Common Pitfalls of Deploying Applications in the Cloud

Due to the relatively painless way of spinning up servers in the cloud, business units of large companies are flocking to AWS and other cloud providers to deploy their applications instead of using internal IT. This is expected and even advantageous because the speed of deployment in the cloud is usually unmatched by internal IT. However, there are many things to consider and pitfalls to avoid in order to establish a robust and secure application.

I recently performed an assessment of an application in the cloud implemented by a business unit with limited IT knowledge. Here are some of my findings:

  1. Business units have the impression that AWS takes care of security of the application. While AWS takes care of security of the cloud (which means security from the physical level up to the hypervisor level), the customer is still responsible for the security in the cloud (including OS security, encryption, customer data protection, etc.). For instance, the customer is still responsible for OS hardening (implementing secure password policy, turning off unneeded services, locking down ssh root access, enabling selinux, etc.) and monthly security patching.
  2. These servers in the cloud also lack the integration with enterprise internal tools to properly monitor and administer the servers. Usually enterprises have developed mature tools for these purposes. Without integrating with these tools, they are usually blind to what’s going on with their servers, especially the very important task of monitoring their security.
  3. These servers do not have periodic auditing. For instance, although Security Groups have been setup properly in the beginning, they have to be audited and revisited every so often so that ports that are no longer needed can be disabled/removed from the Security Groups.
  4. There is no central allocation of IP addresses. IP addresses may overlap once their own VPC is connected to other VPCs and the enterprise internal network.
  5. One of the most commonly neglected task after spinning up servers is to configure their backup and retention. For companies that are regulated, it is extremely important to adhere to their backup and retention policy.
  6. Because of the business unit’s limited knowledge of IT infrastructure, fault tolerance and reliability may not be properly set up. For instance, they may only use one availability zone instead of using two or more.
  7. Business units may not be optimizing the cost of their deployment in the cloud. There are many ways to accomplish this, such as using tiered storage (for instance, using Glacier to archive data instead of S3), powering down servers when not in use, bidding for resources for less time sensitive tasks, etc.

Business units should be cautious, and should consider consulting internal IT before deploying in the cloud to ensure a reliable, secure, and cost-effective applications.

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