK’d) and requires a communications roundtrip for each packet. If the data is in larger packets, the number of ACKs required is reduced, so latency will be a smaller factor in the overall network communications speed.

Latency generally will be less significant for data storage transfers than for cloud computing. Optimizations such as multi-threading, which is used in Backblaze’s Cloud Backup service, will generally improve overall transfer throughput if sufficient bandwidth is available.

Those interested in testing the overall speed and latency of their connection to Backblaze’s data centers can use the Check Your Bandwidth tool on our website.
Data center telecommunications equipment

Data center telecommunications equipment

Data center under floor cable runs

Data center under floor cable runs

Cooling

Computer, networking, and power generation equipment generates heat, and there are a number of solutions employed to rid a data center of that heat. The location and climate of the data center is of great importance to the data center designer because the climatic conditions dictate to a large degree what cooling technologies should be deployed that in turn affect the power used and the cost of using that power. The power required and cost needed to manage a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Innovation is strong in this area and many new approaches to efficient and cost-effective cooling are used in the latest data centers.

Switch's uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units

Switch’s uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units

There are three primary ways data center cooling can be achieved:

Room Cooling cools the entire operating area of the data center. This method can be suitable for small data centers, but becomes more difficult and inefficient as IT equipment density and center size increase.

Row Cooling concentrates on cooling a data center on a row by row basis. In its simplest form, hot aisle/cold aisle data center design involves lining up server racks in alternating rows with cold air intakes facing one way and hot air exhausts facing the other. The rows composed of rack fronts are called cold aisles. Typically, cold aisles face air conditioner output ducts. The rows the heated exhausts pour into are called hot aisles. Typically, hot aisles face air conditioner return ducts.

Rack Cooling tackles cooling on a rack by rack basis. Air-conditioning units are dedicated to specific racks. This approach allows for maximum densities to be deployed per rack. This works best in data centers with fully loaded racks, otherwise there would be too much cooling capacity, and the air-conditioning losses alone could exceed the total IT load.

Security

Data Centers are high-security facilities as they house business, government, and other data that contains personal, financial, and other secure information about businesses and individuals.

This list contains the physical-security considerations when opening or co-locating in a data center:

Layered Security Zones. Systems and processes are deployed to allow only authorized personnel in certain areas of the data center. Examples include keycard access, alarm systems, mantraps, secure doors, and staffed checkpoints.

Physical Barriers. Physical barriers, fencing and reinforced walls are used to protect facilities. In a colocation facility, one customers’ racks and servers are often inaccessible to other customers colocating in the same data center.

Backblaze racks secured in the data center

Backblaze racks secured in the data center

Monitoring Systems. Advanced surveillance technology monitors and records activity on approaching driveways, building entrances, exits, loading areas, and equipment areas. These systems also can be used to monitor and detect fire and water emergencies, providing early detection and notification before significant damage results.

Top-tier providers evaluate their data center security and facilities on an ongoing basis. Technology becomes outdated quickly, so providers must stay-on-top of new approaches and technologies in order to protect valuable IT assets.

To pass into high security areas of a data center requires passing through a security checkpoint where credentials are verified.

Data Center security

The gauntlet of cameras and steel bars one must pass before entering this data center

Facilities and Services

Data center colocation providers often differentiate themselves by offering value-added services. In addition to the required space, power, cooling, connectivity and security capabilities, the best solutions provide several on-site amenities. These accommodations include offices and workstations, conference rooms, and access to phones, copy machines, and office equipment.

Additional features may consist of kitchen facilities, break rooms and relaxation lounges, storage facilities for client equipment, and secure loading docks and freight elevators.

Moving into A Data Center

Moving into a data center is a major job for any organization. We wrote a post last year, Desert To Data in 7 Days — Our New Phoenix Data Center, about what it was like to move into our new data center in Phoenix, Arizona.

Desert To Data in 7 Days — Our New Phoenix Data Center

Visiting a Data Center

Our Director of Product Marketing Andy Klein wrote a popular post last year on what it’s like to visit a data center called A Day in the Life of a Data Center.

A Day in the Life of a Data Center

Would you Like to Know More about The Challenges of Opening and Running a Data Center?

That’s it for part 2 of this series. If readers are interested, we could write a post about some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. Please let us know in the comments.

Here's a tip!Here’s a tip on finding all the posts tagged with data center on our blog. Just follow https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.

Don’t miss future posts on data centers and other topics, including hard drive stats, cloud storage, and tips and tricks for backing up to the cloud. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts on our blog.

The post The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 2 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/choosing-data-center/

Backblaze storage pod in new data center

This is part one of a series. The second part will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.

Though most of us have never set foot inside of a data center, as citizens of a data-driven world we nonetheless depend on the services that data centers provide almost as much as we depend on a reliable water supply, the electrical grid, and the highway system. Every time we send a tweet, post to Facebook, check our bank balance or credit score, watch a YouTube video, or back up a computer to the cloud we are interacting with a data center.

In this series, The Challenges of Opening a Data Center, we’ll talk in general terms about the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process. Many of the factors to consider will be similar for opening a private data center or seeking space in a public data center, but we’ll assume for the sake of this discussion that our needs are more modest than requiring a data center dedicated solely to our own use (i.e. we’re not Google, Facebook, or China Telecom).

Data center technology and management are changing rapidly, with new approaches to design and operation appearing every year. This means we won’t be able to cover everything happening in the world of data centers in our series, however, we hope our brief overview proves useful.

What is a Data Center?

A data center is the structure that houses a large group of networked computer servers typically used by businesses, governments, and organizations for the remote storage, processing, or distribution of large amounts of data.

While many organizations will have computing services in the same location as their offices that support their day-to-day operations, a data center is a structure dedicated to 24/7 large-scale data processing and handling.

Depending on how you define the term, there are anywhere from a half million data centers in the world to many millions. While it’s possible to say that an organization’s on-site servers and data storage can be called a data center, in this discussion we are using the term data center to refer to facilities that are expressly dedicated to housing computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The facility might be a private center, which is owned or leased by one tenant only, or a shared data center that offers what are called “colocation services,” and rents space, services, and equipment to multiple tenants in the center.

A large, modern data center operates around the clock, placing a priority on providing secure and uninterrrupted service, and generally includes redundant or backup power systems or supplies, redundant data communication connections, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, and numerous security devices. Such a center is an industrial-scale operation often using as much electricity as a small town.

Types of Data Centers

There are a number of ways to classify data centers according to how they will be used, whether they are owned or used by one or multiple organizations, whether and how they fit into a topology of other data centers; which technologies and management approaches they use for computing, storage, cooling, power, and operations; and increasingly visible these days: how green they are.

Data centers can be loosely classified into three types according to who owns them and who uses them.

Exclusive Data Centers are facilities wholly built, maintained, operated and managed by the business for the optimal operation of its IT equipment. Some of these centers are well-known companies such as Facebook, Google, or Microsoft, while others are less public-facing big telecoms, insurance companies, or other service providers.

Managed Hosting Providers are data centers managed by a third party on behalf of a business. The business does not own data center or space within it. Rather, the business rents IT equipment and infrastructure it needs instead of investing in the outright purchase of what it needs.

Colocation Data Centers are usually large facilities built to accommodate multiple businesses within the center. The business rents its own space within the data center and subsequently fills the space with its IT equipment, or possibly uses equipment provided by the data center operator.

Backblaze, for example, doesn’t own its own data centers but colocates in data centers owned by others. As Backblaze’s storage needs grow, Backblaze increases the space it uses within a given data center and/or expands to other data centers in the same or different geographic areas.

Availability is Key

When designing or selecting a data center, an organization needs to decide what level of availability is required for its services. The type of business or service it provides likely will dictate this. Any organization that provides real-time and/or critical data services will need the highest level of availability and redundancy, as well as the ability to rapidly failover (transfer operation to another center) when and if required. Some organizations require multiple data centers not just to handle the computer or storage capacity they use, but to provide alternate locations for operation if something should happen temporarily or permanently to one or more of their centers.

Organizations operating data centers that can’t afford any downtime at all will typically operate data centers that have a mirrored site that can take over if something happens to the first site, or they operate a second site in parallel to the first one. These data center topologies are called Active/Passive, and Active/Active, respectively. Should disaster or an outage occur, disaster mode would dictate immediately moving all of the primary data center’s processing to the second data center.

While some data center topologies are spread throughout a single country or continent, others extend around the world. Practically, data transmission speeds put a cap on centers that can be operated in parallel with the appearance of simultaneous operation. Linking two data centers located apart from each other — say no more than 60 miles to limit data latency issues — together with dark fiber (leased fiber optic cable) could enable both data centers to be operated as if they were in the same location, reducing staffing requirements yet providing immediate failover to the secondary data center if needed.

This redundancy of facilities and ensured availability is of paramount importance to those needing uninterrupted data center services.

Active/Passive Data Centers

Active/Active Data Centers

LEED Certification

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. Facilities can achieve ratings of certified, silver, gold, or platinum based on criteria within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design.

Green certification has become increasingly important in data center design and operation as data centers require great amounts of electricity and often cooling water to operate. Green technologies can reduce costs for data center operation, as well as make the arrival of data centers more amenable to environmentally-conscious communities.

The ACT, Inc. data center in Iowa City, Iowa was the first data center in the U.S. to receive LEED-Platinum certification, the highest level available.

ACT Data Center exterior

ACT Data Center exterior

ACT Data Center interior

ACT Data Center interior

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Data Center

There are numerous factors to consider when deciding to build or to occupy space in a data center. Aspects such as proximity to available power grids, telecommunications infrastructure, networking services, transportation lines, and emergency services can affect costs, risk, security and other factors that need to be taken into consideration.

The size of the data center will be dictated by the business requirements of the owner or tenant. A data center can occupy one room of a building, one or more floors, or an entire building. Most of the equipment is often in the form of servers mounted in 19 inch rack cabinets, which are usually placed in single rows forming corridors (so-called aisles) between them. This allows staff access to the front and rear of each cabinet. Servers differ greatly in size from 1U servers (i.e. one “U” or “RU” rack unit measuring 44.50 millimeters or 1.75 inches), to Backblaze’s Storage Pod design that fits a 4U chassis, to large freestanding storage silos that occupy many square feet of floor space.

Location

Location will be one of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a data center and encompasses many other factors that should be taken into account, such as geological risks, neighboring uses, and even local flight paths. Access to suitable available power at a suitable price point is often the most critical factor and the longest lead time item, followed by broadband service availability.

With more and more data centers available providing varied levels of service and cost, the choices increase each year. Data center brokers can be employed to find a data center, just as one might use a broker for home or other commercial real estate.

Websites listing available colocation space, such as upstack.io, or entire data centers for sale or lease, are widely used. A common practice is for a customer to publish its data center requirements, and the vendors compete to provide the most attractive bid in a reverse auction.

Business and Customer Proximity

The center’s closeness to a business or organization may or may not be a factor in the site selection. The organization might wish to be close enough to manage the center or supervise the on-site staff from a nearby business location. The location of customers might be a factor, especially if data transmission speeds and latency are important, or the business or customers have regulatory, political, tax, or other considerations that dictate areas suitable or not suitable for the storage and processing of data.

Climate

Local climate is a major factor in data center design because the climatic conditions dictate what cooling technologies should be deployed. In turn this impacts uptime and the costs associated with cooling, which can total as much as 50% or more of a center’s power costs. The topology and the cost of managing a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Nevertheless, data centers are located in both extremely cold regions and extremely hot ones, with innovative approaches used in both extremes to maintain desired temperatures within the center.

Geographic Stability and Extreme Weather Events

A major obvious factor in locating a data center is the stability of the actual site as regards weather, seismic activity, and the likelihood of weather events such as hurricanes, as well as fire or flooding.

Backblaze’s Sacramento data center describes its location as one of the most stable geographic locations in California, outside fault zones and floodplains.

Sacramento Data Center

Sometimes the location of the center comes first and the facility is hardened to withstand anticipated threats, such as Equinix’s NAP of the Americas data center in Miami, one of the largest single-building data centers on the planet (six stories and 750,000 square feet), which is built 32 feet above sea level and designed to withstand category 5 hurricane winds.

Equinix Data Center in Miami

Equinix “NAP of the Americas” Data Center in Miami

Most data centers don’t have the extreme protection or history of the Bahnhof data center, which is located inside the ultra-secure former nuclear bunker Pionen, in Stockholm, Sweden. It is buried 100 feet below ground inside the White Mountains and secured behind 15.7 in. thick metal doors. It prides itself on its self-described “Bond villain” ambiance.

Bahnhof Data Center under White Mountain in Stockholm

Usually, the data center owner or tenant will want to take into account the balance between cost and risk in the selection of a location. The Ideal quadrant below is obviously favored when making this compromise.

Cost vs Risk in selecting a data center

Cost = Construction/lease, power, bandwidth, cooling, labor, taxes
Risk = Environmental (seismic, weather, water, fire), political, economic

Risk mitigation also plays a strong role in pricing. The extent to which providers must implement special building techniques and operating technologies to protect the facility will affect price. When selecting a data center, organizations must make note of the data center’s certification level on the basis of regulatory requirements in the industry. These certifications can ensure that an organization is meeting necessary compliance requirements.

Power

Electrical power usually represents the largest cost in a data center. The cost a service provider pays for power will be affected by the source of the power, the regulatory environment, the facility size and the rate concessions, if any, offered by the utility. At higher level tiers, battery, generator, and redundant power grids are a required part of the picture.

Fault tolerance and power redundancy are absolutely necessary to maintain uninterrupted data center operation. Parallel redundancy is a safeguard to ensure that an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system is in place to provide electrical power if necessary. The UPS system can be based on batteries, saved kinetic energy, or some type of generator using diesel or another fuel. The center will operate on the UPS system with another UPS system acting as a backup power generator. If a power outage occurs, the additional UPS system power generator is available.

Many data centers require the use of independent power grids, with service provided by different utility companies or services, to prevent against loss of electrical service no matter what the cause. Some data centers have intentionally located themselves near national borders so that they can obtain redundant power from not just separate grids, but from separate geopolitical sources.

Higher redundancy levels required by a company will of invariably lead to higher prices. If one requires high availability backed by a service-level agreement (SLA), one can expect to pay more than another company with less demanding redundancy requirements.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of The Challenges of Opening a Data Center

That’s it for part 1 of this post. In subsequent posts, we’ll take a look at some other factors to consider when moving into a data center such as network bandwidth, cooling, and security. We’ll take a look at what is involved in moving into a new data center (including stories from Backblaze’s experiences). We’ll also investigate what it takes to keep a data center running, and some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. You can discover all posts on our blog tagged with “Data Center” by following the link https://www.backblaze.com/blog/tag/data-center/.

The second part of this series on The Challenges of Opening a Data Center will be posted later this week. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts in this series.

The post The Challenges of Opening a Data Center — Part 1 appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Connect Veeam to the B2 Cloud: Episode 2 — Using StarWind VTL

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/hybrid-cloud-example-veem-vtl-cloud/

Connect Veeam to the B2 Cloud

View all posts in the Veeam series.

In the first post in this series, we discussed how to connect Veeam to the B2 cloud using Synology. In this post, we continue our Veeam/B2 series with a discussion of how to back up Veeam to the Backblaze B2 Cloud using StarWind VTL.

StarWind provides “VTL” (Virtual Tape Library) technology that enables users to back up their “VMs” (virtual machines) from Veeam to on-premise or cloud storage. StarWind does this using standard “LTO” (Linear Tape-Open) protocols. This appeals to organizations that have LTO in place since it allows adoption of more scalable, cost efficient cloud storage without having to update the internal backup infrastructure.

Why An Additional Backup in the Cloud?

Common backup strategy, known as 3-2-1, dictates having three copies at a minimum of active data. Two copies are stored locally and one copy is in another location.

Relying solely on on-site redundancy does not guarantee data protection after a catastrophic or temporary loss of service affecting the primary data center. To reach maximum data security, an on-premises private cloud backup combined with an off-site public cloud backup, known as hybrid cloud, provides the best combination of security and rapid recovery when required.

Why Consider a Hybrid Cloud Solution?

The Hybrid Cloud Provides Superior Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Having a backup strategy that combines on-premise storage with public cloud storage in a single or multi-cloud configuration is becoming the solution of choice for organizations that wish to eliminate dependence on vulnerable on-premises storage. It also provides reliable and rapidly deployed recovery when needed.

If an organization requires restoration of service as quickly as possible after an outage or disaster, it needs to have a backup that isn’t dependent on the same network. That means a backup stored in the cloud that can be restored to another location or cloud-based compute service and put into service immediately after an outage.

Hybrid Cloud Example: VTL and the Cloud

Some organizations will already have made a significant investment in software and hardware that supports LTO protocols. Specifically, they are using Veeam to back up their VMs onto physical tape. Using StarWind to act as a VTL with Veeam enables users to save time and money by connecting their on-premises Veeam Backup & Replication archives to Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage.

Why Veeam, StarWind VTL, and Backblaze B2?

What are the primary reasons that an organization would want to adopt Veeam + StarWind VTL + B2 as a hybrid cloud backup solution?

  1. You are already invested in Veeam along with LTO software and hardware.

Using Veeam plus StarWind VTL with already-existing LTO infrastructure enables organizations to quickly and cost-effectively benefit from cloud storage.

  1. You require rapid and reliable recovery of service should anything disrupt your primary data center.

Having a backup in the cloud with B2 provides an economical primary or secondary cloud storage solution and enables fast restoration to a current or alternate location, as well as providing the option to quickly bring online a cloud-based compute service, thereby minimizing any loss of service and ensuring business continuity. Backblaze’s B2 is an ideal solution for backing up Veeam’s backup repository due to B2’s combination of low-cost and high availability compared to other cloud solutions such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS.

Using Veeam, StarWind VTL, and Backblaze B2 cloud storage is a superior alternative to tape as B2 offers better economics, instant access, and faster recovery.

 

Workflow for how to connect Veeam to the Backblaze B2 Cloud using StarWind VTL

Connect Veeam to the Backblaze B2 Cloud using StarWind VTL (graphic courtesy of StarWind)

View all posts in the Veeam series.

The post Connect Veeam to the B2 Cloud: Episode 2 — Using StarWind VTL appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Building Blocks of Amazon ECS

Post Syndicated from Tiffany Jernigan original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/building-blocks-of-amazon-ecs/

So, what’s Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS)? ECS is a managed service for running containers on AWS, designed to make it easy to run applications in the cloud without worrying about configuring the environment for your code to run in. Using ECS, you can easily deploy containers to host a simple website or run complex distributed microservices using thousands of containers.

Getting started with ECS isn’t too difficult. To fully understand how it works and how you can use it, it helps to understand the basic building blocks of ECS and how they fit together!

Let’s begin with an analogy

Imagine you’re in a virtual reality game with blocks and portals, in which your task is to build kingdoms.

In your spaceship, you pull up a holographic map of your upcoming destination: Nozama, a golden-orange planet. Looking at its various regions, you see that the nearest one is za-southwest-1 (SW Nozama). You set your destination, and use your jump drive to jump to the outer atmosphere of za-southwest-1.

As you approach SW Nozama, you see three portals, 1a, 1b, and 1c. Each portal lets you transport directly to an isolated zone (Availability Zone), where you can start construction on your new kingdom (cluster), Royaume.

With your supply of blocks, you take the portal to 1b, and erect the surrounding walls of your first territory (instance)*.

Before you get ahead of yourself, there are some rules to keep in mind. For your territory to be a part of Royaume, the land ordinance requires construction of a building (container), specifically a castle, from which your territory’s lord (agent)* rules.

You can then create architectural plans (task definitions) to build your developments (tasks), consisting of up to 10 buildings per plan. A development can be built now within this or any territory, or multiple territories.

If you do decide to create more territories, you can either stay here in 1b or take a portal to another location in SW Nozama and start building there.

Amazon EC2 building blocks

We currently provide two launch types: EC2 and Fargate. With Fargate, the Amazon EC2 instances are abstracted away and managed for you. Instead of worrying about ECS container instances, you can just worry about tasks. In this post, the infrastructure components used by ECS that are handled by Fargate are marked with a *.

Instance*

EC2 instances are good ol’ virtual machines (VMs). And yes, don’t worry, you can connect to them (via SSH). Because customers have varying needs in memory, storage, and computing power, many different instance types are offered. Just want to run a small application or try a free trial? Try t2.micro. Want to run memory-optimized workloads? R3 and X1 instances are a couple options. There are many more instance types as well, which cater to various use cases.

AMI*

Sorry if you wanted to immediately march forward, but before you create your instance, you need to choose an AMI. An AMI stands for Amazon Machine Image. What does that mean? Basically, an AMI provides the information required to launch an instance: root volume, launch permissions, and volume-attachment specifications. You can find and choose a Linux or Windows AMI provided by AWS, the user community, the AWS Marketplace (for example, the Amazon ECS-Optimized AMI), or you can create your own.

Region

AWS is divided into regions that are geographic areas around the world (for now it’s just Earth, but maybe someday…). These regions have semi-evocative names such as us-east-1 (N. Virginia), us-west-2 (Oregon), eu-central-1 (Frankfurt), ap-northeast-1 (Tokyo), etc.

Each region is designed to be completely isolated from the others, and consists of multiple, distinct data centers. This creates a “blast radius” for failure so that even if an entire region goes down, the others aren’t affected. Like many AWS services, to start using ECS, you first need to decide the region in which to operate. Typically, this is the region nearest to you or your users.

Availability Zone

AWS regions are subdivided into Availability Zones. A region has at minimum two zones, and up to a handful. Zones are physically isolated from each other, spanning one or more different data centers, but are connected through low-latency, fiber-optic networking, and share some common facilities. EC2 is designed so that the most common failures only affect a single zone to prevent region-wide outages. This means you can achieve high availability in a region by spanning your services across multiple zones and distributing across hosts.

Amazon ECS building blocks

Container

Well, without containers, ECS wouldn’t exist!

Are containers virtual machines?
Nope! Virtual machines virtualize the hardware (benefits), while containers virtualize the operating system (even more benefits!). If you look inside a container, you would see that it is made by processes running on the host, and tied together by kernel constructs like namespaces, cgroups, etc. But you don’t need to bother about that level of detail, at least not in this post!

Why containers?
Containers give you the ability to build, ship, and run your code anywhere!

Before the cloud, you needed to self-host and therefore had to buy machines in addition to setting up and configuring the operating system (OS), and running your code. In the cloud, with virtualization, you can just skip to setting up the OS and running your code. Containers make the process even easier—you can just run your code.

Additionally, all of the dependencies travel in a package with the code, which is called an image. This allows containers to be deployed on any host machine. From the outside, it looks like a host is just holding a bunch of containers. They all look the same, in the sense that they are generic enough to be deployed on any host.

With ECS, you can easily run your containerized code and applications across a managed cluster of EC2 instances.

Are containers a fairly new technology?
The concept of containerization is not new. Its origins date back to 1979 with the creation of chroot. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that containers became a major technology. The most significant milestone to date was the release of Docker in 2013, which led to the popularization and widespread adoption of containers.

What does ECS use?
While other container technologies exist (LXC, rkt, etc.), because of its massive adoption and use by our customers, ECS was designed first to work natively with Docker containers.

Container instance*

Yep, you are back to instances. An instance is just slightly more complex in the ECS realm though. Here, it is an ECS container instance that is an EC2 instance running the agent, has a specifically defined IAM policy and role, and has been registered into your cluster.

And as you probably guessed, in these instances, you are running containers. 

AMI*

These container instances can use any AMI as long as it has the following specifications: a modern Linux distribution with the agent and the Docker Daemon with any Docker runtime dependencies running on it.

Want it more simplified? Well, AWS created the Amazon ECS-Optimized AMI for just that. Not only does that AMI come preconfigured with all of the previously mentioned specifications, it’s tested and includes the recommended ecs-init upstart process to run and monitor the agent.

Cluster

An ECS cluster is a grouping of (container) instances* (or tasks in Fargate) that lie within a single region, but can span multiple Availability Zones – it’s even a good idea for redundancy. When launching an instance (or tasks in Fargate), unless specified, it registers with the cluster named “default”. If “default” doesn’t exist, it is created. You can also scale and delete your clusters.

Agent*

The Amazon ECS container agent is a Go program that runs in its own container within each EC2 instance that you use with ECS. (It’s also available open source on GitHub!) The agent is the intermediary component that takes care of the communication between the scheduler and your instances. Want to register your instance into a cluster? (Why wouldn’t you? A cluster is both a logical boundary and provider of pool of resources!) Then you need to run the agent on it.

Task

When you want to start a container, it has to be part of a task. Therefore, you have to create a task first. Succinctly, tasks are a logical grouping of 1 to N containers that run together on the same instance, with N defined by you, up to 10. Let’s say you want to run a custom blog engine. You could put together a web server, an application server, and an in-memory cache, each in their own container. Together, they form a basic frontend unit.

Task definition

Ah, but you cannot create a task directly. You have to create a task definition that tells ECS that “task definition X is composed of this container (and maybe that other container and that other container too!).” It’s kind of like an architectural plan for a city. Some other details it can include are how the containers interact, container CPU and memory constraints, and task permissions using IAM roles.

Then you can tell ECS, “start one task using task definition X.” It might sound like unnecessary planning at first. As soon as you start to deal with multiple tasks, scaling, upgrades, and other “real life” scenarios, you’ll be glad that you have task definitions to keep track of things!

Scheduler*

So, the scheduler schedules… sorry, this should be more helpful, huh? The scheduler is part of the “hosted orchestration layer” provided by ECS. Wait a minute, what do I mean by “hosted orchestration”? Simply put, hosted means that it’s operated by ECS on your behalf, without you having to care about it. Your applications are deployed in containers running on your instances, but the managing of tasks is taken care of by ECS. One less thing to worry about!

Also, the scheduler is the component that decides what (which containers) gets to run where (on which instances), according to a number of constraints. Say that you have a custom blog engine to scale for high availability. You could create a service, which by default, spreads tasks across all zones in the chosen region. And if you want each task to be on a different instance, you can use the distinctInstance task placement constraint. ECS makes sure that not only this happens, but if a task fails, it starts again.

Service

To ensure that you always have your task running without managing it yourself, you can create a service based on the task that you defined and ECS ensures that it stays running. A service is a special construct that says, “at any given time, I want to make sure that N tasks using task definition X1 are running.” If N=1, it just means “make sure that this task is running, and restart it if needed!” And with N>1, you’re basically scaling your application until you hit N, while also ensuring each task is running.

So, what now?

Hopefully you, at the very least, learned a tiny something. All comments are very welcome!

Want to discuss ECS with others? Join the amazon-ecs slack group, which members of the community created and manage.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about the core concepts of ECS and its relation to EC2, here are some resources:

Pages
Amazon ECS landing page
AWS Fargate landing page
Amazon ECS Getting Started
Nathan Peck’s AWSome ECS

Docs
Amazon EC2
Amazon ECS

Blogs
AWS Compute Blog
AWS Blog

GitHub code
Amazon ECS container agent
Amazon ECS CLI

AWS videos
Learn Amazon ECS
AWS videos
AWS webinars

 

— tiffany

 @tiffanyfayj

 

Looking Forward to 2018

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org//2017/12/07/looking-forward-to-2018.html

Let’s Encrypt had a great year in 2017. We more than doubled the number of active (unexpired) certificates we service to 46 million, we just about tripled the number of unique domains we service to 61 million, and we did it all while maintaining a stellar security and compliance track record. Most importantly though, the Web went from 46% encrypted page loads to 67% according to statistics from Mozilla – a gain of 21% in a single year – incredible. We’re proud to have contributed to that, and we’d like to thank all of the other people and organizations who also worked hard to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.

While we’re proud of what we accomplished in 2017, we are spending most of the final quarter of the year looking forward rather than back. As we wrap up our own planning process for 2018, I’d like to share some of our plans with you, including both the things we’re excited about and the challenges we’ll face. We’ll cover service growth, new features, infrastructure, and finances.

Service Growth

We are planning to double the number of active certificates and unique domains we service in 2018, to 90 million and 120 million, respectively. This anticipated growth is due to continuing high expectations for HTTPS growth in general in 2018.

Let’s Encrypt helps to drive HTTPS adoption by offering a free, easy to use, and globally available option for obtaining the certificates required to enable HTTPS. HTTPS adoption on the Web took off at an unprecedented rate from the day Let’s Encrypt launched to the public.

One of the reasons Let’s Encrypt is so easy to use is that our community has done great work making client software that works well for a wide variety of platforms. We’d like to thank everyone involved in the development of over 60 client software options for Let’s Encrypt. We’re particularly excited that support for the ACME protocol and Let’s Encrypt is being added to the Apache httpd server.

Other organizations and communities are also doing great work to promote HTTPS adoption, and thus stimulate demand for our services. For example, browsers are starting to make their users more aware of the risks associated with unencrypted HTTP (e.g. Firefox, Chrome). Many hosting providers and CDNs are making it easier than ever for all of their customers to use HTTPS. Government agencies are waking up to the need for stronger security to protect constituents. The media community is working to Secure the News.

New Features

We’ve got some exciting features planned for 2018.

First, we’re planning to introduce an ACME v2 protocol API endpoint and support for wildcard certificates along with it. Wildcard certificates will be free and available globally just like our other certificates. We are planning to have a public test API endpoint up by January 4, and we’ve set a date for the full launch: Tuesday, February 27.

Later in 2018 we plan to introduce ECDSA root and intermediate certificates. ECDSA is generally considered to be the future of digital signature algorithms on the Web due to the fact that it is more efficient than RSA. Let’s Encrypt will currently sign ECDSA keys from subscribers, but we sign with the RSA key from one of our intermediate certificates. Once we have an ECDSA root and intermediates, our subscribers will be able to deploy certificate chains which are entirely ECDSA.

Infrastructure

Our CA infrastructure is capable of issuing millions of certificates per day with multiple redundancy for stability and a wide variety of security safeguards, both physical and logical. Our infrastructure also generates and signs nearly 20 million OCSP responses daily, and serves those responses nearly 2 billion times per day. We expect issuance and OCSP numbers to double in 2018.

Our physical CA infrastructure currently occupies approximately 70 units of rack space, split between two datacenters, consisting primarily of compute servers, storage, HSMs, switches, and firewalls.

When we issue more certificates it puts the most stress on storage for our databases. We regularly invest in more and faster storage for our database servers, and that will continue in 2018.

We’ll need to add a few additional compute servers in 2018, and we’ll also start aging out hardware in 2018 for the first time since we launched. We’ll age out about ten 2u compute servers and replace them with new 1u servers, which will save space and be more energy efficient while providing better reliability and performance.

We’ll also add another infrastructure operations staff member, bringing that team to a total of six people. This is necessary in order to make sure we can keep up with demand while maintaining a high standard for security and compliance. Infrastructure operations staff are systems administrators responsible for building and maintaining all physical and logical CA infrastructure. The team also manages a 24/7/365 on-call schedule and they are primary participants in both security and compliance audits.

Finances

We pride ourselves on being an efficient organization. In 2018 Let’s Encrypt will secure a large portion of the Web with a budget of only $3.0M. For an overall increase in our budget of only 13%, we will be able to issue and service twice as many certificates as we did in 2017. We believe this represents an incredible value and that contributing to Let’s Encrypt is one of the most effective ways to help create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.

Our 2018 fundraising efforts are off to a strong start with Platinum sponsorships from Mozilla, Akamai, OVH, Cisco, Google Chrome and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Ford Foundation has renewed their grant to Let’s Encrypt as well. We are seeking additional sponsorship and grant assistance to meet our full needs for 2018.

We had originally budgeted $2.91M for 2017 but we’ll likely come in under budget for the year at around $2.65M. The difference between our 2017 expenses of $2.65M and the 2018 budget of $3.0M consists primarily of the additional infrastructure operations costs previously mentioned.

Support Let’s Encrypt

We depend on contributions from our community of users and supporters in order to provide our services. If your company or organization would like to sponsor Let’s Encrypt please email us at [email protected]. We ask that you make an individual contribution if it is within your means.

We’re grateful for the industry and community support that we receive, and we look forward to continuing to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web!

Looking Forward to 2018

Post Syndicated from Let's Encrypt - Free SSL/TLS Certificates original https://letsencrypt.org/2017/12/07/looking-forward-to-2018.html

<p>Let’s Encrypt had a great year in 2017. We more than doubled the number of active (unexpired) certificates we service to 46 million, we just about tripled the number of unique domains we service to 61 million, and we did it all while maintaining a stellar security and compliance track record. Most importantly though, <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/stats/">the Web went from 46% encrypted page loads to 67%</a> according to statistics from Mozilla – a gain of 21 percentage points in a single year – incredible. We’re proud to have contributed to that, and we’d like to thank all of the other people and organizations who also worked hard to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.</p>

<p>While we’re proud of what we accomplished in 2017, we are spending most of the final quarter of the year looking forward rather than back. As we wrap up our own planning process for 2018, I’d like to share some of our plans with you, including both the things we’re excited about and the challenges we’ll face. We’ll cover service growth, new features, infrastructure, and finances.</p>

<h1 id="service-growth">Service Growth</h1>

<p>We are planning to double the number of active certificates and unique domains we service in 2018, to 90 million and 120 million, respectively. This anticipated growth is due to continuing high expectations for HTTPS growth in general in 2018.</p>

<p>Let’s Encrypt helps to drive HTTPS adoption by offering a free, easy to use, and globally available option for obtaining the certificates required to enable HTTPS. HTTPS adoption on the Web took off at an unprecedented rate from the day Let’s Encrypt launched to the public.</p>

<p>One of the reasons Let’s Encrypt is so easy to use is that our community has done great work making client software that works well for a wide variety of platforms. We’d like to thank everyone involved in the development of over 60 <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/docs/client-options/">client software options for Let’s Encrypt</a>. We’re particularly excited that support for the ACME protocol and Let’s Encrypt is <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/2017/10/17/acme-support-in-apache-httpd.html">being added to the Apache httpd server</a>.</p>

<p>Other organizations and communities are also doing great work to promote HTTPS adoption, and thus stimulate demand for our services. For example, browsers are starting to make their users more aware of the risks associated with unencrypted HTTP (e.g. <a href="https://blog.mozilla.org/security/2017/01/20/communicating-the-dangers-of-non-secure-http/">Firefox</a>, <a href="https://security.googleblog.com/2017/04/next-steps-toward-more-connection.html">Chrome</a>). Many hosting providers and CDNs are making it easier than ever for all of their customers to use HTTPS. <a href="https://https.cio.gov/">Government</a> <a href="https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/services/information-technology/strategic-plan-2017-2021.html#toc8-3-2">agencies</a> are waking up to the need for stronger security to protect constituents. The media community is working to <a href="https://securethe.news/">Secure the News</a>.</p>

<h1 id="new-features">New Features</h1>

<p>We’ve got some exciting features planned for 2018.</p>

<p>First, we’re planning to introduce an ACME v2 protocol API endpoint and <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/2017/07/06/wildcard-certificates-coming-jan-2018.html">support for wildcard certificates</a> along with it. Wildcard certificates will be free and available globally just like our other certificates. We are planning to have a public test API endpoint up by January 4, and we’ve set a date for the full launch: Tuesday, February 27.</p>

<p>Later in 2018 we plan to introduce ECDSA root and intermediate certificates. ECDSA is generally considered to be the future of digital signature algorithms on the Web due to the fact that it is more efficient than RSA. Let’s Encrypt will currently sign ECDSA keys from subscribers, but we sign with the RSA key from one of our intermediate certificates. Once we have an ECDSA root and intermediates, our subscribers will be able to deploy certificate chains which are entirely ECDSA.</p>

<h1 id="infrastructure">Infrastructure</h1>

<p>Our CA infrastructure is capable of issuing millions of certificates per day with multiple redundancy for stability and a wide variety of security safeguards, both physical and logical. Our infrastructure also generates and signs nearly 20 million OCSP responses daily, and serves those responses nearly 2 billion times per day. We expect issuance and OCSP numbers to double in 2018.</p>

<p>Our physical CA infrastructure currently occupies approximately 70 units of rack space, split between two datacenters, consisting primarily of compute servers, storage, HSMs, switches, and firewalls.</p>

<p>When we issue more certificates it puts the most stress on storage for our databases. We regularly invest in more and faster storage for our database servers, and that will continue in 2018.</p>

<p>We’ll need to add a few additional compute servers in 2018, and we’ll also start aging out hardware in 2018 for the first time since we launched. We’ll age out about ten 2u compute servers and replace them with new 1u servers, which will save space and be more energy efficient while providing better reliability and performance.</p>

<p>We’ll also add another infrastructure operations staff member, bringing that team to a total of six people. This is necessary in order to make sure we can keep up with demand while maintaining a high standard for security and compliance. Infrastructure operations staff are systems administrators responsible for building and maintaining all physical and logical CA infrastructure. The team also manages a 24/7/365 on-call schedule and they are primary participants in both security and compliance audits.</p>

<h1 id="finances">Finances</h1>

<p>We pride ourselves on being an efficient organization. In 2018 Let’s Encrypt will secure a large portion of the Web with a budget of only $3.0M. For an overall increase in our budget of only 13%, we will be able to issue and service twice as many certificates as we did in 2017. We believe this represents an incredible value and that contributing to Let’s Encrypt is one of the most effective ways to help create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web.</p>

<p>Our 2018 fundraising efforts are off to a strong start with Platinum sponsorships from Mozilla, Akamai, OVH, Cisco, Google Chrome and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Ford Foundation has renewed their grant to Let’s Encrypt as well. We are seeking additional sponsorship and grant assistance to meet our full needs for 2018.</p>

<p>We had originally budgeted $2.91M for 2017 but we’ll likely come in under budget for the year at around $2.65M. The difference between our 2017 expenses of $2.65M and the 2018 budget of $3.0M consists primarily of the additional infrastructure operations costs previously mentioned.</p>

<h1 id="support-let-s-encrypt">Support Let’s Encrypt</h1>

<p>We depend on contributions from our community of users and supporters in order to provide our services. If your company or organization would like to <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/become-a-sponsor/">sponsor</a> Let’s Encrypt please email us at <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a>. We ask that you make an <a href="https://letsencrypt.org/donate/">individual contribution</a> if it is within your means.</p>

<p>We’re grateful for the industry and community support that we receive, and we look forward to continuing to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web!</p>

Glenn’s Take on re:Invent 2017 Part 1

Post Syndicated from Glenn Gore original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/architecture/glenns-take-on-reinvent-2017-part-1/

GREETINGS FROM LAS VEGAS

Glenn Gore here, Chief Architect for AWS. I’m in Las Vegas this week — with 43K others — for re:Invent 2017. We have a lot of exciting announcements this week. I’m going to post to the AWS Architecture blog each day with my take on what’s interesting about some of the announcements from a cloud architectural perspective.

Why not start at the beginning? At the Midnight Madness launch on Sunday night, we announced Amazon Sumerian, our platform for VR, AR, and mixed reality. The hype around VR/AR has existed for many years, though for me, it is a perfect example of how a working end-to-end solution often requires innovation from multiple sources. For AR/VR to be successful, we need many components to come together in a coherent manner to provide a great experience.

First, we need lightweight, high-definition goggles with motion tracking that are comfortable to wear. Second, we need to track movement of our body and hands in a 3-D space so that we can interact with virtual objects in the virtual world. Third, we need to build the virtual world itself and populate it with assets and define how the interactions will work and connect with various other systems.

There has been rapid development of the physical devices for AR/VR, ranging from iOS devices to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which provide excellent capabilities for the first and second components defined above. With the launch of Amazon Sumerian we are solving for the third area, which will help developers easily build their own virtual worlds and start experimenting and innovating with how to apply AR/VR in new ways.

Already, within 48 hours of Amazon Sumerian being announced, I have had multiple discussions with customers and partners around some cool use cases where VR can help in training simulations, remote-operator controls, or with new ideas around interacting with complex visual data sets, which starts bringing concepts straight out of sci-fi movies into the real (virtual) world. I am really excited to see how Sumerian will unlock the creative potential of developers and where this will lead.

Amazon MQ
I am a huge fan of distributed architectures where asynchronous messaging is the backbone of connecting the discrete components together. Amazon Simple Queue Service (Amazon SQS) is one of my favorite services due to its simplicity, scalability, performance, and the incredible flexibility of how you can use Amazon SQS in so many different ways to solve complex queuing scenarios.

While Amazon SQS is easy to use when building cloud-native applications on AWS, many of our customers running existing applications on-premises required support for different messaging protocols such as: Java Message Service (JMS), .Net Messaging Service (NMS), Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP), MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT), Simple (or Streaming) Text Orientated Messaging Protocol (STOMP), and WebSockets. One of the most popular applications for on-premise message brokers is Apache ActiveMQ. With the release of Amazon MQ, you can now run Apache ActiveMQ on AWS as a managed service similar to what we did with Amazon ElastiCache back in 2012. For me, there are two compelling, major benefits that Amazon MQ provides:

  • Integrate existing applications with cloud-native applications without having to change a line of application code if using one of the supported messaging protocols. This removes one of the biggest blockers for integration between the old and the new.
  • Remove the complexity of configuring Multi-AZ resilient message broker services as Amazon MQ provides out-of-the-box redundancy by always storing messages redundantly across Availability Zones. Protection is provided against failure of a broker through to complete failure of an Availability Zone.

I believe that Amazon MQ is a major component in the tools required to help you migrate your existing applications to AWS. Having set up cross-data center Apache ActiveMQ clusters in the past myself and then testing to ensure they work as expected during critical failure scenarios, technical staff working on migrations to AWS benefit from the ease of deploying a fully redundant, managed Apache ActiveMQ cluster within minutes.

Who would have thought I would have been so excited to revisit Apache ActiveMQ in 2017 after using SQS for many, many years? Choice is a wonderful thing.

Amazon GuardDuty
Maintaining application and information security in the modern world is increasingly complex and is constantly evolving and changing as new threats emerge. This is due to the scale, variety, and distribution of services required in a competitive online world.

At Amazon, security is our number one priority. Thus, we are always looking at how we can increase security detection and protection while simplifying the implementation of advanced security practices for our customers. As a result, we released Amazon GuardDuty, which provides intelligent threat detection by using a combination of multiple information sources, transactional telemetry, and the application of machine learning models developed by AWS. One of the biggest benefits of Amazon GuardDuty that I appreciate is that enabling this service requires zero software, agents, sensors, or network choke points. which can all impact performance or reliability of the service you are trying to protect. Amazon GuardDuty works by monitoring your VPC flow logs, AWS CloudTrail events, DNS logs, as well as combing other sources of security threats that AWS is aggregating from our own internal and external sources.

The use of machine learning in Amazon GuardDuty allows it to identify changes in behavior, which could be suspicious and require additional investigation. Amazon GuardDuty works across all of your AWS accounts allowing for an aggregated analysis and ensuring centralized management of detected threats across accounts. This is important for our larger customers who can be running many hundreds of AWS accounts across their organization, as providing a single common threat detection of their organizational use of AWS is critical to ensuring they are protecting themselves.

Detection, though, is only the beginning of what Amazon GuardDuty enables. When a threat is identified in Amazon GuardDuty, you can configure remediation scripts or trigger Lambda functions where you have custom responses that enable you to start building automated responses to a variety of different common threats. Speed of response is required when a security incident may be taking place. For example, Amazon GuardDuty detects that an Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instance might be compromised due to traffic from a known set of malicious IP addresses. Upon detection of a compromised EC2 instance, we could apply an access control entry restricting outbound traffic for that instance, which stops loss of data until a security engineer can assess what has occurred.

Whether you are a customer running a single service in a single account, or a global customer with hundreds of accounts with thousands of applications, or a startup with hundreds of micro-services with hourly release cycle in a devops world, I recommend enabling Amazon GuardDuty. We have a 30-day free trial available for all new customers of this service. As it is a monitor of events, there is no change required to your architecture within AWS.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on AWS Media Services and Amazon Neptune.

 

Glenn during the Tour du Mont Blanc

Introducing AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Standard Edition)

Post Syndicated from Peter Pereira original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/introducing-aws-directory-service-for-microsoft-active-directory-standard-edition/

Today, AWS introduced AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Standard Edition), also known as AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition), which is managed Microsoft Active Directory (AD) that is performance optimized for small and midsize businesses. AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) offers you a highly available and cost-effective primary directory in the AWS Cloud that you can use to manage users, groups, and computers. It enables you to join Amazon EC2 instances to your domain easily and supports many AWS and third-party applications and services. It also can support most of the common use cases of small and midsize businesses. When you use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) as your primary directory, you can manage access and provide single sign-on (SSO) to cloud applications such as Microsoft Office 365. If you have an existing Microsoft AD directory, you can also use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) as a resource forest that contains primarily computers and groups, allowing you to migrate your AD-aware applications to the AWS Cloud while using existing on-premises AD credentials.

In this blog post, I help you get started by answering three main questions about AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition):

  1. What do I get?
  2. How can I use it?
  3. What are the key features?

After answering these questions, I show how you can get started with creating and using your own AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory.

1. What do I get?

When you create an AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory, AWS deploys two Microsoft AD domain controllers powered by Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 in your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). To help deliver high availability, the domain controllers run in different Availability Zones in the AWS Region of your choice.

As a managed service, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) configures directory replication, automates daily snapshots, and handles all patching and software updates. In addition, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) monitors and automatically recovers domain controllers in the event of a failure.

AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) has been optimized as a primary directory for small and midsize businesses with the capacity to support approximately 5,000 employees. With 1 GB of directory object storage, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) has the capacity to store 30,000 or more total directory objects (users, groups, and computers). AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) also gives you the option to add domain controllers to meet the specific performance demands of your applications. You also can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) as a resource forest with a trust relationship to your on-premises directory.

2. How can I use it?

With AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition), you can share a single directory for multiple use cases. For example, you can share a directory to authenticate and authorize access for .NET applications, Amazon RDS for SQL Server with Windows Authentication enabled, and Amazon Chime for messaging and video conferencing.

The following diagram shows some of the use cases for your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory, including the ability to grant your users access to external cloud applications and allow your on-premises AD users to manage and have access to resources in the AWS Cloud. Click the diagram to see a larger version.

Diagram showing some ways you can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition)--click the diagram to see a larger version

Use case 1: Sign in to AWS applications and services with AD credentials

You can enable multiple AWS applications and services such as the AWS Management Console, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Amazon RDS for SQL Server to use your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory. When you enable an AWS application or service in your directory, your users can access the application or service with their AD credentials.

For example, you can enable your users to sign in to the AWS Management Console with their AD credentials. To do this, you enable the AWS Management Console as an application in your directory, and then assign your AD users and groups to IAM roles. When your users sign in to the AWS Management Console, they assume an IAM role to manage AWS resources. This makes it easy for you to grant your users access to the AWS Management Console without needing to configure and manage a separate SAML infrastructure.

Use case 2: Manage Amazon EC2 instances

Using familiar AD administration tools, you can apply AD Group Policy objects (GPOs) to centrally manage your Amazon EC2 for Windows or Linux instances by joining your instances to your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) domain.

In addition, your users can sign in to your instances with their AD credentials. This eliminates the need to use individual instance credentials or distribute private key (PEM) files. This makes it easier for you to instantly grant or revoke access to users by using AD user administration tools you already use.

Use case 3: Provide directory services to your AD-aware workloads

AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) is an actual Microsoft AD that enables you to run traditional AD-aware workloads such as Remote Desktop Licensing Manager, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft SQL Server Always On in the AWS Cloud. AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) also helps you to simplify and improve the security of AD-integrated .NET applications by using group Managed Service Accounts (gMSAs) and Kerberos constrained delegation (KCD).

Use case 4: SSO to Office 365 and other cloud applications

You can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) to provide SSO for cloud applications. You can use Azure AD Connect to synchronize your users into Azure AD, and then use Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) so that your users can access Microsoft Office 365 and other SAML 2.0 cloud applications by using their AD credentials.

Use case 5: Extend your on-premises AD to the AWS Cloud

If you already have an AD infrastructure and want to use it when migrating AD-aware workloads to the AWS Cloud, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) can help. You can use AD trusts to connect AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) to your existing AD. This means your users can access AD-aware and AWS applications with their on-premises AD credentials, without needing you to synchronize users, groups, or passwords.

For example, your users can sign in to the AWS Management Console and Amazon WorkSpaces by using their existing AD user names and passwords. Also, when you use AD-aware applications such as SharePoint with AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition), your logged-in Windows users can access these applications without needing to enter credentials again.

3. What are the key features?

AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) includes the features detailed in this section.

Extend your AD schema

With AWS Microsoft AD, you can run customized AD-integrated applications that require changes to your directory schema, which defines the structures of your directory. The schema is composed of object classes such as user objects, which contain attributes such as user names. AWS Microsoft AD lets you extend the schema by adding new AD attributes or object classes that are not present in the core AD attributes and classes.

For example, if you have a human resources application that uses employee badge color to assign specific benefits, you can extend the schema to include a badge color attribute in the user object class of your directory. To learn more, see How to Move More Custom Applications to the AWS Cloud with AWS Directory Service.

Create user-specific password policies

With user-specific password policies, you can apply specific restrictions and account lockout policies to different types of users in your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) domain. For example, you can enforce strong passwords and frequent password change policies for administrators, and use less-restrictive policies with moderate account lockout policies for general users.

Add domain controllers

You can increase the performance and redundancy of your directory by adding domain controllers. This can help improve application performance by enabling directory clients to load-balance their requests across a larger number of domain controllers.

Encrypt directory traffic

You can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) to encrypt Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) communication between your applications and your directory. By enabling LDAP over Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)/Transport Layer Security (TLS), also called LDAPS, you encrypt your LDAP communications end to end. This helps you to protect sensitive information you keep in your directory when it is accessed over untrusted networks.

Improve the security of signing in to AWS services by using multi-factor authentication (MFA)

You can improve the security of signing in to AWS services, such as Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon QuickSight, by enabling MFA in your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory. With MFA, your users must enter a one-time passcode (OTP) in addition to their AD user names and passwords to access AWS applications and services you enable in AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition).

Get started

To get started, use the Directory Service console to create your first directory with just a few clicks. If you have not used Directory Service before, you may be eligible for a 30-day limited free trial.

Summary

In this blog post, I explained what AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) is and how you can use it. With a single directory, you can address many use cases for your business, making it easier to migrate and run your AD-aware workloads in the AWS Cloud, provide access to AWS applications and services, and connect to other cloud applications. To learn more about AWS Microsoft AD, see the Directory Service home page.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about this blog post, start a new thread on the Directory Service forum.

– Peter

Blockchain? It’s All Greek To Me…

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/blockchain-its-all-greek-to-me/

The blockchain hype is huge, the ICO craze (“Coindike”) is generating millions if not billions of “funding” for businesses that claim to revolutionize basically anything.

I’ve been following all of that for a while. I got my first (and only) Bitcoin several years ago, I know how the technology works, I’ve implemented the data structure part, I’ve tried (with varying success) to install an Ethereum wallet since almost as soon as Ethereum appeared, and I’ve read and subscribed to newsletters about dozens of projects and new cryptocurrencies, including storj.io, siacoin, namecoin, etc. I would say I’m at least above average in terms of knowledge on how the cryptocurrencies, blockchain, smart contracts, EVM, proof-of-wahtever operates. And I’ve voiced my concerns about the technology in general.

Now it’s rant time.

I’ve been reading whitepapers of various projects, I’ve been to various meetups and talks, I’ve been reading the professed future applications of the blockchain, and I have to admit – it’s all Greek to me. I have no clue what these people are talking about. And why would all of that make any sense. I still think I’m not clever enough to understand the upcoming revolution, but there’s also a cynical side of me that says “this is all a scam”.

Why “X on the blockchain” somehow makes it magical and superior to a good old centralized solution? No, spare me the cliches about “immutable ledger”, “lack of central authority” and the likes. These are the phrases that a person learns after reading literally one article about blockchain. Have you actually written anything apart from a complex-sounding whitepaper or a hello-world smart contract? Do you really know how the overlay network works, how the economic incentives behind that network work, how all the cryptography works? Maybe there are many, many people that indeed know that and they know it better than me and are thus able to imagine the business case behind “X on the blockchain”.

I can’t. I can’t see why it would be useful to abandon a centralized database that you can query in dozens of ways, test easily and scale trivially in favour of a clunky write-only, low-throughput, hard-to-debug privacy nightmare that is any public blockchain. And how do you imagine to gain a substantial userbase with an ecosystem where the Windows client for the 2nd most popular blockchain (Ethereum) has been so buggy, I (a software engineer) couldn’t get it work and sync the whole chain. And why would building a website ontop of that clunky, user-unfriendly database has any benefit over a centralized competitor?

Do we all believe that somehow the huge datacenters with guarnateed power backups, regular hardware and network checks, regular backups and overall – guaranteed redundancy – will somehow be beaten by a few thousand machines hosting a software that has the sole purpose of guaranteeing integrity? Bitcoin has 10 thousand nodes. Ethereum has 22 thousand nodes. And while these nodes are probably very well GPU-equipped, they aren’t supercomputers. Amazon’s AWS has a million servers. How’s that for comparison. And why would anyone take seriously 22 thousand non-servers. Or even 220 thousand, if we believe in some inevitable growth.

Don’t get me wrong, the technology is really cool. The way tamper-evident data structures (hash chains) were combined with a consensus algorithm, an overlay network and a financial incentive is really awesome. When you add a distributed execution environment, it gets even cooler. But is it suitable for literally everything? I fail to see how.

I’m sure I’m missing something. The fact that many of those whitepapers sound increasingly like Greek to me might hint that I’m just a dumb developer and those enlightened people are really onto something huge. I guess time will tell.

But I happen to be living in a country that saw a transition to capitalism in the years of my childhood. And there were a lot of scams and ponzi schemes that people believed in. Because they didn’t know how capitalism works, how the market works. I’m seeing some similarities – we have no idea how the digital realm really works, and so a lot of scams are bound to appear, until we as a society learn the basics.

Until then – enjoy your ICO, enjoy your tokens, enjoy your big-player competitor with practically the same business model, only on a worse database.

And I hope that after the smoke of hype and fraud clears, we’ll be able to enjoy the true benefits of the blockchain innovation.

The post Blockchain? It’s All Greek To Me… appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

How to Compete with Giants

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-compete-with-giants/

How to Compete with Giants

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the sixth in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year
  6. How to Compete with Giants

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

Perhaps your business is competing in a brand new space free from established competitors. Most of us, though, start companies that compete with existing offerings from large, established companies. You need to come up with a better mousetrap — not the first mousetrap.

That’s the challenge Backblaze faced. In this post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from that experience.

Backblaze vs. Giants

Competing with established companies that are orders of magnitude larger can be daunting. How can you succeed?

I’ll set the stage by offering a few sets of giants we compete with:

  • When we started Backblaze, we offered online backup in a market where companies had been offering “online backup” for at least a decade, and even the newer entrants had raised tens of millions of dollars.
  • When we built our storage servers, the alternatives were EMC, NetApp, and Dell — each of which had a market cap of over $10 billion.
  • When we introduced our cloud storage offering, B2, our direct competitors were Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. You might have heard of them.

What did we learn by competing with these giants on a bootstrapped budget? Let’s take a look.

Determine What Success Means

For a long time Apple considered Apple TV to be a hobby, not a real product worth focusing on, because it did not generate a billion in revenue. For a $10 billion per year revenue company, a new business that generates $50 million won’t move the needle and often isn’t worth putting focus on. However, for a startup, getting to $50 million in revenue can be the start of a wildly successful business.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let the giants set your success metrics.

The Advantages Startups Have

The giants have a lot of advantages: more money, people, scale, resources, access, etc. Following their playbook and attacking head-on means you’re simply outgunned. Common paths to failure are trying to build more features, enter more markets, outspend on marketing, and other similar approaches where scale and resources are the primary determinants of success.

But being a startup affords many advantages most giants would salivate over. As a nimble startup you can leverage those to succeed. Let’s breakdown nine competitive advantages we’ve used that you can too.

1. Drive Focus

It’s hard to build a $10 billion revenue business doing just one thing, and most giants have a broad portfolio of businesses, numerous products for each, and targeting a variety of customer segments in multiple markets. That adds complexity and distributes management attention.

Startups get the benefit of having everyone in the company be extremely focused, often on a singular mission, product, customer segment, and market. While our competitors sell everything from advertising to Zantac, and are investing in groceries and shipping, Backblaze has focused exclusively on cloud storage. This means all of our best people (i.e. everyone) is focused on our cloud storage business. Where is all of your focus going?

Lesson Learned: Align everyone in your company to a singular focus to dramatically out-perform larger teams.

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

You may have heard Paul Graham say “Do things that don’t scale.” There are a host of things you can do specifically because you don’t have the same scale as the giants. Use that as an advantage.

When we look for data center space, we have more options than our largest competitors because there are simply more spaces available with room for 100 cabinets than for 1,000 cabinets. With some searching, we can find data center space that is better/cheaper.

When a flood in Thailand destroyed factories, causing the world’s supply of hard drives to plummet and prices to triple, we started drive farming. The giants certainly couldn’t. It was a bit crazy, but it let us keep prices unchanged for our customers.

Our Chief Cloud Officer, Tim, used to work at Adobe. Because of their size, any new product needed to always launch in a multitude of languages and in global markets. Once launched, they had scale. But getting any new product launched was incredibly challenging.

Lesson Learned: Use lack-of-scale to exploit opportunities that are closed to giants.

3. Build a Better Product

This one is probably obvious. If you’re going to provide the same product, at the same price, to the same customers — why do it? Remember that better does not always mean more features. Here’s one way we built a better product that didn’t require being a bigger company.

All online backup services required customers to choose what to include in their backup. We found that this was complicated for users since they often didn’t know what needed to be backed up. We flipped the model to back up everything and allow users to exclude if they wanted to, but it was not required. This reduced the number of features/options, while making it easier and better for the user.

This didn’t require the resources of a huge company; it just required understanding customers a bit deeper and thinking about the solution differently. Building a better product is the most classic startup competitive advantage.

Lesson Learned: Dig deep with your customers to understand and deliver a better mousetrap.

4. Provide Better Service

How can you provide better service? Use your advantages. Escalations from your customer care folks to engineering can go through fewer hoops. Fixing an issue and shipping can be quicker. Access to real answers on Twitter or Facebook can be more effective.

A strategic decision we made was to have all customer support people as full-time employees in our headquarters. This ensures they are in close contact to the whole company for feedback to quickly go both ways.

Having a smaller team and fewer layers enables faster internal communication, which increases customer happiness. And the option to do things that don’t scale — such as help a customer in a unique situation — can go a long way in building customer loyalty.

Lesson Learned: Service your customers better by establishing clear internal communications.

5. Remove The Unnecessary

After determining that the industry standard EMC/NetApp/Dell storage servers would be too expensive to build our own cloud storage upon, we decided to build our own infrastructure. Many said we were crazy to compete with these multi-billion dollar companies and that it would be impossible to build a lower cost storage server. However, not only did it prove to not be impossible — it wasn’t even that hard.

One key trick? Remove the unnecessary. While EMC and others built servers to sell to other companies for a wide variety of use cases, Backblaze needed servers that only Backblaze would run, and for a single use case. As a result we could tailor the servers for our needs by removing redundancy from each server (since we would run redundant servers), and using lower-performance components (since we would get high-performance by running parallel servers).

What do your customers and use cases not need? This can trim costs and complexity while often improving the product for your use case.

Lesson Learned: Don’t think “what can we add” to what the giants offer — think “what can we remove.”

6. Be Easy

How many times have you visited a large company website, particularly one that’s not consumer-focused, only to leave saying, “Huh? I don’t understand what you do.” Keeping your website clear, and your product and pricing simple, will dramatically increase conversion and customer satisfaction. If you’re able to make it 2x easier and thus increasing your conversion by 2x, you’ve just allowed yourself to spend ½ as much acquiring a customer.

Providing unlimited data backup wasn’t specifically about providing more storage — it was about making it easier. Since users didn’t know how much data they needed to back up, charging per gigabyte meant they wouldn’t know the cost. Providing unlimited data backup meant they could just relax.

Customers love easy — and being smaller makes easy easier to deliver. Use that as an advantage in your website, marketing materials, pricing, product, and in every other customer interaction.

Lesson Learned: Ease-of-use isn’t a slogan: it’s a competitive advantage. Treat it as seriously as any other feature of your product

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Obviously unnecessary risks are unnecessary, and some risks aren’t worth taking. However, large companies that have given guidance to Wall Street with a $0.01 range on their earning-per-share are inherently going to be very risk-averse. Use risk-tolerance to open up opportunities, and adjust your tolerance level as you scale. In your first year, there are likely an infinite number of ways your business may vaporize; don’t be too worried about taking a risk that might have a 20% downside when the upside is hockey stick growth.

Using consumer-grade hard drives in our servers may have caused pain and suffering for us years down-the-line, but they were priced at approximately 50% of enterprise drives. Giants wouldn’t have considered the option. Turns out, the consumer drives performed great for us.

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

The larger a company grows, the more it wants to hide information. Some of this is driven by regulatory requirements as a public company. But most of this is cultural. Sharing something might cause a problem, so let’s not. All external communication is treated as a critical press release, with rounds and rounds of editing by multiple teams and approvals. However, customers are often desperate for information. Moreover, sharing information builds trust, understanding, and advocates.

I started blogging at Backblaze before we launched. When we blogged about our Storage Pod and open-sourced the design, many thought we were crazy to share this information. But it was transformative for us, establishing Backblaze as a tech thought leader in storage and giving people a sense of how we were able to provide our service at such a low cost.

Over the years we’ve developed a culture of being open internally and externally, on our blog and with the press, and in communities such as Hacker News and Reddit. Often we’ve been asked, “why would you share that!?” — but it’s the continual openness that builds trust. And that culture of openness is incredibly challenging for the giants.

Lesson Learned: Overshare to build trust and brand where giants won’t.

9. Be Human

As companies scale, typically a smaller percent of founders and executives interact with customers. The people who build the company become more hidden, the language feels “corporate,” and customers start to feel they’re interacting with the cliche “faceless, nameless corporation.” Use your humanity to your advantage. From day one the Backblaze About page listed all the founders, and my email address. While contacting us shouldn’t be the first path for a customer support question, I wanted it to be clear that we stand behind the service we offer; if we’re doing something wrong — I want to know it.

To scale it’s important to have processes and procedures, but sometimes a situation falls outside of a well-established process. While we want our employees to follow processes, they’re still encouraged to be human and “try to do the right thing.” How to you strike this balance? Simon Sinek gives a good talk about it: make your employees feel safe. If employees feel safe they’ll be human.

If your customer is a consumer, they’ll appreciate being treated as a human. Even if your customer is a corporation, the purchasing decision-makers are still people.

Lesson Learned: Being human is the ultimate antithesis to the faceless corporation.

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

Presumably the goal is not to always be competing with giants, but to one day become a giant. Does this mean you’ll lose all of these advantages? Some, yes — but not all. Some of these advantages are cultural, and if you build these into the culture from the beginning, and fight to keep them as you scale, you can keep them as you become a giant.

Tesla still comes across as human, with Elon Musk frequently interacting with people on Twitter. Apple continues to provide great service through their Genius Bar. And, worst case, if you lose these at scale, you’ll still have the other advantages of being a giant such as money, people, scale, resources, and access.

Of course, some new startup will be gunning for you with grand ambitions, so just be sure not to get complacent. 😉

The post How to Compete with Giants appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

5 years with home NAS/RAID

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/09/5-years-with-home-nasraid.html

I have lots of data-sets (packet-caps, internet-scans), so I need a large RAID system to hole it all. As I described in 2012, I bought a home “NAS” system. I thought I’d give the 5 year perspective.

Reliability. I had two drives fail, which is about to be expected. Buying a new drive, swapping it in, and rebuilding the RAID went painless, though that’s because I used RAID6 (two drive redundancy). RAID5 (one drive redundancy) is for chumps.

Speed. I’ve been unhappy with the speed, but there’s not much I can do about it. Mechanical drives access times are slow, and I don’t see any way of fixing that.

Cost. It’s been $3000 over 5 years (including the two replacement drives). That comes out to $50/month. Amazon’s “Glacier” service is $108/month. Since we all have the same hardware costs, it’s unlikely that any online cloud storage can do better than doing it yourself.

Moore’s Law. For the same price as I spent 5 years ago, I can now get three times the storage, including faster processors in the NAS box. From that perspective, I’ve only spent $33/month on storage, as the remaining third still has value.

Ease-of-use: The reason to go with a NAS is ease-of-use, so I don’t have to mess with it. Yes, I’m a Linux sysadmin, but I have more than enough Linux boxen needing my attention. The NAS has been extremely easy to use, even dealing with the two disk failures.

Battery backup. The cheap $50 CyberPower UPS I bought never worked well and completely failed recently, so I’ve ordered a $150 APC unit to replace it.

Vendor. I chose Synology, and have no reason to complain. Of course they’ve had security vulnerabilities, but then, so have all their competition.

DLNA. This is a standard for streaming music among home devices. It never worked well. I suspect partly it’s Synology’s fault that they can’t transcode well. I suspect it’s also the apps I tried on the iPad which have obvious problems. I end up streaming to the iPad by simply using the SMB protocol to serve files rather than a video protocol.

Consumer vs. enterprise drives. I chose consumer rather than enterprise drives. I think this is always the best choice (RAID means inexpensive drives). But very smart people with experience in recovering data disagree with me.

If you are in the market. If you are building your own NAS, get a 4 or 5 bay device and RAID6. Two-drive redundancy is really important.

Cloud Storage Doesn’t have to be Convoluted, Complex, or Confusing

Post Syndicated from Ahin Thomas original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cloud-storage-pricing-comparison/

business man frustrated over cloud storage pricing

So why do many vendors make it so hard to get information about how much you’re storing and how much you’re being charged?

Cloud storage is fast becoming the central repository for mission critical information, irreplaceable memories, and in some cases entire corporate and personal histories. Given this responsibility, we believe cloud storage vendors have an obligation to be transparent as possible in how they interact with their customers.

In that light we decided to challenge four cloud storage vendors and ask two simple questions:

  1. Can a customer understand how much data is stored?
  2. Can a customer understand the bill?

The detailed results are below, but if you wish to skip the details and the screen captures (TL;DR), we’ve summarized the results in the table below.

Summary of Cloud Storage Pricing Test

Our challenge was to upload 1 terabyte of data, store it for one month, and then download it.

Visibility to Data Stored Easy to Understand Bill Cost
Backblaze B2 Accurate, intuitive display of storage information. Available on demand, and the site clearly defines what has and will be charged for. $25
Microsoft Azure Storage is being measured in KiB, but is billed by the GB. With a calculator, it is unclear how much storage we are using. Available, but difficult to find. The nearly 30 day lag in billing creates business and accounting challenges. $72
Amazon S3 Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored. Available on demand. While there are some line items that seem unnecessary for our test, the bill is generally straight-forward to understand. $71
Google Cloud Service Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored. Available, but provides descriptions in units that are not on the pricing table nor commonly used. $100

Cloud Storage Test Details

For our tests, we choose Backblaze B2, Microsoft’s Azure, Amazon’s S3, and Google Cloud Storage. Our idea was simple: Upload 1 TB of data to the comparable service for each vendor, store it for 1 month, download that 1 TB, then document and share the results.

Let’s start with most obvious observation, the cost charged by each vendor for the test:

Cost
Backblaze B2 $25
Microsoft Azure $72
Amazon S3 $71
Google Cloud Service $100

Later in this post, we’ll see if we can determine the different cost components (storage, downloading, transactions, etc.) for each vendor, but our first step is to see if we can determine how much data we stored. In some cases, the answer is not as obvious as it would seem.

Test 1: Can a Customer Understand How Much Data Is Stored?

At the core, a provider of a service ought to be able to tell a customer how much of the service he or she is using. In this case, one might assume that providers of Cloud Storage would be able to tell customers how much data is being stored at any given moment. It turns out, it’s not that simple.

Backblaze B2
Logging into a Backblaze B2 account, one is presented with a summary screen that displays all “buckets.” Each bucket displays key summary information, including data currently stored.

B2 Cloud Storage Buckets screenshot

Clicking into a given bucket, one can browse individual files. Each file displays its size, and multiple files can be selected to create a size summary.

B2 file tree screenshot

Summary: Accurate, intuitive display of storage information.

Microsoft Azure

Moving on to Microsoft’s Azure, things get a little more “exciting.” There was no area that we could find where one can determine the total amount of data, in GB, stored with Azure.

There’s an area entitled “usage,” but that wasn’t helpful.

Microsoft Azure cloud storage screenshot

We then moved on to “Overview,” but had a couple challenges.The first issue was that we were presented with KiB (kibibyte) as a unit of measure. One GB (the unit of measure used in Azure’s pricing table) equates to roughly 976,563 KiB. It struck us as odd that things would be summarized by a unit of measure different from the billing unit of measure.

Microsoft Azure usage dashboard screenshot

Summary: Storage is being measured in KiB, but is billed by the GB. Even with a calculator, it is unclear how much storage we are using.

Amazon S3

Next we checked on the data we were storing in S3. We again ran into problems.

In the bucket overview, we were able to identify our buckets. However, we could not tell how much data was being stored.

Amazon S3 cloud storage buckets screenshot

Drilling into a bucket, the detail view does tell us file size. However, there was no method for summarizing the data stored within that bucket or for multiple files.

Amazon S3 cloud storage buckets usage screenshot

Summary: Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored.

Google Cloud Storage (“GCS”)

GCS proved to have its own quirks, as well.

One can easily find the “bucket” summary, however, it does not provide information on data stored.

Google Cloud Storage Bucket screenshot

Clicking into the bucket, one can see files and the size of an individual file. However, no ability to see data total is provided.

Google Cloud Storage bucket files screenshot

Summary: Incomplete. From the file browsing user interface, there is no reasonable way to understand how much data is being stored.

Test 1 Conclusions

We knew how much storage we were uploading and, in many cases, the user will have some sense of the amount of data they are uploading. However, it strikes us as odd that many vendors won’t tell you how much data you have stored. Even stranger are the vendors that provide reporting in a unit of measure that is different from the units in their pricing table.

Test 2: Can a Customer Understand The Bill?

The cloud storage industry has done itself no favors with its tiered pricing that requires a calculator to figure out what’s going on. Setting that aside for a moment, one would presume that bills would be created in clear, auditable ways.

Backblaze

Inside of the Backblaze user interface, one finds a navigation link entitled “Billing.” Clicking on that, the user is presented with line items for previous bills, payments, and an estimate for the upcoming charges.

Backblaze B2 billing screenshot

One can expand any given row to see the the line item transactions composing each bill.

Backblaze B2 billing details screenshot

Summary: Available on demand, and the site clearly defines what has and will be charged for.

Azure

Trying to understand the Azure billing proved to be a bit tricky.

On August 6th, we logged into the billing console and were presented with this screen.

Microsoft Azure billing screenshot

As you can see, on Aug 6th, billing for the period of May-June was not available for download. For the period ending June 26th, we were charged nearly a month later, on July 24th. Clicking into that row item does display line item information.

Microsoft Azure cloud storage billing details screenshot

Summary: Available, but difficult to find. The nearly 30 day lag in billing creates business and accounting challenges.

Amazon S3

Amazon presents a clean billing summary and enables users to “drill down” into line items.

Going to the billing area of AWS, one can survey various monthly bills and is presented with a clean summary of billing charges.

AWS billing screenshot

Expanding into the billing detail, Amazon articulates each line item charge. Within each line item, charges are broken out into sub-line items for the different tiers of pricing.

AWS billing details screenshot

Summary: Available on demand. While there are some line items that seem unnecessary for our test, the bill is generally straight-forward to understand.

Google Cloud Storage (“GCS”)

This was an area where the GCS User Interface, which was otherwise relatively intuitive, became confusing.

Going to the Billing Overview page did not offer much in the way of an overview on charges.

Google Cloud Storage billing screenshot

However, moving down to the “Transactions” section did provide line item detail on all the charges incurred. However, similar to Azure introducing the concept of KiB, Google introduces the concept of the equally confusing Gibibyte (GiB). While all of Google’s pricing tables are listed in terms of GB, the line items reference GiB. 1 GiB is 1.07374 GBs.

Google Cloud Storage billing details screenshot

Summary: Available, but provides descriptions in units that are not on the pricing table nor commonly used.

Test 2 Conclusions

Clearly, some vendors do a better job than others in making their pricing available and understandable. From a transparency standpoint, it’s difficult to justify why a vendor would have their pricing table in units of X, but then put units of Y in the user interface.

Transparency: The Backblaze Way

Transparency isn’t easy. At Backblaze, we believe in investing time and energy into presenting the most intuitive user interfaces that we can create. We take pride in our heritage in the consumer backup space — servicing consumers has taught us how to make things understandable and usable. We do our best to apply those lessons to everything we do.

This philosophy reflects our desire to make our products usable, but it’s also part of a larger ethos of being transparent with our customers. We are being trusted with precious data. We want to repay that trust with, among other things, transparency.

It’s that spirit that was behind the decision to publish our hard drive performance stats, to open source the infrastructure that is behind us having the lowest cost of storage in the industry, and also to open source our erasure coding (the math that drives a significant portion of our redundancy for your data).

Why? We believe it’s not just about good user interface, it’s about the relationship we want to build with our customers.

The post Cloud Storage Doesn’t have to be Convoluted, Complex, or Confusing appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

How to Configure an LDAPS Endpoint for Simple AD

Post Syndicated from Cameron Worrell original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-configure-an-ldaps-endpoint-for-simple-ad/

Simple AD, which is powered by Samba  4, supports basic Active Directory (AD) authentication features such as users, groups, and the ability to join domains. Simple AD also includes an integrated Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) server. LDAP is a standard application protocol for the access and management of directory information. You can use the BIND operation from Simple AD to authenticate LDAP client sessions. This makes LDAP a common choice for centralized authentication and authorization for services such as Secure Shell (SSH), client-based virtual private networks (VPNs), and many other applications. Authentication, the process of confirming the identity of a principal, typically involves the transmission of highly sensitive information such as user names and passwords. To protect this information in transit over untrusted networks, companies often require encryption as part of their information security strategy.

In this blog post, we show you how to configure an LDAPS (LDAP over SSL/TLS) encrypted endpoint for Simple AD so that you can extend Simple AD over untrusted networks. Our solution uses Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) to send decrypted LDAP traffic to HAProxy running on Amazon EC2, which then sends the traffic to Simple AD. ELB offers integrated certificate management, SSL/TLS termination, and the ability to use a scalable EC2 backend to process decrypted traffic. ELB also tightly integrates with Amazon Route 53, enabling you to use a custom domain for the LDAPS endpoint. The solution needs the intermediate HAProxy layer because ELB can direct traffic only to EC2 instances. To simplify testing and deployment, we have provided an AWS CloudFormation template to provision the ELB and HAProxy layers.

This post assumes that you have an understanding of concepts such as Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and its components, including subnets, routing, Internet and network address translation (NAT) gateways, DNS, and security groups. You should also be familiar with launching EC2 instances and logging in to them with SSH. If needed, you should familiarize yourself with these concepts and review the solution overview and prerequisites in the next section before proceeding with the deployment.

Note: This solution is intended for use by clients requiring an LDAPS endpoint only. If your requirements extend beyond this, you should consider accessing the Simple AD servers directly or by using AWS Directory Service for Microsoft AD.

Solution overview

The following diagram and description illustrates and explains the Simple AD LDAPS environment. The CloudFormation template creates the items designated by the bracket (internal ELB load balancer and two HAProxy nodes configured in an Auto Scaling group).

Diagram of the the Simple AD LDAPS environment

Here is how the solution works, as shown in the preceding numbered diagram:

  1. The LDAP client sends an LDAPS request to ELB on TCP port 636.
  2. ELB terminates the SSL/TLS session and decrypts the traffic using a certificate. ELB sends the decrypted LDAP traffic to the EC2 instances running HAProxy on TCP port 389.
  3. The HAProxy servers forward the LDAP request to the Simple AD servers listening on TCP port 389 in a fixed Auto Scaling group configuration.
  4. The Simple AD servers send an LDAP response through the HAProxy layer to ELB. ELB encrypts the response and sends it to the client.

Note: Amazon VPC prevents a third party from intercepting traffic within the VPC. Because of this, the VPC protects the decrypted traffic between ELB and HAProxy and between HAProxy and Simple AD. The ELB encryption provides an additional layer of security for client connections and protects traffic coming from hosts outside the VPC.

Prerequisites

  1. Our approach requires an Amazon VPC with two public and two private subnets. The previous diagram illustrates the environment’s VPC requirements. If you do not yet have these components in place, follow these guidelines for setting up a sample environment:
    1. Identify a region that supports Simple AD, ELB, and NAT gateways. The NAT gateways are used with an Internet gateway to allow the HAProxy instances to access the internet to perform their required configuration. You also need to identify the two Availability Zones in that region for use by Simple AD. You will supply these Availability Zones as parameters to the CloudFormation template later in this process.
    2. Create or choose an Amazon VPC in the region you chose. In order to use Route 53 to resolve the LDAPS endpoint, make sure you enable DNS support within your VPC. Create an Internet gateway and attach it to the VPC, which will be used by the NAT gateways to access the internet.
    3. Create a route table with a default route to the Internet gateway. Create two NAT gateways, one per Availability Zone in your public subnets to provide additional resiliency across the Availability Zones. Together, the routing table, the NAT gateways, and the Internet gateway enable the HAProxy instances to access the internet.
    4. Create two private routing tables, one per Availability Zone. Create two private subnets, one per Availability Zone. The dual routing tables and subnets allow for a higher level of redundancy. Add each subnet to the routing table in the same Availability Zone. Add a default route in each routing table to the NAT gateway in the same Availability Zone. The Simple AD servers use subnets that you create.
    5. The LDAP service requires a DNS domain that resolves within your VPC and from your LDAP clients. If you do not have an existing DNS domain, follow the steps to create a private hosted zone and associate it with your VPC. To avoid encryption protocol errors, you must ensure that the DNS domain name is consistent across your Route 53 zone and in the SSL/TLS certificate (see Step 2 in the “Solution deployment” section).
  2. Make sure you have completed the Simple AD Prerequisites.
  3. We will use a self-signed certificate for ELB to perform SSL/TLS decryption. You can use a certificate issued by your preferred certificate authority or a certificate issued by AWS Certificate Manager (ACM).
    Note: To prevent unauthorized connections directly to your Simple AD servers, you can modify the Simple AD security group on port 389 to block traffic from locations outside of the Simple AD VPC. You can find the security group in the EC2 console by creating a search filter for your Simple AD directory ID. It is also important to allow the Simple AD servers to communicate with each other as shown on Simple AD Prerequisites.

Solution deployment

This solution includes five main parts:

  1. Create a Simple AD directory.
  2. Create a certificate.
  3. Create the ELB and HAProxy layers by using the supplied CloudFormation template.
  4. Create a Route 53 record.
  5. Test LDAPS access using an Amazon Linux client.

1. Create a Simple AD directory

With the prerequisites completed, you will create a Simple AD directory in your private VPC subnets:

  1. In the Directory Service console navigation pane, choose Directories and then choose Set up directory.
  2. Choose Simple AD.
    Screenshot of choosing "Simple AD"
  3. Provide the following information:
    • Directory DNS – The fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of the directory, such as corp.example.com. You will use the FQDN as part of the testing procedure.
    • NetBIOS name – The short name for the directory, such as CORP.
    • Administrator password – The password for the directory administrator. The directory creation process creates an administrator account with the user name Administrator and this password. Do not lose this password because it is nonrecoverable. You also need this password for testing LDAPS access in a later step.
    • Description – An optional description for the directory.
    • Directory Size – The size of the directory.
      Screenshot of the directory details to provide
  4. Provide the following information in the VPC Details section, and then choose Next Step:
    • VPC – Specify the VPC in which to install the directory.
    • Subnets – Choose two private subnets for the directory servers. The two subnets must be in different Availability Zones. Make a note of the VPC and subnet IDs for use as CloudFormation input parameters. In the following example, the Availability Zones are us-east-1a and us-east-1c.
      Screenshot of the VPC details to provide
  5. Review the directory information and make any necessary changes. When the information is correct, choose Create Simple AD.

It takes several minutes to create the directory. From the AWS Directory Service console , refresh the screen periodically and wait until the directory Status value changes to Active before continuing. Choose your Simple AD directory and note the two IP addresses in the DNS address section. You will enter them when you run the CloudFormation template later.

Note: Full administration of your Simple AD implementation is out of scope for this blog post. See the documentation to add users, groups, or instances to your directory. Also see the previous blog post, How to Manage Identities in Simple AD Directories.

2. Create a certificate

In the previous step, you created the Simple AD directory. Next, you will generate a self-signed SSL/TLS certificate using OpenSSL. You will use the certificate with ELB to secure the LDAPS endpoint. OpenSSL is a standard, open source library that supports a wide range of cryptographic functions, including the creation and signing of x509 certificates. You then import the certificate into ACM that is integrated with ELB.

  1. You must have a system with OpenSSL installed to complete this step. If you do not have OpenSSL, you can install it on Amazon Linux by running the command, sudo yum install openssl. If you do not have access to an Amazon Linux instance you can create one with SSH access enabled to proceed with this step. Run the command, openssl version, at the command line to see if you already have OpenSSL installed.
    [[email protected] ~]$ openssl version
    OpenSSL 1.0.1k-fips 8 Jan 2015

  2. Create a private key using the command, openssl genrsa command.
    [[email protected] tmp]$ openssl genrsa 2048 > privatekey.pem
    Generating RSA private key, 2048 bit long modulus
    ......................................................................................................................................................................+++
    ..........................+++
    e is 65537 (0x10001)

  3. Generate a certificate signing request (CSR) using the openssl req command. Provide the requested information for each field. The Common Name is the FQDN for your LDAPS endpoint (for example, ldap.corp.example.com). The Common Name must use the domain name you will later register in Route 53. You will encounter certificate errors if the names do not match.
    [[email protected] tmp]$ openssl req -new -key privatekey.pem -out server.csr
    You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated into your certificate request.

  4. Use the openssl x509 command to sign the certificate. The following example uses the private key from the previous step (privatekey.pem) and the signing request (server.csr) to create a public certificate named server.crt that is valid for 365 days. This certificate must be updated within 365 days to avoid disruption of LDAPS functionality.
    [[email protected] tmp]$ openssl x509 -req -sha256 -days 365 -in server.csr -signkey privatekey.pem -out server.crt
    Signature ok
    subject=/C=XX/L=Default City/O=Default Company Ltd/CN=ldap.corp.example.com
    Getting Private key

  5. You should see three files: privatekey.pem, server.crt, and server.csr.
    [[email protected] tmp]$ ls
    privatekey.pem server.crt server.csr

    Restrict access to the private key.

    [[email protected] tmp]$ chmod 600 privatekey.pem

    Keep the private key and public certificate for later use. You can discard the signing request because you are using a self-signed certificate and not using a Certificate Authority. Always store the private key in a secure location and avoid adding it to your source code.

  6. In the ACM console, choose Import a certificate.
  7. Using your favorite Linux text editor, paste the contents of your server.crt file in the Certificate body box.
  8. Using your favorite Linux text editor, paste the contents of your privatekey.pem file in the Certificate private key box. For a self-signed certificate, you can leave the Certificate chain box blank.
  9. Choose Review and import. Confirm the information and choose Import.

3. Create the ELB and HAProxy layers by using the supplied CloudFormation template

Now that you have created your Simple AD directory and SSL/TLS certificate, you are ready to use the CloudFormation template to create the ELB and HAProxy layers.

  1. Load the supplied CloudFormation template to deploy an internal ELB and two HAProxy EC2 instances into a fixed Auto Scaling group. After you load the template, provide the following input parameters. Note: You can find the parameters relating to your Simple AD from the directory details page by choosing your Simple AD in the Directory Service console.
Input parameter Input parameter description
HAProxyInstanceSize The EC2 instance size for HAProxy servers. The default size is t2.micro and can scale up for large Simple AD environments.
MyKeyPair The SSH key pair for EC2 instances. If you do not have an existing key pair, you must create one.
VPCId The target VPC for this solution. Must be in the VPC where you deployed Simple AD and is available in your Simple AD directory details page.
SubnetId1 The Simple AD primary subnet. This information is available in your Simple AD directory details page.
SubnetId2 The Simple AD secondary subnet. This information is available in your Simple AD directory details page.
MyTrustedNetwork Trusted network Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR) to allow connections to the LDAPS endpoint. For example, use the VPC CIDR to allow clients in the VPC to connect.
SimpleADPriIP The primary Simple AD Server IP. This information is available in your Simple AD directory details page.
SimpleADSecIP The secondary Simple AD Server IP. This information is available in your Simple AD directory details page.
LDAPSCertificateARN The Amazon Resource Name (ARN) for the SSL certificate. This information is available in the ACM console.
  1. Enter the input parameters and choose Next.
  2. On the Options page, accept the defaults and choose Next.
  3. On the Review page, confirm the details and choose Create. The stack will be created in approximately 5 minutes.

4. Create a Route 53 record

The next step is to create a Route 53 record in your private hosted zone so that clients can resolve your LDAPS endpoint.

  1. If you do not have an existing DNS domain for use with LDAP, create a private hosted zone and associate it with your VPC. The hosted zone name should be consistent with your Simple AD (for example, corp.example.com).
  2. When the CloudFormation stack is in CREATE_COMPLETE status, locate the value of the LDAPSURL on the Outputs tab of the stack. Copy this value for use in the next step.
  3. On the Route 53 console, choose Hosted Zones and then choose the zone you used for the Common Name box for your self-signed certificate. Choose Create Record Set and enter the following information:
    1. Name – The label of the record (such as ldap).
    2. Type – Leave as A – IPv4 address.
    3. Alias – Choose Yes.
    4. Alias Target – Paste the value of the LDAPSURL on the Outputs tab of the stack.
  4. Leave the defaults for Routing Policy and Evaluate Target Health, and choose Create.
    Screenshot of finishing the creation of the Route 53 record

5. Test LDAPS access using an Amazon Linux client

At this point, you have configured your LDAPS endpoint and now you can test it from an Amazon Linux client.

  1. Create an Amazon Linux instance with SSH access enabled to test the solution. Launch the instance into one of the public subnets in your VPC. Make sure the IP assigned to the instance is in the trusted IP range you specified in the CloudFormation parameter MyTrustedNetwork in Step 3.b.
  2. SSH into the instance and complete the following steps to verify access.
    1. Install the openldap-clients package and any required dependencies:
      sudo yum install -y openldap-clients.
    2. Add the server.crt file to the /etc/openldap/certs/ directory so that the LDAPS client will trust your SSL/TLS certificate. You can copy the file using Secure Copy (SCP) or create it using a text editor.
    3. Edit the /etc/openldap/ldap.conf file and define the environment variables BASE, URI, and TLS_CACERT.
      • The value for BASE should match the configuration of the Simple AD directory name.
      • The value for URI should match your DNS alias.
      • The value for TLS_CACERT is the path to your public certificate.

Here is an example of the contents of the file.

BASE dc=corp,dc=example,dc=com
URI ldaps://ldap.corp.example.com
TLS_CACERT /etc/openldap/certs/server.crt

To test the solution, query the directory through the LDAPS endpoint, as shown in the following command. Replace corp.example.com with your domain name and use the Administrator password that you configured with the Simple AD directory

$ ldapsearch -D "[email protected]corp.example.com" -W sAMAccountName=Administrator

You should see a response similar to the following response, which provides the directory information in LDAP Data Interchange Format (LDIF) for the administrator distinguished name (DN) from your Simple AD LDAP server.

# extended LDIF
#
# LDAPv3
# base <dc=corp,dc=example,dc=com> (default) with scope subtree
# filter: sAMAccountName=Administrator
# requesting: ALL
#

# Administrator, Users, corp.example.com
dn: CN=Administrator,CN=Users,DC=corp,DC=example,DC=com
objectClass: top
objectClass: person
objectClass: organizationalPerson
objectClass: user
description: Built-in account for administering the computer/domain
instanceType: 4
whenCreated: 20170721123204.0Z
uSNCreated: 3223
name: Administrator
objectGUID:: l3h0HIiKO0a/ShL4yVK/vw==
userAccountControl: 512
…

You can now use the LDAPS endpoint for directory operations and authentication within your environment. If you would like to learn more about how to interact with your LDAPS endpoint within a Linux environment, here are a few resources to get started:

Troubleshooting

If you receive an error such as the following error when issuing the ldapsearch command, there are a few things you can do to help identify issues.

ldap_sasl_bind(SIMPLE): Can't contact LDAP server (-1)
  • You might be able to obtain additional error details by adding the -d1 debug flag to the ldapsearch command in the previous section.
    $ ldapsearch -D "[email protected]" -W sAMAccountName=Administrator –d1

  • Verify that the parameters in ldap.conf match your configured LDAPS URI endpoint and that all parameters can be resolved by DNS. You can use the following dig command, substituting your configured endpoint DNS name.
    $ dig ldap.corp.example.com

  • Confirm that the client instance from which you are connecting is in the CIDR range of the CloudFormation parameter, MyTrustedNetwork.
  • Confirm that the path to your public SSL/TLS certificate configured in ldap.conf as TLS_CAERT is correct. You configured this in Step 5.b.3. You can check your SSL/TLS connection with the command, substituting your configured endpoint DNS name for the string after –connect.
    $ echo -n | openssl s_client -connect ldap.corp.example.com:636

  • Verify that your HAProxy instances have the status InService in the EC2 console: Choose Load Balancers under Load Balancing in the navigation pane, highlight your LDAPS load balancer, and then choose the Instances

Conclusion

You can use ELB and HAProxy to provide an LDAPS endpoint for Simple AD and transport sensitive authentication information over untrusted networks. You can explore using LDAPS to authenticate SSH users or integrate with other software solutions that support LDAP authentication. This solution’s CloudFormation template is available on GitHub.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or issues implementing this solution, start a new thread on the Directory Service forum.

– Cameron and Jeff

On ISO standardization of blockchains

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/08/on-iso-standardization-of-blockchains.html

So ISO, the primary international standards organization, is seeking to standardize blockchain technologies. On the surface, this seems a reasonable idea, creating a common standard that everyone can interoperate with.

But it can be silly idea in practice. I mean, it should not be assumed that this is a good thing to do.

The value of official standards

You don’t need the official imprimatur of a government committee for something to be a “standard”. The Internet itself is a prime example of that.

In the 1980s, the ISO and the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) pursued competing standards for creating a world-wide “internet”. The IETF was an informal group of technologist that had essentially no official standing.

The ISO version of the Internet failed. Their process was to bring multiple stakeholders from business, government, and universities together in committees to debate competing interests. The result was something so horrible that it could never work in practice.

The IETF succeeded. It consisted of engineers just building things. Rather than officially “standardized”, these things were “described”, so that others knew enough to build their own version that interoperated. Once lots of different people built interoperating versions of something, then it became a “standard”.

In other words, the way the Internet came to be, standardization followed interoperability — it didn’t create interoperability.

In the end, the ISO gave up on their standards and adopted the IETF standards. The ISO brought no value to the development of Internet standards. Whether they ratified the Internet’s “TCP/IP” standard, ignored it, or condemned it, the Internet would exist today anyway, and a competing ISO-blessed internetwork would not.

The same question exists for blockchain technologies. Groups are off busy innovating quickly, creating their own standards. If the ISO blesses one, or creates its own, it’s unlikely to have any impact on interoperability.

Blockchain vs. chaining blocks

The excitement over blockchains is largely driven by people who don’t know the details, who don’t understand the difference between a blockchain like Bitcoin and the problem they are trying to solve.

Consider a record keeping system, especially public records. Storing them in a blockchain seems like a natural idea.

But in fact, it’s a terrible idea. A Bitcoin-style blockchain has a lot of features you don’t want, like “proof-of-work” signing. It is also missing necessary features, like bulk storage with redundancy (backups). Sure, Bitcoin has redundancy, but by brute force, storing the blockchain in thousands of places around the Internet. This is far from what a public records system would need, which would store a lot more data with far fewer backup copies (fewer than 10).

The only real overlap between Bitcoin and a public records system is a “signing chain”. But this is something that already existed before Bitcoin. It’s what Bitcoin blockchain was built on top of — it’s not the blockchain itself.

It’s like people discovering “cryptography” for the first time when they looked at Bitcoin, ignoring the thousand year history of crypto, and now every time they see a need for “crypto” they think “Bitcoin blockchain”.

Consensus and forking

The entire point of Bitcoin, the reason it was created, was as the antithesis to centralized standardization like ISO. Standardizing blockchains misses the entire point of their existence. The Bitcoin manifesto is that standardization comes from acclamation not proclamation, and that many different standards are preferable to a single one.

This is not just a theoretical idea but one built into Bitcoin’s blockchain technology. “Consensus” is achieved by the proof-of-work mechanism, so that those who do the most work are the ones that drive the consensus. When irreconcilable differences arise, the blockchain “forks”, with each side continuing on with their now non-interoperable blockchains. Such forks are not a sin, but part of the natural evolution.

We saw this with the recent fork of Bitcoin. There are now so many transactions that they exceed the size of blocks. One group chose a change to make transactions smaller. Another group chose a change to make block sizes larger.

It is this problem, of consensus, that is the innovation that Bitcoin created with blockchains, not the chain signing of public transaction records.

Ethereum

What “blockchain standardization” is going to mean in practice is not the blockchain itself, but trying to standardize the Ethereum version. What makes Ethereum different is the “smart contracts” programming language, which has financial institutions excited.

This is a bad idea because from a cybersecurity perspective, Ethereum’s programming language is flawed. Different bugs in “smart contracts” have led to multiple $100-million hacks, such as the infamous “DAO collapse”.

While it has interesting possibilities, we should be scared of standardizing Ethereum’s language before it works.

Conclusion

People who matter are too busy innovating, creating their own blockchain standards. There is little that the ISO can do to improve this. Their official imprimatur is not needed to foster innovation and interoperability — if they are consequential at anything, it’ll just be interfering.