Tag Archives: user interface

[$] Mozilla releases tools and data for speech recognition

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/740768/rss

Voice computing has long been a staple of science fiction, but it has
only relatively recently made its way into fairly common mainstream use.
Gadgets like mobile
phones and “smart” home assistant devices (e.g. Amazon Echo, Google Home)
have brought voice-based user interfaces to the masses. The voice
processing for those gadgets relies on various proprietary services “in the
cloud”, which generally leaves the free-software world out in the cold.
There have
been FOSS speech-recognition efforts over
the years, but Mozilla’s recent
of the release of its voice-recognition code and voice
data set should help further the goal of FOSS voice interfaces.

Stretch for PCs and Macs, and a Raspbian update

Post Syndicated from Simon Long original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/stretch-pcs-macs-raspbian-update/

Today, we are launching the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for PCs and Macs, and we’re also releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch splash screen

For PCs and Macs

When we released our custom desktop environment on Debian for PCs and Macs last year, we were slightly taken aback by how popular it turned out to be. We really only created it as a result of one of those “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversations we sometimes have in the office, so we were delighted by the Pi community’s reaction.

Seeing how keen people were on the x86 version, we decided that we were going to try to keep releasing it alongside Raspbian, with the ultimate aim being to make simultaneous releases of both. This proved to be tricky, particularly with the move from the Jessie version of Debian to the Stretch version this year. However, we have now finished the job of porting all the custom code in Raspbian Stretch to Debian, and so the first Debian Stretch release of the Raspberry Pi Desktop for your PC or Mac is available from today.

The new Stretch releases

As with the Jessie release, you can either run this as a live image from a DVD, USB stick, or SD card or install it as the native operating system on the hard drive of an old laptop or desktop computer. Please note that installing this software will erase anything else on the hard drive — do not install this over a machine running Windows or macOS that you still need to use for its original purpose! It is, however, safe to boot a live image on such a machine, since your hard drive will not be touched by this.

We’re also pleased to announce that we are releasing the latest version of Raspbian Stretch for your Pi today. The Pi and PC versions are largely identical: as before, there are a few applications (such as Mathematica) which are exclusive to the Pi, but the user interface, desktop, and most applications will be exactly the same.

For Raspbian, this new release is mostly bug fixes and tweaks over the previous Stretch release, but there are one or two changes you might notice.

File manager

The file manager included as part of the LXDE desktop (on which our desktop is based) is a program called PCManFM, and it’s very feature-rich; there’s not much you can’t do in it. However, having used it for a few years, we felt that it was perhaps more complex than it needed to be — the sheer number of menu options and choices made some common operations more awkward than they needed to be. So to try to make file management easier, we have implemented a cut-down mode for the file manager.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - file manager

Most of the changes are to do with the menus. We’ve removed a lot of options that most people are unlikely to change, and moved some other options into the Preferences screen rather than the menus. The two most common settings people tend to change — how icons are displayed and sorted — are now options on the toolbar and in a top-level menu rather than hidden away in submenus.

The sidebar now only shows a single hierarchical view of the file system, and we’ve tidied the toolbar and updated the icons to make them match our house style. We’ve removed the option for a tabbed interface, and we’ve stomped a few bugs as well.

One final change was to make it possible to rename a file just by clicking on its icon to highlight it, and then clicking on its name. This is the way renaming works on both Windows and macOS, and it’s always seemed slightly awkward that Unix desktop environments tend not to support it.

As with most of the other changes we’ve made to the desktop over the last few years, the intention is to make it simpler to use, and to ease the transition from non-Unix environments. But if you really don’t like what we’ve done and long for the old file manager, just untick the box for Display simplified user interface and menus in the Layout page of Preferences, and everything will be back the way it was!

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - preferences GUI

Battery indicator for laptops

One important feature missing from the previous release was an indication of the amount of battery life. Eben runs our desktop on his Mac, and he was becoming slightly irritated by having to keep rebooting into macOS just to check whether his battery was about to die — so fixing this was a priority!

We’ve added a battery status icon to the taskbar; this shows current percentage charge, along with whether the battery is charging, discharging, or connected to the mains. When you hover over the icon with the mouse pointer, a tooltip with more details appears, including the time remaining if the battery can provide this information.

Raspberry Pi Desktop Stretch - battery indicator

While this battery monitor is mainly intended for the PC version, it also supports the first-generation pi-top — to see it, you’ll only need to make sure that I2C is enabled in Configuration. A future release will support the new second-generation pi-top.

New PC applications

We have included a couple of new applications in the PC version. One is called PiServer — this allows you to set up an operating system, such as Raspbian, on the PC which can then be shared by a number of Pi clients networked to it. It is intended to make it easy for classrooms to have multiple Pis all running exactly the same software, and for the teacher to have control over how the software is installed and used. PiServer is quite a clever piece of software, and it’ll be covered in more detail in another blog post in December.

We’ve also added an application which allows you to easily use the GPIO pins of a Pi Zero connected via USB to a PC in applications using Scratch or Python. This makes it possible to run the same physical computing projects on the PC as you do on a Pi! Again, we’ll tell you more in a separate blog post this month.

Both of these applications are included as standard on the PC image, but not on the Raspbian image. You can run them on a Pi if you want — both can be installed from apt.

How to get the new versions

New images for both Raspbian and Debian versions are available from the Downloads page.

It is possible to update existing installations of both Raspbian and Debian versions. For Raspbian, this is easy: just open a terminal window and enter

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Updating Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi

How to update to the latest version of Raspbian on your Raspberry Pi. Download Raspbian here: More information on the latest version of Raspbian: Buy a Raspberry Pi:

It is slightly more complex for the PC version, as the previous release was based around Debian Jessie. You will need to edit the files /etc/apt/sources.list and /etc/apt/sources.list.d/raspi.list, using sudo to do so. In both files, change every occurrence of the word “jessie” to “stretch”. When that’s done, do the following:

sudo apt-get update 
sudo dpkg --force-depends -r libwebkitgtk-3.0-common
sudo apt-get -f install
sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
sudo apt-get install python3-thonny
sudo apt-get install sonic-pi=2.10.0~repack-rpt1+2
sudo apt-get install piserver
sudo apt-get install usbbootgui

At several points during the upgrade process, you will be asked if you want to keep the current version of a configuration file or to install the package maintainer’s version. In every case, keep the existing version, which is the default option. The update may take an hour or so, depending on your network connection.

As with all software updates, there is the possibility that something may go wrong during the process, which could lead to your operating system becoming corrupted. Therefore, we always recommend making a backup first.

Enjoy the new versions, and do let us know any feedback you have in the comments or on the forums!

The post Stretch for PCs and Macs, and a Raspbian update appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

AWS Systems Manager – A Unified Interface for Managing Your Cloud and Hybrid Resources

Post Syndicated from Randall Hunt original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-systems-manager/

AWS Systems Manager is a new way to manage your cloud and hybrid IT environments. AWS Systems Manager provides a unified user interface that simplifies resource and application management, shortens the time to detect and resolve operational problems, and makes it easy to operate and manage your infrastructure securely at scale. This service is absolutely packed full of features. It defines a new experience around grouping, visualizing, and reacting to problems using features from products like Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM) to enable rich operations across your resources.

As I said above, there are a lot of powerful features in this service and we won’t be able to dive deep on all of them but it’s easy to go to the console and get started with any of the tools.

Resource Groupings

Resource Groups allow you to create logical groupings of most resources that support tagging like: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) buckets, Elastic Load Balancing balancers, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) instances, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, Amazon Kinesis streams, Amazon Route 53 zones, and more. Previously, you could use the AWS Console to define resource groupings but AWS Systems Manager provides this new resource group experience via a new console and API. These groupings are a fundamental building block of Systems Manager in that they are frequently the target of various operations you may want to perform like: compliance management, software inventories, patching, and other automations.

You start by defining a group based on tag filters. From there you can view all of the resources in a centralized console. You would typically use these groupings to differentiate between applications, application layers, and environments like production or dev – but you can make your own rules about how to use them as well. If you imagine a typical 3 tier web-app you might have a few EC2 instances, an ELB, a few S3 buckets, and an RDS instance. You can define a grouping for that application and with all of those different resources simultaneously.


AWS Systems Manager automatically aggregates and displays operational data for each resource group through a dashboard. You no longer need to navigate through multiple AWS consoles to view all of your operational data. You can easily integrate your exiting Amazon CloudWatch dashboards, AWS Config rules, AWS CloudTrail trails, AWS Trusted Advisor notifications, and AWS Personal Health Dashboard performance and availability alerts. You can also easily view your software inventories across your fleet. AWS Systems Manager also provides a compliance dashboard allowing you to see the state of various security controls and patching operations across your fleets.

Acting on Insights

Building on the success of EC2 Systems Manager (SSM), AWS Systems Manager takes all of the features of SSM and provides a central place to access them. These are all the same experiences you would have through SSM with a more accesible console and centralized interface. You can use the resource groups you’ve defined in Systems Manager to visualize and act on groups of resources.


Automations allow you to define common IT tasks as a JSON document that specify a list of tasks. You can also use community published documents. These documents can be executed through the Console, CLIs, SDKs, scheduled maintenance windows, or triggered based on changes in your infrastructure through CloudWatch events. You can track and log the execution of each step in the documents and prompt for additional approvals. It also allows you to incrementally roll out changes and automatically halt when errors occur. You can start executing an automation directly on a resource group and it will be able to apply itself to the resources that it understands within the group.

Run Command

Run Command is a superior alternative to enabling SSH on your instances. It provides safe, secure remote management of your instances at scale without logging into your servers, replacing the need for SSH bastions or remote powershell. It has granular IAM permissions that allow you to restrict which roles or users can run certain commands.

Patch Manager, Maintenance Windows, and State Manager

I’ve written about Patch Manager before and if you manage fleets of Windows and Linux instances it’s a great way to maintain a common baseline of security across your fleet.

Maintenance windows allow you to schedule instance maintenance and other disruptive tasks for a specific time window.

State Manager allows you to control various server configuration details like anti-virus definitions, firewall settings, and more. You can define policies in the console or run existing scripts, PowerShell modules, or even Ansible playbooks directly from S3 or GitHub. You can query State Manager at any time to view the status of your instance configurations.

Things To Know

There’s some interesting terminology here. We haven’t done the best job of naming things in the past so let’s take a moment to clarify. EC2 Systems Manager (sometimes called SSM) is what you used before today. You can still invoke aws ssm commands. However, AWS Systems Manager builds on and enhances many of the tools provided by EC2 Systems Manager and allows those same tools to be applied to more than just EC2. When you see the phrase “Systems Manager” in the future you should think of AWS Systems Manager and not EC2 Systems Manager.

AWS Systems Manager with all of this useful functionality is provided at no additional charge. It is immediately available in all public AWS regions.

The best part about these services is that even with their tight integrations each one is designed to be used in isolation as well. If you only need one component of these services it’s simple to get started with only that component.

There’s a lot more than I could ever document in this post so I encourage you all to jump into the console and documentation to figure out where you can start using AWS Systems Manager.


Implementing Default Directory Indexes in Amazon S3-backed Amazon CloudFront Origins Using [email protected]

Post Syndicated from Ronnie Eichler original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/compute/implementing-default-directory-indexes-in-amazon-s3-backed-amazon-cloudfront-origins-using-lambdaedge/

With the recent launch of [email protected], it’s now possible for you to provide even more robust functionality to your static websites. Amazon CloudFront is a content distribution network service. In this post, I show how you can use [email protected] along with the CloudFront origin access identity (OAI) for Amazon S3 and still provide simple URLs (such as www.example.com/about/ instead of www.example.com/about/index.html).


Amazon S3 is a great platform for hosting a static website. You don’t need to worry about managing servers or underlying infrastructure—you just publish your static to content to an S3 bucket. S3 provides a DNS name such as <bucket-name>.s3-website-<AWS-region>.amazonaws.com. Use this name for your website by creating a CNAME record in your domain’s DNS environment (or Amazon Route 53) as follows:

www.example.com -> <bucket-name>.s3-website-<AWS-region>.amazonaws.com

You can also put CloudFront in front of S3 to further scale the performance of your site and cache the content closer to your users. CloudFront can enable HTTPS-hosted sites, by either using a custom Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate or a managed certificate from AWS Certificate Manager. In addition, CloudFront also offers integration with AWS WAF, a web application firewall. As you can see, it’s possible to achieve some robust functionality by using S3, CloudFront, and other managed services and not have to worry about maintaining underlying infrastructure.

One of the key concerns that you might have when implementing any type of WAF or CDN is that you want to force your users to go through the CDN. If you implement CloudFront in front of S3, you can achieve this by using an OAI. However, in order to do this, you cannot use the HTTP endpoint that is exposed by S3’s static website hosting feature. Instead, CloudFront must use the S3 REST endpoint to fetch content from your origin so that the request can be authenticated using the OAI. This presents some challenges in that the REST endpoint does not support redirection to a default index page.

CloudFront does allow you to specify a default root object (index.html), but it only works on the root of the website (such as http://www.example.com > http://www.example.com/index.html). It does not work on any subdirectory (such as http://www.example.com/about/). If you were to attempt to request this URL through CloudFront, CloudFront would do a S3 GetObject API call against a key that does not exist.

Of course, it is a bad user experience to expect users to always type index.html at the end of every URL (or even know that it should be there). Until now, there has not been an easy way to provide these simpler URLs (equivalent to the DirectoryIndex Directive in an Apache Web Server configuration) to users through CloudFront. Not if you still want to be able to restrict access to the S3 origin using an OAI. However, with the release of [email protected], you can use a JavaScript function running on the CloudFront edge nodes to look for these patterns and request the appropriate object key from the S3 origin.


In this example, you use the compute power at the CloudFront edge to inspect the request as it’s coming in from the client. Then re-write the request so that CloudFront requests a default index object (index.html in this case) for any request URI that ends in ‘/’.

When a request is made against a web server, the client specifies the object to obtain in the request. You can use this URI and apply a regular expression to it so that these URIs get resolved to a default index object before CloudFront requests the object from the origin. Use the following code:

'use strict';
exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    // Extract the request from the CloudFront event that is sent to [email protected] 
    var request = event.Records[0].cf.request;

    // Extract the URI from the request
    var olduri = request.uri;

    // Match any '/' that occurs at the end of a URI. Replace it with a default index
    var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');
    // Log the URI as received by CloudFront and the new URI to be used to fetch from origin
    console.log("Old URI: " + olduri);
    console.log("New URI: " + newuri);
    // Replace the received URI with the URI that includes the index page
    request.uri = newuri;
    // Return to CloudFront
    return callback(null, request);


To get started, create an S3 bucket to be the origin for CloudFront:

Create bucket

On the other screens, you can just accept the defaults for the purposes of this walkthrough. If this were a production implementation, I would recommend enabling bucket logging and specifying an existing S3 bucket as the destination for access logs. These logs can be useful if you need to troubleshoot issues with your S3 access.

Now, put some content into your S3 bucket. For this walkthrough, create two simple webpages to demonstrate the functionality:  A page that resides at the website root, and another that is in a subdirectory.


<!doctype html>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Root home page</title>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the root directory.</p>


<!doctype html>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>

When uploading the files into S3, you can accept the defaults. You add a bucket policy as part of the CloudFront distribution creation that allows CloudFront to access the S3 origin. You should now have an S3 bucket that looks like the following:

Root of bucket

Subdirectory in bucket

Next, create a CloudFront distribution that your users will use to access the content. Open the CloudFront console, and choose Create Distribution. For Select a delivery method for your content, under Web, choose Get Started.

On the next screen, you set up the distribution. Below are the options to configure:

  • Origin Domain Name:  Select the S3 bucket that you created earlier.
  • Restrict Bucket Access: Choose Yes.
  • Origin Access Identity: Create a new identity.
  • Grant Read Permissions on Bucket: Choose Yes, Update Bucket Policy.
  • Object Caching: Choose Customize (I am changing the behavior to avoid having CloudFront cache objects, as this could affect your ability to troubleshoot while implementing the Lambda code).
    • Minimum TTL: 0
    • Maximum TTL: 0
    • Default TTL: 0

You can accept all of the other defaults. Again, this is a proof-of-concept exercise. After you are comfortable that the CloudFront distribution is working properly with the origin and Lambda code, you can re-visit the preceding values and make changes before implementing it in production.

CloudFront distributions can take several minutes to deploy (because the changes have to propagate out to all of the edge locations). After that’s done, test the functionality of the S3-backed static website. Looking at the distribution, you can see that CloudFront assigns a domain name:

CloudFront Distribution Settings

Try to access the website using a combination of various URLs:

http://<domainname>/:  Works

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/
*   Trying
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net ( port 80 (#0)
> GET / HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< ETag: "cb7e2634fe66c1fd395cf868087dd3b9"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: -D2FSRwzfcwyKZKFZr6DqYFkIf4t7HdGw2MkUF5sE6YFDxRJgi0R1g==
< Content-Length: 209
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:16 GMT
< Via: 1.1 6419ba8f3bd94b651d416054d9416f1e.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<!doctype html>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Root home page</title>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the root directory.</p>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

This is because CloudFront is configured to request a default root object (index.html) from the origin.

http://<domainname>/subdirectory/:  Doesn’t work

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/
*   Trying
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net ( port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/ HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< ETag: "d41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e"
< x-amz-server-side-encryption: AES256
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: Iqf0Gy8hJLiW-9tOAdSFPkL7vCWBrgm3-1ly5tBeY_izU82ftipodA==
< Content-Length: 0
< Content-Type: application/x-directory
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:24 GMT
< Via: 1.1 6419ba8f3bd94b651d416054d9416f1e.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

If you use a tool such like cURL to test this, you notice that CloudFront and S3 are returning a blank response. The reason for this is that the subdirectory does exist, but it does not resolve to an S3 object. Keep in mind that S3 is an object store, so there are no real directories. User interfaces such as the S3 console present a hierarchical view of a bucket with folders based on the presence of forward slashes, but behind the scenes the bucket is just a collection of keys that represent stored objects.

http://<domainname>/subdirectory/index.html:  Works

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/index.html
*   Trying
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net ( port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/index.html HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 20:35:15 GMT
< ETag: "ddf87c487acf7cef9d50418f0f8f8dae"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: RefreshHit from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: bkh6opXdpw8pUomqG3Qr3UcjnZL8axxOH82Lh0OOcx48uJKc_Dc3Cg==
< Content-Length: 227
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:45 GMT
< Via: 1.1 3f2788d309d30f41de96da6f931d4ede.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<!doctype html>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

This request works as expected because you are referencing the object directly. Now, you implement the [email protected] function to return the default index.html page for any subdirectory. Looking at the example JavaScript code, here’s where the magic happens:

var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');

You are going to use a JavaScript regular expression to match any ‘/’ that occurs at the end of the URI and replace it with ‘/index.html’. This is the equivalent to what S3 does on its own with static website hosting. However, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t rely on this if you want to use a policy on the bucket to restrict it so that users must access the bucket through CloudFront. That way, all requests to the S3 bucket must be authenticated using the S3 REST API. Because of this, you implement a [email protected] function that takes any client request ending in ‘/’ and append a default ‘index.html’ to the request before requesting the object from the origin.

In the Lambda console, choose Create function. On the next screen, skip the blueprint selection and choose Author from scratch, as you’ll use the sample code provided.

Next, configure the trigger. Choosing the empty box shows a list of available triggers. Choose CloudFront and select your CloudFront distribution ID (created earlier). For this example, leave Cache Behavior as * and CloudFront Event as Origin Request. Select the Enable trigger and replicate box and choose Next.

Lambda Trigger

Next, give the function a name and a description. Then, copy and paste the following code:

'use strict';
exports.handler = (event, context, callback) => {
    // Extract the request from the CloudFront event that is sent to [email protected] 
    var request = event.Records[0].cf.request;

    // Extract the URI from the request
    var olduri = request.uri;

    // Match any '/' that occurs at the end of a URI. Replace it with a default index
    var newuri = olduri.replace(/\/$/, '\/index.html');
    // Log the URI as received by CloudFront and the new URI to be used to fetch from origin
    console.log("Old URI: " + olduri);
    console.log("New URI: " + newuri);
    // Replace the received URI with the URI that includes the index page
    request.uri = newuri;
    // Return to CloudFront
    return callback(null, request);


Next, define a role that grants permissions to the Lambda function. For this example, choose Create new role from template, Basic Edge Lambda permissions. This creates a new IAM role for the Lambda function and grants the following permissions:

    "Version": "2012-10-17",
    "Statement": [
            "Effect": "Allow",
            "Action": [
            "Resource": [

In a nutshell, these are the permissions that the function needs to create the necessary CloudWatch log group and log stream, and to put the log events so that the function is able to write logs when it executes.

After the function has been created, you can go back to the browser (or cURL) and re-run the test for the subdirectory request that failed previously:

› curl -v http://d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net/subdirectory/
*   Trying
* Connected to d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net ( port 80 (#0)
> GET /subdirectory/ HTTP/1.1
> Host: d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net
> User-Agent: curl/7.51.0
> Accept: */*
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Date: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:18:44 GMT
< ETag: "ddf87c487acf7cef9d50418f0f8f8dae"
< Accept-Ranges: bytes
< Server: AmazonS3
< X-Cache: Miss from cloudfront
< X-Amz-Cf-Id: rwFN7yHE70bT9xckBpceTsAPcmaadqWB9omPBv2P6WkIfQqdjTk_4w==
< Content-Length: 227
< Content-Type: text/html
< Last-Modified: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:21:45 GMT
< Via: 1.1 3572de112011f1b625bb77410b0c5cca.cloudfront.net (CloudFront), 1.1 iad6-proxy-3.amazon.com:80 (Cisco-WSA/9.1.2-010)
< Connection: keep-alive
<!doctype html>
        <meta charset="utf-8">
        <title>Subdirectory home page</title>
        <p>Hello, this page resides in the /subdirectory/ directory.</p>
* Curl_http_done: called premature == 0
* Connection #0 to host d3gt20ea1hllb.cloudfront.net left intact

You have now configured a way for CloudFront to return a default index page for subdirectories in S3!


In this post, you used [email protected] to be able to use CloudFront with an S3 origin access identity and serve a default root object on subdirectory URLs. To find out some more about this use-case, see [email protected] integration with CloudFront in our documentation.

If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to comment below. For troubleshooting or implementation help, check out the Lambda forum.

AWS Developer Tools Expands Integration to Include GitHub

Post Syndicated from Balaji Iyer original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/aws-developer-tools-expands-integration-to-include-github/

AWS Developer Tools is a set of services that include AWS CodeCommit, AWS CodePipeline, AWS CodeBuild, and AWS CodeDeploy. Together, these services help you securely store and maintain version control of your application’s source code and automatically build, test, and deploy your application to AWS or your on-premises environment. These services are designed to enable developers and IT professionals to rapidly and safely deliver software.

As part of our continued commitment to extend the AWS Developer Tools ecosystem to third-party tools and services, we’re pleased to announce AWS CodeStar and AWS CodeBuild now integrate with GitHub. This will make it easier for GitHub users to set up a continuous integration and continuous delivery toolchain as part of their release process using AWS Developer Tools.

In this post, I will walk through the following:


You’ll need an AWS account, a GitHub account, an Amazon EC2 key pair, and administrator-level permissions for AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM), AWS CodeStar, AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodePipeline, Amazon EC2, Amazon S3.


Integrating GitHub with AWS CodeStar

AWS CodeStar enables you to quickly develop, build, and deploy applications on AWS. Its unified user interface helps you easily manage your software development activities in one place. With AWS CodeStar, you can set up your entire continuous delivery toolchain in minutes, so you can start releasing code faster.

When AWS CodeStar launched in April of this year, it used AWS CodeCommit as the hosted source repository. You can now choose between AWS CodeCommit or GitHub as the source control service for your CodeStar projects. In addition, your CodeStar project dashboard lets you centrally track GitHub activities, including commits, issues, and pull requests. This makes it easy to manage project activity across the components of your CI/CD toolchain. Adding the GitHub dashboard view will simplify development of your AWS applications.

In this section, I will show you how to use GitHub as the source provider for your CodeStar projects. I’ll also show you how to work with recent commits, issues, and pull requests in the CodeStar dashboard.

Sign in to the AWS Management Console and from the Services menu, choose CodeStar. In the CodeStar console, choose Create a new project. You should see the Choose a project template page.

CodeStar Project

Choose an option by programming language, application category, or AWS service. I am going to choose the Ruby on Rails web application that will be running on Amazon EC2.

On the Project details page, you’ll now see the GitHub option. Type a name for your project, and then choose Connect to GitHub.

Project details

You’ll see a message requesting authorization to connect to your GitHub repository. When prompted, choose Authorize, and then type your GitHub account password.


This connects your GitHub identity to AWS CodeStar through OAuth. You can always review your settings by navigating to your GitHub application settings.

Installed GitHub Apps

You’ll see AWS CodeStar is now connected to GitHub:

Create project

You can choose a public or private repository. GitHub offers free accounts for users and organizations working on public and open source projects and paid accounts that offer unlimited private repositories and optional user management and security features.

In this example, I am going to choose the public repository option. Edit the repository description, if you like, and then choose Next.

Review your CodeStar project details, and then choose Create Project. On Choose an Amazon EC2 Key Pair, choose Create Project.

Key Pair

On the Review project details page, you’ll see Edit Amazon EC2 configuration. Choose this link to configure instance type, VPC, and subnet options. AWS CodeStar requires a service role to create and manage AWS resources and IAM permissions. This role will be created for you when you select the AWS CodeStar would like permission to administer AWS resources on your behalf check box.

Choose Create Project. It might take a few minutes to create your project and resources.

Review project details

When you create a CodeStar project, you’re added to the project team as an owner. If this is the first time you’ve used AWS CodeStar, you’ll be asked to provide the following information, which will be shown to others:

  • Your display name.
  • Your email address.

This information is used in your AWS CodeStar user profile. User profiles are not project-specific, but they are limited to a single AWS region. If you are a team member in projects in more than one region, you’ll have to create a user profile in each region.

User settings

User settings

Choose Next. AWS CodeStar will create a GitHub repository with your configuration settings (for example, https://github.com/biyer/ruby-on-rails-service).

When you integrate your integrated development environment (IDE) with AWS CodeStar, you can continue to write and develop code in your preferred environment. The changes you make will be included in the AWS CodeStar project each time you commit and push your code.


After setting up your IDE, choose Next to go to the CodeStar dashboard. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the dashboard. You can easily track progress across your entire software development process, from your backlog of work items to recent code deployments.


After the application deployment is complete, choose the endpoint that will display the application.


This is what you’ll see when you open the application endpoint:

The Commit history section of the dashboard lists the commits made to the Git repository. If you choose the commit ID or the Open in GitHub option, you can use a hotlink to your GitHub repository.

Commit history

Your AWS CodeStar project dashboard is where you and your team view the status of your project resources, including the latest commits to your project, the state of your continuous delivery pipeline, and the performance of your instances. This information is displayed on tiles that are dedicated to a particular resource. To see more information about any of these resources, choose the details link on the tile. The console for that AWS service will open on the details page for that resource.


You can also filter issues based on their status and the assigned user.


AWS CodeBuild Now Supports Building GitHub Pull Requests

CodeBuild is a fully managed build service that compiles source code, runs tests, and produces software packages that are ready to deploy. With CodeBuild, you don’t need to provision, manage, and scale your own build servers. CodeBuild scales continuously and processes multiple builds concurrently, so your builds are not left waiting in a queue. You can use prepackaged build environments to get started quickly or you can create custom build environments that use your own build tools.

We recently announced support for GitHub pull requests in AWS CodeBuild. This functionality makes it easier to collaborate across your team while editing and building your application code with CodeBuild. You can use the AWS CodeBuild or AWS CodePipeline consoles to run AWS CodeBuild. You can also automate the running of AWS CodeBuild by using the AWS Command Line Interface (AWS CLI), the AWS SDKs, or the AWS CodeBuild Plugin for Jenkins.

AWS CodeBuild

In this section, I will show you how to trigger a build in AWS CodeBuild with a pull request from GitHub through webhooks.

Open the AWS CodeBuild console at https://console.aws.amazon.com/codebuild/. Choose Create project. If you already have a CodeBuild project, you can choose Edit project, and then follow along. CodeBuild can connect to AWS CodeCommit, S3, BitBucket, and GitHub to pull source code for builds. For Source provider, choose GitHub, and then choose Connect to GitHub.


After you’ve successfully linked GitHub and your CodeBuild project, you can choose a repository in your GitHub account. CodeBuild also supports connections to any public repository. You can review your settings by navigating to your GitHub application settings.

GitHub Apps

On Source: What to Build, for Webhook, select the Rebuild every time a code change is pushed to this repository check box.

Note: You can select this option only if, under Repository, you chose Use a repository in my account.


In Environment: How to build, for Environment image, select Use an image managed by AWS CodeBuild. For Operating system, choose Ubuntu. For Runtime, choose Base. For Version, choose the latest available version. For Build specification, you can provide a collection of build commands and related settings, in YAML format (buildspec.yml) or you can override the build spec by inserting build commands directly in the console. AWS CodeBuild uses these commands to run a build. In this example, the output is the string “hello.”


On Artifacts: Where to put the artifacts from this build project, for Type, choose No artifacts. (This is also the type to choose if you are just running tests or pushing a Docker image to Amazon ECR.) You also need an AWS CodeBuild service role so that AWS CodeBuild can interact with dependent AWS services on your behalf. Unless you already have a role, choose Create a role, and for Role name, type a name for your role.


In this example, leave the advanced settings at their defaults.

If you expand Show advanced settings, you’ll see options for customizing your build, including:

  • A build timeout.
  • A KMS key to encrypt all the artifacts that the builds for this project will use.
  • Options for building a Docker image.
  • Elevated permissions during your build action (for example, accessing Docker inside your build container to build a Dockerfile).
  • Resource options for the build compute type.
  • Environment variables (built-in or custom). For more information, see Create a Build Project in the AWS CodeBuild User Guide.

Advanced settings

You can use the AWS CodeBuild console to create a parameter in Amazon EC2 Systems Manager. Choose Create a parameter, and then follow the instructions in the dialog box. (In that dialog box, for KMS key, you can optionally specify the ARN of an AWS KMS key in your account. Amazon EC2 Systems Manager uses this key to encrypt the parameter’s value during storage and decrypt during retrieval.)

Create parameter

Choose Continue. On the Review page, either choose Save and build or choose Save to run the build later.

Choose Start build. When the build is complete, the Build logs section should display detailed information about the build.


To demonstrate a pull request, I will fork the repository as a different GitHub user, make commits to the forked repo, check in the changes to a newly created branch, and then open a pull request.

Pull request

As soon as the pull request is submitted, you’ll see CodeBuild start executing the build.


GitHub sends an HTTP POST payload to the webhook’s configured URL (highlighted here), which CodeBuild uses to download the latest source code and execute the build phases.

Build project

If you expand the Show all checks option for the GitHub pull request, you’ll see that CodeBuild has completed the build, all checks have passed, and a deep link is provided in Details, which opens the build history in the CodeBuild console.

Pull request


In this post, I showed you how to use GitHub as the source provider for your CodeStar projects and how to work with recent commits, issues, and pull requests in the CodeStar dashboard. I also showed you how you can use GitHub pull requests to automatically trigger a build in AWS CodeBuild — specifically, how this functionality makes it easier to collaborate across your team while editing and building your application code with CodeBuild.

About the author:

Balaji Iyer is an Enterprise Consultant for the Professional Services Team at Amazon Web Services. In this role, he has helped several customers successfully navigate their journey to AWS. His specialties include architecting and implementing highly scalable distributed systems, serverless architectures, large scale migrations, operational security, and leading strategic AWS initiatives. Before he joined Amazon, Balaji spent more than a decade building operating systems, big data analytics solutions, mobile services, and web applications. In his spare time, he enjoys experiencing the great outdoors and spending time with his family.


Bringing Clean and Safe Drinking Water to Developing Countries

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/keeping-charity-water-data-safe/

image of a cup filling with water

If you’d like to read more about charity: water‘s use of Backblaze for Business, visit backblaze.com/charitywater/

charity: water  + Backblaze for Business

Considering that charity: water sends workers with laptop computers to rural communities in 24 countries around the world, it’s not surprising that computer backup is needed on every computer they have. It’s so essential that Matt Ward, System Administrator for charity: water, says it’s a standard part of employee on-boarding.

charity: water, based in New York City, is a non-profit organization that is working to bring clean water to the nearly one in ten people around the world who live without it — a situation that affects not only health, but education and income.

“We have people constantly traveling all over the world, so a cloud-based service makes sense whether the user is in New York or Malawi. Most of our projects and beneficiaries are in Sub Saharan Africa and Southern/Southeast Asia,” explains Matt. “Water scarcity and poor water quality are a problem here, and in so many countries around the world.”

charity: water in Rwanda

To achieve their mission, charity: water works through implementing organizations on the ground within the targeted communities. The people in these communities must spend hours every day walking to collect water for their families. It’s a losing proposition, as the time they spend walking takes away from education, earning money, and generally limits the opportunities for improving their lives.

charity: water began using Backblaze for Business before Matt came on a year ago. They started with a few licenses, but quickly decided to deploy Backblaze to every computer in the organization.

“We’ve lost computers plenty of times,” he says, “but, because of Backblaze, there’s never been a case where we lost the computer’s data.”

charity: water has about 80 staff computer users, and adds ten to twenty interns each season. Each staff member or intern has at least one computer. “Our IT department is two people, me and my director,” explains Matt, “and we have to support everyone, so being super simple to deploy is valuable to us.”

“When a new person joins us, we just send them an invitation to join the Group on Backblaze, and they’re all set. Their data is automatically backed up whenever they’re connected to the internet, and I can see their current status on the management console. [Backblaze] really nailed the user interface. You can show anyone the interface, even on their first day, and they get it because it’s simple and easy to understand.”

young girl drinkng clean water

One of the frequent uses for Backblaze for Business is when Matt off-boards users, such as all the interns at the end of the season. He starts a restore through the Backblaze admin console even before he has the actual computer. “I know I have a reliable archive in the restore from Backblaze, and it’s easier than doing it directly from the laptop.”

Matt is an enthusiastic user of the features designed for business users, especially Backblaze’s Groups feature, which has enabled charity: water to centralize billing and computer management for their worldwide team. Businesses can create groups to cluster job functions, employee locations, or any other criteria.

charity: water delivery clean water to children

“It saves me time to be able to see the status of any user’s backups, such as the last time the data was backed up” explains Matt. Before Backblaze, charity: water was writing documentation for workers, hoping they would follow backup protocols. Now, Matt knows what’s going on in real time — a valuable feature when the laptops are dispersed around the world.

“Backblaze for Business is an essential element in any organization’s IT continuity plan,” says Matt. “You need to be sure that there is a backup solution for your data should anything go wrong.”

To learn more about how charity: water uses Backblaze for Business, visit backblaze.com/charitywater/.

Matt Ward of charity: water

Matt Ward, System Administrator for charity: water

The post Bringing Clean and Safe Drinking Water to Developing Countries appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Using AWS CodePipeline, AWS CodeBuild, and AWS Lambda for Serverless Automated UI Testing

Post Syndicated from Prakash Palanisamy original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/devops/using-aws-codepipeline-aws-codebuild-and-aws-lambda-for-serverless-automated-ui-testing/

Testing the user interface of a web application is an important part of the development lifecycle. In this post, I’ll explain how to automate UI testing using serverless technologies, including AWS CodePipeline, AWS CodeBuild, and AWS Lambda.

I built a website for UI testing that is hosted in S3. I used Selenium to perform cross-browser UI testing on Chrome, Firefox, and PhantomJS, a headless WebKit browser with Ghost Driver, an implementation of the WebDriver Wire Protocol. I used Python to create test cases for ChromeDriver, FirefoxDriver, or PhatomJSDriver based the browser against which the test is being executed.

Resources referred to in this post, including the AWS CloudFormation template, test and status websites hosted in S3, AWS CodeBuild build specification files, AWS Lambda function, and the Python script that performs the test are available in the serverless-automated-ui-testing GitHub repository.

S3 Hosted Test Website:

AWS CodeBuild supports custom containers so we can use the Selenium/standalone-Firefox and Selenium/standalone-Chrome containers, which include prebuild Firefox and Chrome browsers, respectively. Xvfb performs the graphical operation in virtual memory without any display hardware. It will be installed in the CodeBuild containers during the install phase.

Build Spec for Chrome and Firefox

The build specification for Chrome and Firefox testing includes multiple phases:

  • The environment variables section contains a set of default variables that are overridden while creating the build project or triggering the build.
  • As part of install phase, required packages like Xvfb and Selenium are installed using yum.
  • During the pre_build phase, the test bed is prepared for test execution.
  • During the build phase, the appropriate DISPLAY is set and the tests are executed.
version: 0.2

    BROWSER: "chrome"
    WebURL: "https://sampletestweb.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/website/index.html"
    ArtifactBucket: "codebuild-demo-artifact-repository"
    MODULES: "mod1"
    ModuleTable: "test-modules"
    StatusTable: "blog-test-status"

      - apt-get update
      - apt-get -y upgrade
      - apt-get install xvfb python python-pip build-essential -y
      - pip install --upgrade pip
      - pip install selenium
      - pip install awscli
      - pip install requests
      - pip install boto3
      - cp xvfb.init /etc/init.d/xvfb
      - chmod +x /etc/init.d/xvfb
      - update-rc.d xvfb defaults
      - service xvfb start
      - export PATH="$PATH:`pwd`/webdrivers"
      - python prepare_test.py
      - export DISPLAY=:5
      - cd tests
      - echo "Executing simple test..."
      - python testsuite.py

Because Ghost Driver runs headless, it can be executed on AWS Lambda. In keeping with a fire-and-forget model, I used CodeBuild to create the PhantomJS Lambda function and trigger the test invocations on Lambda in parallel. This is powerful because many tests can be executed in parallel on Lambda.

Build Spec for PhantomJS

The build specification for PhantomJS testing also includes multiple phases. It is a little different from the preceding example because we are using AWS Lambda for the test execution.

  • The environment variables section contains a set of default variables that are overridden while creating the build project or triggering the build.
  • As part of install phase, the required packages like Selenium and the AWS CLI are installed using yum.
  • During the pre_build phase, the test bed is prepared for test execution.
  • During the build phase, a zip file that will be used to create the PhantomJS Lambda function is created and tests are executed on the Lambda function.
version: 0.2

    BROWSER: "phantomjs"
    WebURL: "https://sampletestweb.s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/website/index.html"
    ArtifactBucket: "codebuild-demo-artifact-repository"
    MODULES: "mod1"
    ModuleTable: "test-modules"
    StatusTable: "blog-test-status"
    LambdaRole: "arn:aws:iam::account-id:role/role-name"

      - apt-get update
      - apt-get -y upgrade
      - apt-get install python python-pip build-essential -y
      - apt-get install zip unzip -y
      - pip install --upgrade pip
      - pip install selenium
      - pip install awscli
      - pip install requests
      - pip install boto3
      - python prepare_test.py
      - cd lambda_function
      - echo "Packaging Lambda Function..."
      - zip -r /tmp/lambda_function.zip ./*
      - func_name=`echo $CODEBUILD_BUILD_ID | awk -F ':' '{print $1}'`-phantomjs
      - echo "Creating Lambda Function..."
      - chmod 777 phantomjs
      - |
         func_list=`aws lambda list-functions | grep FunctionName | awk -F':' '{print $2}' | tr -d ', "'`
         if echo "$func_list" | grep -qw $func_name
             echo "Lambda function already exists."
             aws lambda create-function --function-name $func_name --runtime "python2.7" --role $LambdaRole --handler "testsuite.lambda_handler" --zip-file fileb:///tmp/lambda_function.zip --timeout 150 --memory-size 1024 --environment Variables="{WebURL=$WebURL, StatusTable=$StatusTable}" --tags Name=$func_name
      - export PhantomJSFunction=$func_name
      - cd ../tests/
      - python testsuite.py

The list of test cases and the test modules that belong to each case are stored in an Amazon DynamoDB table. Based on the list of modules passed as an argument to the CodeBuild project, CodeBuild gets the test cases from that table and executes them. The test execution status and results are stored in another Amazon DynamoDB table. It will read the test status from the status table in DynamoDB and display it.

AWS CodeBuild and AWS Lambda perform the test execution as individual tasks. AWS CodePipeline plays an important role here by enabling continuous delivery and parallel execution of tests for optimized testing.

Here’s how to do it:

In AWS CodePipeline, create a pipeline with four stages:

  • Source (AWS CodeCommit)
  • UI testing (AWS Lambda and AWS CodeBuild)
  • Approval (manual approval)
  • Production (AWS Lambda)

Pipeline stages, the actions in each stage, and transitions between stages are shown in the following diagram.

This design implemented in AWS CodePipeline looks like this:

CodePipeline automatically detects a change in the source repository and triggers the execution of the pipeline.

In the UITest stage, there are two parallel actions:

  • DeployTestWebsite invokes a Lambda function to deploy the test website in S3 as an S3 website.
  • DeployStatusPage invokes another Lambda function to deploy in parallel the status website in S3 as an S3 website.

Next, there are three parallel actions that trigger the CodeBuild project:

  • TestOnChrome launches a container to perform the Selenium tests on Chrome.
  • TestOnFirefox launches another container to perform the Selenium tests on Firefox.
  • TestOnPhantomJS creates a Lambda function and invokes individual Lambda functions per test case to execute the test cases in parallel.

You can monitor the status of the test execution on the status website, as shown here:

When the UI testing is completed successfully, the pipeline continues to an Approval stage in which a notification is sent to the configured SNS topic. The designated team member reviews the test status and approves or rejects the deployment. Upon approval, the pipeline continues to the Production stage, where it invokes a Lambda function and deploys the website to a production S3 bucket.

I used a CloudFormation template to set up my continuous delivery pipeline. The automated-ui-testing.yaml template, available from GitHub, sets up a full-featured pipeline.

When I use the template to create my pipeline, I specify the following:

  • AWS CodeCommit repository.
  • SNS topic to send approval notification.
  • S3 bucket name where the artifacts will be stored.

The stack name should follow the rules for S3 bucket naming because it will be part of the S3 bucket name.

When the stack is created successfully, the URLs for the test website and status website appear in the Outputs section, as shown here:


In this post, I showed how you can use AWS CodePipeline, AWS CodeBuild, AWS Lambda, and a manual approval process to create a continuous delivery pipeline for serverless automated UI testing. Websites running on Amazon EC2 instances or AWS Elastic Beanstalk can also be tested using similar approach.

About the author

Prakash Palanisamy is a Solutions Architect for Amazon Web Services. When he is not working on Serverless, DevOps or Alexa, he will be solving problems in Project Euler. He also enjoys watching educational documentaries.

A Hardware Privacy Monitor for iPhones

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/09/a_hardware_priv.html

Andrew “bunnie” Huang and Edward Snowden have designed a hardware device that attaches to an iPhone and monitors it for malicious surveillance activities, even in instances where the phone’s operating system has been compromised. They call it an Introspection Engine, and their use model is a journalist who is concerned about government surveillance:

Our introspection engine is designed with the following goals in mind:

  1. Completely open source and user-inspectable (“You don’t have to trust us”)
  2. Introspection operations are performed by an execution domain completely separated from the phone”s CPU (“don’t rely on those with impaired judgment to fairly judge their state”)

  3. Proper operation of introspection system can be field-verified (guard against “evil maid” attacks and hardware failures)

  4. Difficult to trigger a false positive (users ignore or disable security alerts when there are too many positives)

  5. Difficult to induce a false negative, even with signed firmware updates (“don’t trust the system vendor” — state-level adversaries with full cooperation of system vendors should not be able to craft signed firmware updates that spoof or bypass the introspection engine)

  6. As much as possible, the introspection system should be passive and difficult to detect by the phone’s operating system (prevent black-listing/targeting of users based on introspection engine signatures)

  7. Simple, intuitive user interface requiring no specialized knowledge to interpret or operate (avoid user error leading to false negatives; “journalists shouldn’t have to be cryptographers to be safe”)

  8. Final solution should be usable on a daily basis, with minimal impact on workflow (avoid forcing field reporters into the choice between their personal security and being an effective journalist)

This looks like fantastic work, and they have a working prototype.

Of course, this does nothing to stop all the legitimate surveillance that happens over a cell phone: location tracking, records of who you talk to, and so on.

BoingBoing post.

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:

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.


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.


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.

AWS Cost Explorer Update – Better Filtering & Grouping, Report Management, RI Reports

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-cost-explorer-update-better-filtering-grouping-report-management-ri-reports/

Our customers use Cost Explorer to better understand and manage their AWS spending, making heavy use of the reporting, analytics, and visualization tools that it provides. We launched Cost Explorer in 2014 with a focus on simplicity – single click signup, preconfigured default views, and a clean user interface (take a look back at The New AWS Cost Explorer to see where we started). The Cost Explorer has been very popular and we’ve received a lot of great feedback from our customers.

Last week we launched a major upgrade to Cost Explorer. We’ve redesigned the user interface to optimize many common workflows including filtering, report management, selection of date ranges, and grouping of data. We have also included some default reports to make it easier for you to explore the costs related to your use of Reserved Instances.

Looking at Cost Explorer
Since pictures are reportedly worth 1000 words, let’s take a closer look! Cost Explorer is part of the Billing Dashboard so I can start there:

Here’s the Billing Dashboard. I click on Cost Explorer to move ahead:

I can open up Cost Explorer or access one of three preconfigured views. I’ll go for the first option:

The default report shows my EC2 costs and usage (running hours) for the past 3 months:

I can use the Group By menu to break the costs down by EC2 instance type:

I have many other grouping options:

The filtering options are now easier to access and to edit. Here’s the full set:

I can explore my EC2 costs in any set of desired regions:

I can filter and then group by instance type to see how my spending breaks down:

I can click on Download CSV and then process the data locally:

I can also exclude certain instance types from the report. Here’s how I exclude my m4.xlarge, t2.micro, and t2.nano usage:

Report Management
Cost Explorer allows me to customize my existing reports and to create new reports from scratch. I can click on Save As to save my customized report with a new name:

I can see and manage all of my reports on the Saved Reports page (The padlock denotes a default report that cannot be edited and then overwritten):

When I click on New report I can start from a template:

After I click on Create Report, I set up my date range and filters as desired, and click on Save As. I created a report that displays my year-to-date usage of several AWS database services (Amazon Redshift, DynamoDB Accelerator (DAX), Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and AWS Database Migration Service):

All of my reports are accessible from the Reports menu so I can check on my costs with a click:

We also simplified the process of selecting a range of dates for a report, including options to select common date ranges:

Reserved Instance Reports
Cost Explorer also includes a pair of reports that will help you to understand and optimize your usage of Reserved Instances. I don’t own an RI’s so I used screen shots supplied by the team.

The RI Utilization report allows you to see how much of your purchased RI capacity is being put to use (the dashed red line represents a utilization target that you can specify):

The RI Coverage report tells you how much of your EC2 usage is being handled by Reserved Instances (this time, the dashed red line represents the desired amount of coverage):

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of the updated Cost Explorer. It is available now and you can start using it today!


Backblaze Cloud Backup 5.0: The Rapid Access Release

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/cloud-backup-5-0-rapid-access/

Announcing Backblaze Cloud Backup 5.0: the Rapid Access Release. We’ve been at the backup game for a long time now, and we continue to focus on providing the best unlimited backup service on the planet. A lot of the features in this release have come from listening to our customers about how they want to use their data. “Rapid Access” quickly became the theme because, well, we’re all acquiring more and more data and want to access it in a myriad of ways.

This release brings a lot of new functionality to Backblaze Computer Backup: faster backups, accelerated file browsing, image preview, individual file download (without creating a “restore”), and file sharing. To top it all off, we’ve refreshed the user interface on our client app. We hope you like it!

Speeding Things Up

New code + new hardware + elbow grease = things are going to move much faster.

Faster Backups

We’ve doubled the number of threads available for backup on both Mac and PC . This gives our service the ability to intelligently detect the right settings for you (based on your computer, capacity, and bandwidth). As always, you can manually set the number of threads — keep in mind that if you have a slow internet connection, adding threads might have the opposite effect and slow you down. On its default settings, our client app will now automatically evaluate what’s best given your environment. We’ve internally tested our service backing up at over 100 Mbps, which means if you have a fast-enough internet connection, you could back up 50 GB in just one hour.

Faster Browsing

We’ve introduced a number of enhancements that increase file browsing speed by 3x. Hidden files are no longer displayed by default, but you can still show them with one click on the restore page. This gives the restore interface a cleaner look, and helps you navigate backup history if you need to roll back time.

Faster Restore Preparation

We take pride in providing a variety of ways for consumers to get their data back. When something has happened to your computer, getting your files back quickly is critical. Both web download restores and Restore by Mail will now be much faster. In some cases up to 10x faster!

Preview — Access — Share

Our system has received a number of enhancements — all intended to give you more access to your data.

Image Preview

If you have a lot of photos, this one’s for you. When you go to the restore page you’ll now be able to click on each individual file that we have backed up, and if it’s an image you’ll see a preview of that file. We hope this helps people figure out which pictures they want to download (this especially helps people with a lot of photos named something along the lines of: 2017-04-20-9783-41241.jpg). Now you can just click on the picture to preview it.


Once you’ve clicked on a file (30MB and smaller), you’ll be able to individually download that file directly in your browser. You’ll no longer need to wait for a single-file restore to be built and zipped up; you’ll be able to download it quickly and easily. This was a highly requested feature and we’re stoked to get it implemented.


We’re leveraging Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage and giving folks the ability to publicly share their files. In order to use this feature, you’ll need to enable Backblaze B2 on your account (if you haven’t already, there’s a simple wizard that will pop up the first time you try to share a file). Files can be shared anywhere in the world via URL. All B2 accounts have 10GB/month of storage and 1GB/day of downloads (equivalent to sharing an iPhone photo 1,000 times per month) for free. You can increase those limits in your B2 Settings. Keep in mind that any file you share will be accessible to anybody with the link. Learn more about File Sharing.

For now, we’ve limited the Preview/Access/Share functionality to files 30MB and smaller, but larger files will be supported in the coming weeks!

Other Goodies

In addition to adding 2FV via ToTP, we’ve also been hard at work on the client. In version 5.0 we’ve touched up the user interface to make it a bit more lively, and we’ve also made the client IPv6 compatible.

Backblaze 5.0 Available: August 10, 2017

We will slowly be auto-updating all users in the coming weeks. To update now:

This version is now the default download on www.backblaze.com.

We hope you enjoy Backblaze Cloud Backup v5.0!

The post Backblaze Cloud Backup 5.0: The Rapid Access Release appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

New – High-Resolution Custom Metrics and Alarms for Amazon CloudWatch

Post Syndicated from Jeff Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/new-high-resolution-custom-metrics-and-alarms-for-amazon-cloudwatch/

Amazon CloudWatch has been an important part of AWS since early 2009! Launched as part of a three-pack that also included Auto Scaling and Elastic Load Balancing, CloudWatch has evolved into a very powerful monitoring service for AWS resources and the applications that you run on the AWS Cloud. CloudWatch custom metrics (launched way back in 2011) allow you to store business and application metrics in CloudWatch, view them in graphs, and initiate actions based on CloudWatch Alarms. Needless to say, we have made many enhancements to CloudWatch over the years! Some of the most recent include Extended Metrics Retention (and a User Interface Update), Dashboards, API/CloudFormation Support for Dashboards, and Alarms on Dashboards.

Originally, metrics were stored at five minute intervals; this was reduced to one minute (also known as Detailed Monitoring) in response to customer requests way back in 2010. This was a welcome change, but now it is time to do better. Our customers are streaming video, running flash sales, deploying code tens or hundreds of times per day, and running applications that scale in and out very quickly as conditions change. In all of these situations, a minute is simply too coarse of an interval. Important, transient spikes can be missed; disparate (yet related) events are difficult to correlate across time, and the MTTR (mean time to repair) when something breaks is too high.

New High-Resolution Metrics
Today we are adding support for high-resolution custom metrics, with plans to add support for AWS services over time. Your applications can now publish metrics to CloudWatch with 1-second resolution. You can watch the metrics scroll across your screen seconds after they are published and you can set up high-resolution CloudWatch Alarms that evaluate as frequently as every 10 seconds.

Imagine alarming when available memory gets low. This is often a transient condition that can be hard to catch with infrequent samples. With high-resolution metrics, you can see, detect (via an alarm), and act on it within seconds:

In this case the alarm on the right would not fire, and you would not know about the issue.

Publishing High-Resolution Metrics
You can publish high-resolution metrics in two different ways:

  • API – The PutMetricData function now accepts an optional StorageResolution parameter. Set this parameter to 1 to publish high-resolution metrics; omit it (or set it to 60) to publish at standard 1-minute resolution.
  • collectd plugin – The CloudWatch plugin for collectd has been updated to support collection and publication of high-resolution metrics. You will need to set the enable_high_definition_metrics parameter in the config file for the plugin.

CloudWatch metrics are rolled up over time; resolution effectively decreases as the metrics age. Here’s the schedule:

  • 1 second metrics are available for 3 hours.
  • 60 second metrics are available for 15 days.
  • 5 minute metrics are available for 63 days.
  • 1 hour metrics are available for 455 days (15 months).

When you call GetMetricStatistics you can specify a period of 1, 5, 10, 30 or any multiple of 60 seconds for high-resolution metrics. You can specify any multiple of 60 seconds for standard metrics.

A Quick Demo
I grabbed my nearest EC2 instance, installed the latest version of collectd and the Python plugin:

$ sudo yum install collectd collectd-python

Then I downloaded the setup script for the plugin, made it executable, and ran it:

$ wget https://raw.githubusercontent.com/awslabs/collectd-cloudwatch/master/src/setup.py
$ chmod a+x setup.py
$ sudo ./setup.py

I had already created a suitable IAM Role and added it to my instance; it was automatically detected during setup. I was asked to enable the high resolution metrics:

collectd started running and publishing metrics within seconds. I opened up the CloudWatch Console to take a look:

Then I zoomed in to see the metrics in detail:

I also created an alarm that will check the memory.percent.used metric at 10 second intervals. This will make it easier for me to detect situations where a lot of memory is being used for a short period of time:

Now Available
High-resolution custom metrics and alarms are available now in all Public AWS Regions, with support for AWS GovCloud (US) coming soon.

As was already the case, you can store 10 metrics at no charge every month; see the CloudWatch Pricing page for more information. Pricing for high-resolution metrics is identical to that for standard resolution metrics, with volume tiers that allow you to realize savings (on a per-metric) basis when you use more metrics. High-resolution alarms are priced at $0.30 per alarm per month.

Why Consumer Design is Good For Business

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/why-consumer-design-is-good-for-business/

Using the Backblaze Cloud Backup App

We know that business users sometimes ask, “Why can’t business software be as easy to use as consumer software?”

At Backblaze, we believe it can be.

We started our business to make backup easier for everyone, knowing that the primary reason why people don’t backup is that it is too complicated and too intimidating.

Backblaze has spent the last decade building an unlimited, inexpensive, and best of all easy-to-use backup service. We designed it from the ground up, with the goal of making it a simple service – one that “just works.” We wanted it to be the easiest backup solution for grandmothers and IT administrators alike.

Having a product that’s intuitive and easy makes it ideal for people that don’t want to fret about backing up or worrying about whether or not the they selected the right files when their backup system was set up. Backblaze backs up all user data by default so there’s no worrying about missing something. What that means is when you use Backblaze for Business – you’re getting a solution that works out of the box not just for the end-user, but also for the account administrator.

Design for Enterprise Scalability but With Consumer Simplicity

Often times when a product is designed “for enterprise” the result can be an unintuitive piece of software that only the systems administrators can navigate. While that may be acceptable for antivirus or anti-spam software, there are many products and services that should not require hours to learn to use. Some of the most common services that businesses use today are known for their ease-of-use. Dropbox Sync, Trello, and Slack come to mind.

Backblaze Online Backup is much the same. Regardless of whether you have one computer or are deploying to an organization of 1,000, Backblaze scales so that you and all your users get the same, simple service that backs up and makes data accessible.

Overcomplexity reduces efficiency
The last thing an IT professional wants is users asking them how a program on their computer works, or complaining about a process that’s supposed to be running in the background. The more bloated and over-designed products and services get, the more stumbling blocks appear before the end-user. When you’re developing a product there’s a fine line between adding features and creating an overwhelmingly complicated user interface. The cost of getting that balance wrong is that it will raise more questions than it provides answers, leaving customers and end-users confused with too many choices. Many of the players in the online backup space have made confusing design choices that leave customers perplexed. We believe easy is better for everyone.

Backblaze for Business is built on top of our award winning Computer Backup product that has been in market for over 10 years. We have over 350 PB under storage and have helped users save over 23 BILLION files. We know a lot about backup.

But businesses have unique needs, such as centralized user management and billing, reporting, monitoring usage, and the ability to act on behalf of any user. When an end-user (or the IT admin) installs Backblaze, the backup starts automatically, backing up all the user-data on the machine. There’s no need to select files or folders. The backup process just starts, because all of the data is important. We’ve heard time and time again that a user’s files were saved because we backed up an obscure directory where one or two important files would have been forgotten about had the user been forced to choose what to back up.

Backblaze just works—for everyone

The best products are the ones that don’t impede your workflow and work seamlessly with the processes you have in place. Which is another reason having something designed with the end-user in mind is helpful. You build software that is aware of its environment (not everyone has top-of-the-line computing systems) and stays out of the way.

Making sure that people are diligent about their backup strategy is hard enough. At Backblaze we believe that simplicity is key, and that’s why we designed a backup service that scales from 1 to 10,000 — without having to change a setting.

The post Why Consumer Design is Good For Business appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

AWS Hot Startups – June 2017

Post Syndicated from Tina Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-hot-startups-june-2017/

Thanks for stopping by for another round of AWS Hot Startups! This month we are featuring:

  • CloudRanger – helping companies understand the cloud with visual representation.
  • quintly – providing social media analytics for brands on a single dashboard.
  • Tango Card – reinventing rewards programs for businesses and their customers worldwide.

Don’t forget to check out May’s Hot Startups in case you missed them.

CloudRanger (Letterkenny, Ireland)   

The idea for CloudRanger started where most great ideas do – at a bar in Las Vegas. During a late-night conversation with his friends at re:Invent 2014, Dave Gildea (Founder and CEO) used cocktail napkins and drink coasters to visually illustrate servers and backups, and the light on his phone to represent scheduling. By the end of the night, the idea for automated visual server management was born. With CloudRanger, companies can easily create backup and retention policies, visual scheduling, and simple restoration of snapshots and AMIs. The team behind CloudRanger believes that when servers and cloud resources are represented visually, they are easier to manage and understand. Users are able to see their servers, which turns them into a tangible and important piece of business inventory.

CloudRanger is an excellent platform for MSPs who manage many different AWS accounts, and need a quick method to display many servers and audit certain attributes. The company’s goal is to give anyone the ability to create backup policies in multiple regions, apply them using a tag-based methodology, and manage backups. Servers can be scheduled from one simple dashboard, and restoration is easy and step-by-step. With CloudRanger’s visual representation of resources, customers are encouraged to fully understand their backup policies, schedules, and servers.

As an AWS Partner, CloudRanger has built a globally redundant system after going all-in with AWS. They are using over 25 AWS services for everything including enterprise-level security, automation and 24/7 runtimes, and an emphasis on Machine Learning for efficiency in the sales process. CloudRanger continues to rely more on AWS as new services and features are released, and are replacing current services with AWS CodePipeline and AWS CodeBuild. CloudRanger was also named Startup Company of the Year at a recent Irish tech event!

To learn more about CloudRanger, visit their website.

quintly (Cologne, Germany)

In 2010, brothers Alexander Peiniger and Frederik Peiniger started a journey to help companies track their social media profiles and improve their strategies against competitors. The startup began under the name “Social.Media.Tracking” and then “AllFacebook Stats” before officially becoming quintly in 2013. With quintly, brands and agencies can analyze, benchmark, and optimize their social media activities on a global scale. The innovative dashboarding system gives clients an overview across all social media profiles on the most important networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.) and then derives an optimal social media strategy from those profiles. Today, quintly has users in over 180 countries and paying clients in over 65 countries including major agency networks and Fortune 500 companies.

Getting an overview of a brand’s social media activities can be time-consuming, and turning insights into actions is a challenge that not all brands master. Quintly offers a variety of features designed to help clients improve their social media reach. With their web-based SaaS product, brands and agencies can compare their social media performance against competitors and their best practices. Not only can clients learn from their own historic performance, but they can leverage data from any other brand around the world.

Since the company’s founding, quintly built and operates its SaaS offering on top of AWS services, leveraging Amazon EC2, Amazon ECS, Elastic Load Balancing, and Amazon Route53 to host their Docker-based environment. Large amounts of data are stored in Amazon DynamoDB and Amazon RDS, and they use Amazon CloudWatch to monitor and seamlessly scale to the current needs. In addition, quintly is using Amazon Machine Learning to add additional attributes to the data and to drive better decisions for their clients. With the help of AWS, quintly has been able to focus on their core business while having a scalable and well-performing solution to solve their technical needs.

For more on quintly, check out their Social Media Analytics blog.

Tango Card (Seattle, Washington)

Based in the heart of West Seattle, Tango Card is revolutionizing rewards programs for companies around the world. Too often customers redeem points in a loyalty or rebate program only to wait weeks for their prize to arrive. Companies generously give their employees appreciation gifts, but the gifts can be generic and impersonal. With Tango Card, companies can choose from a variety of rewards that fit the needs of their specific program, event, or business incentive. The extensive Rewards Catalog includes options for e-gift cards that are sure to excite any recipient. There are plenty of options for everyone from traditional e-gift cards to nonprofit donations to cash equivalent rewards.

Tango Card uses a combination of desired rewards, modern technology, and expert service to change the rewards and incentive experience. The Reward Delivery Platform offers solutions including Blast Rewards, Reward Link, and Rewards as a Service API (RaaS). Blast Rewards enables companies to purchase and send e-gift cards in bulk in just one business day. Reward Link lets recipients choose from an assortment of e-gift cards, prepaid cards, digital checks, and donations and is delivered instantly. Finally, Rewards as a Service is a robust digital gift card API that is built to support apps and platforms. With RaaS, Tango Card can send out e-gift cards on company-branded email templates or deliver them directly within a user interface.

The entire Tango Card Reward Delivery Platform leverages many AWS services. They use Amazon EC2 Container Service (ECS) for rapid deployment of containerized micro services, and Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) for low overhead managed databases. Tango Card is also leveraging Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), AWS Key Management Service (KMS), and AWS Identity and Access Management (IMS).

To learn more about Tango Card, check out their blog!

I would also like to thank Alexander Moss-Bolanos for helping with the Hot Startups posts this year.

Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next month!

-Tina Barr

Konecny: Anaconda modularisation

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/725623/rss

On his blog, Jiri Konecny writes about plans for modularizing Anaconda, which is the installer for Fedora and other Linux distributions. Anaconda is written in Python 3, but is all contained in one monolithic program.
The current Anaconda has one significant problem: all of the code is in one place–the monolith. It is more difficult to trace bugs and to a have a stable API. Implementing new features or modifying existing code in Anaconda is also more challenging. Modularisation should help with these things mainly because of isolation between the modules. It will be much easier to create tests for modules or to add new functionality.

Modularisation also opens up new possibilities to developers. They should be able to create a new user interface easily. Since developers can rely on the existing API documentation, it should not be necessary to browse the source code tree very often. Another benefit is that an addon is like another module, communicating with other modules, so it has the same capabilities. Developers can use the public API to write their addons in their favourite programming language which supports DBus.”

How to Deploy Local Administrator Password Solution with AWS Microsoft AD

Post Syndicated from Dragos Madarasan original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/security/how-to-deploy-local-administrator-password-solution-with-aws-microsoft-ad/

Local Administrator Password Solution (LAPS) from Microsoft simplifies password management by allowing organizations to use Active Directory (AD) to store unique passwords for computers. Typically, an organization might reuse the same local administrator password across the computers in an AD domain. However, this approach represents a security risk because it can be exploited during lateral escalation attacks. LAPS solves this problem by creating unique, randomized passwords for the Administrator account on each computer and storing it encrypted in AD.

Deploying LAPS with AWS Microsoft AD requires the following steps:

  1. Install the LAPS binaries on instances joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain. The binaries add additional client-side extension (CSE) functionality to the Group Policy client.
  2. Extend the AWS Microsoft AD schema. LAPS requires new AD attributes to store an encrypted password and its expiration time.
  3. Configure AD permissions and delegate the ability to retrieve the local administrator password for IT staff in your organization.
  4. Configure Group Policy on instances joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain to enable LAPS. This configures the Group Policy client to process LAPS settings and uses the binaries installed in Step 1.

The following diagram illustrates the setup that I will be using throughout this post and the associated tasks to set up LAPS. Note that the AWS Directory Service directory is deployed across multiple Availability Zones, and monitoring automatically detects and replaces domain controllers that fail.

Diagram illustrating this blog post's solution

In this blog post, I explain the prerequisites to set up Local Administrator Password Solution, demonstrate the steps involved to update the AD schema on your AWS Microsoft AD domain, show how to delegate permissions to IT staff and configure LAPS via Group Policy, and demonstrate how to retrieve the password using the graphical user interface or with Windows PowerShell.

This post assumes you are familiar with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol Data Interchange Format (LDIF) files and AWS Microsoft AD. If you need more of an introduction to Directory Service and AWS Microsoft AD, see How to Move More Custom Applications to the AWS Cloud with AWS Directory Service, which introduces working with schema changes in AWS Microsoft AD.


In order to implement LAPS, you must use AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Enterprise Edition), also known as AWS Microsoft AD. Any instance on which you want to configure LAPS must be joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain. You also need a Management instance on which you install the LAPS management tools.

In this post, I use an AWS Microsoft AD domain called example.com that I have launched in the EU (London) region. To see which the regions in which Directory Service is available, see AWS Regions and Endpoints.

Screenshot showing the AWS Microsoft AD domain example.com used in this blog post

In addition, you must have at least two instances launched in the same region as the AWS Microsoft AD domain. To join the instances to your AWS Microsoft AD domain, you have two options:

  1. Use the Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM) domain join feature. To learn more about how to set up domain join for EC2 instances, see joining a Windows Instance to an AWS Directory Service Domain.
  2. Manually configure the DNS server addresses in the Internet Protocol version 4 (TCP/IPv4) settings of the network card to use the AWS Microsoft AD DNS addresses ( and, for this blog post) and perform a manual domain join.

For the purpose of this post, my two instances are:

  1. A Management instance on which I will install the management tools that I have tagged as Management.
  2. A Web Server instance on which I will be deploying the LAPS binary.

Screenshot showing the two EC2 instances used in this post

Implementing the solution


1. Install the LAPS binaries on instances joined to your AWS Microsoft AD domain by using EC2 Run Command

LAPS binaries come in the form of an MSI installer and can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center. You can install the LAPS binaries manually, with an automation service such as EC2 Run Command, or with your existing software deployment solution.

For this post, I will deploy the LAPS binaries on my Web Server instance (i-0b7563d0f89d3453a) by using EC2 Run Command:

  1. While signed in to the AWS Management Console, choose EC2. In the Systems Manager Services section of the navigation pane, choose Run Command.
  2. Choose Run a command, and from the Command document list, choose AWS-InstallApplication.
  3. From Target instances, choose the instance on which you want to deploy the LAPS binaries. In my case, I will be selecting the instance tagged as Web Server. If you do not see any instances listed, make sure you have met the prerequisites for Amazon EC2 Systems Manager (SSM) by reviewing the Systems Manager Prerequisites.
  4. For Action, choose Install, and then stipulate the following values:
    • Parameters: /quiet
    • Source: https://download.microsoft.com/download/C/7/A/C7AAD914-A8A6-4904-88A1-29E657445D03/LAPS.x64.msi
    • Source Hash: f63ebbc45e2d080630bd62a195cd225de734131a56bb7b453c84336e37abd766
    • Comment: LAPS deployment

Leave the other options with the default values and choose Run. The AWS Management Console will return a Command ID, which will initially have a status of In Progress. It should take less than 5 minutes to download and install the binaries, after which the Command ID will update its status to Success.

Status showing the binaries have been installed successfully

If the Command ID runs for more than 5 minutes or returns an error, it might indicate a problem with the installer. To troubleshoot, review the steps in Troubleshooting Systems Manager Run Command.

To verify the binaries have been installed successfully, open Control Panel and review the recently installed applications in Programs and Features.

Screenshot of Control Panel that confirms LAPS has been installed successfully

You should see an entry for Local Administrator Password Solution with a version of or newer.

2. Extend the AWS Microsoft AD schema

In the previous section, I used EC2 Run Command to install the LAPS binaries on an EC2 instance. Now, I am ready to extend the schema in an AWS Microsoft AD domain. Extending the schema is a requirement because LAPS relies on new AD attributes to store the encrypted password and its expiration time.

In an on-premises AD environment, you would update the schema by running the Update-AdmPwdADSchema Windows PowerShell cmdlet with schema administrator credentials. Because AWS Microsoft AD is a managed service, I do not have permissions to update the schema directly. Instead, I will update the AD schema from the Directory Service console by importing an LDIF file. If you are unfamiliar with schema updates or LDIF files, see How to Move More Custom Applications to the AWS Cloud with AWS Directory Service.

To make things easier for you, I am providing you with a sample LDIF file that contains the required AD schema changes. Using Notepad or a similar text editor, open the SchemaChanges-0517.ldif file and update the values of dc=example,dc=com with your own AWS Microsoft AD domain and suffix.

After I update the LDIF file with my AWS Microsoft AD details, I import it by using the AWS Management Console:

  1. On the Directory Service console, select from the list of directories in the Microsoft AD directory by choosing its identifier (it will look something like d-534373570ea).
  2. On the Directory details page, choose the Schema extensions tab and choose Upload and update schema.
    Screenshot showing the "Upload and update schema" option
  3. When prompted for the LDIF file that contains the changes, choose the sample LDIF file.
  4. In the background, the LDIF file is validated for errors and a backup of the directory is created for recovery purposes. Updating the schema might take a few minutes and the status will change to Updating Schema. When the process has completed, the status of Completed will be displayed, as shown in the following screenshot.

Screenshot showing the schema updates in progress
When the process has completed, the status of Completed will be displayed, as shown in the following screenshot.

Screenshot showing the process has completed

If the LDIF file contains errors or the schema extension fails, the Directory Service console will generate an error code and additional debug information. To help troubleshoot error messages, see Schema Extension Errors.

The sample LDIF file triggers AWS Microsoft AD to perform the following actions:

  1. Create the ms-Mcs-AdmPwd attribute, which stores the encrypted password.
  2. Create the ms-Mcs-AdmPwdExpirationTime attribute, which stores the time of the password’s expiration.
  3. Add both attributes to the Computer class.

3. Configure AD permissions

In the previous section, I updated the AWS Microsoft AD schema with the required attributes for LAPS. I am now ready to configure the permissions for administrators to retrieve the password and for computer accounts to update their password attribute.

As part of configuring AD permissions, I grant computers the ability to update their own password attribute and specify which security groups have permissions to retrieve the password from AD. As part of this process, I run Windows PowerShell cmdlets that are not installed by default on Windows Server.

Note: To learn more about Windows PowerShell and the concept of a cmdlet (pronounced “command-let”), go to Getting Started with Windows PowerShell.

Before getting started, I need to set up the required tools for LAPS on my Management instance, which must be joined to the AWS Microsoft AD domain. I will be using the same LAPS installer that I downloaded from the Microsoft LAPS website. In my Management instance, I have manually run the installer by clicking the LAPS.x64.msi file. On the Custom Setup page of the installer, under Management Tools, for each option I have selected Install on local hard drive.

Screenshot showing the required management tools

In the preceding screenshot, the features are:

  • The fat client UI – A simple user interface for retrieving the password (I will use it at the end of this post).
  • The Windows PowerShell module – Needed to run the commands in the next sections.
  • The GPO Editor templates – Used to configure Group Policy objects.

The next step is to grant computers in the Computers OU the permission to update their own attributes. While connected to my Management instance, I go to the Start menu and type PowerShell. In the list of results, right-click Windows PowerShell and choose Run as administrator and then Yes when prompted by User Account Control.

In the Windows PowerShell prompt, I type the following command.

Import-module AdmPwd.PS

Set-AdmPwdComputerSelfPermission –OrgUnit “OU=Computers,OU=MyMicrosoftAD,DC=example,DC=com

To grant the administrator group called Admins the permission to retrieve the computer password, I run the following command in the Windows PowerShell prompt I previously started.

Import-module AdmPwd.PS

Set-AdmPwdReadPasswordPermission –OrgUnit “OU=Computers, OU=MyMicrosoftAD,DC=example,DC=com” –AllowedPrincipals “Admins”

4. Configure Group Policy to enable LAPS

In the previous section, I deployed the LAPS management tools on my management instance, granted the computer accounts the permission to self-update their local administrator password attribute, and granted my Admins group permissions to retrieve the password.

Note: The following section addresses the Group Policy Management Console and Group Policy objects. If you are unfamiliar with or wish to learn more about these concepts, go to Get Started Using the GPMC and Group Policy for Beginners.

I am now ready to enable LAPS via Group Policy:

  1. On my Management instance (i-03b2c5d5b1113c7ac), I have installed the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC) by running the following command in Windows PowerShell.
Install-WindowsFeature –Name GPMC
  1. Next, I have opened the GPMC and created a new Group Policy object (GPO) called LAPS GPO.
  2. In the Local Group Policy Editor, I navigate to Computer Configuration > Policies > Administrative Templates > LAPS. I have configured the settings using the values in the following table.




Password Settings


Complexity: large letters, small letters, numbers, specials

Do not allow password expiration time longer than required by policy



Enable local admin password management



  1. Next, I need to link the GPO to an organizational unit (OU) in which my machine accounts sit. In your environment, I recommend testing the new settings on a test OU and then deploying the GPO to production OUs.

Note: If you choose to create a new test organizational unit, you must create it in the OU that AWS Microsoft AD delegates to you to manage. For example, if your AWS Microsoft AD directory name were example.com, the test OU path would be example.com/example/Computers/Test.

  1. To test that LAPS works, I need to make sure the computer has received the new policy by forcing a Group Policy update. While connected to the Web Server instance (i-0b7563d0f89d3453a) using Remote Desktop, I open an elevated administrative command prompt and run the following command: gpupdate /force. I can check if the policy is applied by running the command: gpresult /r | findstr LAPS GPO, where LAPS GPO is the name of the GPO created in the second step.
  2. Back on my Management instance, I can then launch the LAPS interface from the Start menu and use it to retrieve the password (as shown in the following screenshot). Alternatively, I can run the Get-ADComputer Windows PowerShell cmdlet to retrieve the password.
Get-ADComputer [YourComputerName] -Properties ms-Mcs-AdmPwd | select name, ms-Mcs-AdmPwd

Screenshot of the LAPS UI, which you can use to retrieve the password


In this blog post, I demonstrated how you can deploy LAPS with an AWS Microsoft AD directory. I then showed how to install the LAPS binaries by using EC2 Run Command. Using the sample LDIF file I provided, I showed you how to extend the schema, which is a requirement because LAPS relies on new AD attributes to store the encrypted password and its expiration time. Finally, I showed how to complete the LAPS setup by configuring the necessary AD permissions and creating the GPO that starts the LAPS password change.

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

– Dragos

AWS Hot Startups – May 2017

Post Syndicated from Tina Barr original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/aws-hot-startups-may-2017/

April showers bring May startups! This month we have three hot startups for you to check out. Keep reading to find out what they’re up to, and how they’re using AWS to do it.

Today’s post features the following startups:

  • Lobster – an AI-powered platform connecting creative social media users to professionals.
  • Visii – helping consumers find the perfect product using visual search.
  • Tiqets – a curated marketplace for culture and entertainment.

Lobster (London, England)

Every day, social media users generate billions of authentic images and videos to rival typical stock photography. Powered by Artificial Intelligence, Lobster enables brands, agencies, and the press to license visual content directly from social media users so they can find that piece of content that perfectly fits their brand or story. Lobster does the work of sorting through major social networks (Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, Vk, YouTube, and Vimeo) and cloud storage providers (Dropbox, Google Photos, and Verizon) to find media, saving brands and agencies time and energy. Using filters like gender, color, age, and geolocation can help customers find the unique content they’re looking for, while Lobster’s AI and visual recognition finds images instantly. Lobster also runs photo challenges to help customers discover the perfect image to fit their needs.

Lobster is an excellent platform for creative people to get their work discovered while also protecting their content. Users are treated as copyright holders and earn 75% of the final price of every sale. The platform is easy to use: new users simply sign in with an existing social media or cloud account and can start showcasing their artistic talent right away. Lobster allows users to connect to any number of photo storage sources so they’re able to choose which items to share and which to keep private. Once users have selected their favorite photos and videos to share, they can sit back and watch as their work is picked to become the signature for a new campaign or featured on a cool website – and start earning money for their work.

Lobster is using a variety of AWS services to keep everything running smoothly. The company uses Amazon S3 to store photography that was previously ordered by customers. When a customer purchases content, the respective piece of content must be available at any given moment, independent from the original source. Lobster is also using Amazon EC2 for its application servers and Elastic Load Balancing to monitor the state of each server.

To learn more about Lobster, check them out here!

Visii (London, England)

In today’s vast web, a growing number of products are being sold online and searching for something specific can be difficult. Visii was created to cater to businesses and help them extract value from an asset they already have – their images. Their SaaS platform allows clients to leverage an intelligent visual search on their websites and apps to help consumers find the perfect product for them. With Visii, consumers can choose an image and immediately discover more based on their tastes and preferences. Whether it’s clothing, artwork, or home decor, Visii will make recommendations to get consumers to search visually and subsequently help businesses increase their conversion rates.

There are multiple ways for businesses to integrate Visii on their website or app. Many of Visii’s clients choose to build against their API, but Visii also work closely with many clients to figure out the most effective way to do this for each unique case. This has led Visii to help build innovative user interfaces and figure out the best integration points to get consumers to search visually. Businesses can also integrate Visii on their website with a widget – they just need to provide a list of links to their products and Visii does the rest.

Visii runs their entire infrastructure on AWS. Their APIs and pipeline all sit in auto-scaling groups, with ELBs in front of them, sending things across into Amazon Simple Queue Service and Amazon Aurora. Recently, Visii moved from Amazon RDS to Aurora and noted that the process was incredibly quick and easy. Because they make heavy use of machine learning, it is crucial that their pipeline only runs when required and that they maximize the efficiency of their uptime.

To see how companies are using Visii, check out Style Picker and Saatchi Art.

Tiqets (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Tiqets is making the ticket-buying experience faster and easier for travelers around the world.  Founded in 2013, Tiqets is one of the leading curated marketplaces for admission tickets to museums, zoos, and attractions. Their mission is to help travelers get the most out of their trips by helping them find and experience a city’s culture and entertainment. Tiqets partners directly with vendors to adapt to a customer’s specific needs, and is now active in over 30 cities in the US, Europe, and the Middle East.

With Tiqets, travelers can book tickets either ahead of time or at their destination for a wide range of attractions. The Tiqets app provides real-time availability and delivers tickets straight to customer’s phones via email, direct download, or in the app. Customers save time skipping long lines (a perk of the app!), save trees (don’t need to physically print tickets), and most importantly, they can make the most out of their leisure time. For each attraction featured on Tiqets, there is a lot of helpful information including best modes of transportation, hours, commonly asked questions, and reviews from other customers.

The Tiqets platform consists of the consumer-facing website, the internal and external-facing APIs, and the partner self-service portals. For the app hosting and infrastructure, Tiqets uses AWS services such as Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon EC2, Amazon RDS, Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Route 53, and Amazon ElastiCache. Through the infrastructure orchestration of their AWS configuration, they can easily set up separate development or test environments while staying close to the production environment as well.

Tiqets is hiring! Be sure to check out their jobs page if you are interested in joining the Tiqets team.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out April’s Hot Startups if you missed it.

-Tina Barr