AWS Compute Blog

Scheduling SSH jobs using AWS Lambda

Puneet Agarwal Puneet Agarwal, AWS Solution Architect

With the addition of the Scheduled Events feature, you can now set up AWS Lambda to invoke your code on a regular, scheduled basis. You can now schedule various AWS API activities in your account (such as creation or deletion of CloudFormation stacks, EBS volume snapshots, etc.) with AWS Lambda. In addition, you can use AWS Lambda to connect to your Linux instances by using SSH and run desired commands and scripts at regular time intervals. This is especially useful for scheduling tasks (e.g., system updates, log cleanups, maintenance tasks) on your EC2 instances, when you don’t want to manage cron or external schedulers for a dynamic fleet of instances.

In the following example, you will run a simple shell script that prints “Hello World” to an output file on instances tagged as “Environment=Dev” in your account. You will trigger this shell script through a Lambda function written in Python 2.7.

At a high level, this is what you will do in this example:

  1. Create a Lambda function to fetch IP addresses of EC2 instances with “Environment=Dev” tag. This function will serve as a trigger function. This trigger function will invoke a worker function, for each IP address. The worker function will connect to EC2 instances using SSH and run a script.
  2. Configure Scheduled Event as an event source to invoke the trigger function every 15 minutes.
  3. Create a Python deployment package (.zip file), with worker function code and other dependencies.
  4. Upload the worker function package to AWS Lambda.


Advantages of Scheduled Lambda Events over Ubiquitous Cron

Cron is indeed simple and well understood, which makes it a very popular tool for running scheduled operations. However, there are many architectural benefits that make scheduled Lambda functions and custom scripts a better choice in certain scenarios:

  • Decouple job schedule and AMI: If your cron jobs are part of an AMI, each schedule change requires you to create a new AMI version, and update existing instances running with that AMI. This is both cumbersome and time-consuming. Using scheduled Lambda functions, you can keep the job schedule outside of your AMI and change the schedule on the fly.
  • Flexible targeting of EC2 instances: By abstracting the job schedule from AMI and EC2 instances, you can flexibly target a subset of your EC2 instance fleet based on tags or other conditions. In this example, we are targeting EC2 instances with the “Environment=Dev” tag.
  • Intelligent scheduling: With scheduled Lambda functions, you can add custom logic to you abstracted job scheduler.

While there are many ways of achieving the above benefits, scheduled Lambda functions are an easy-to-use option in your toolkit.


Trigger Function

This is a simple Python function that extracts IP addresses of all instances with the “Environment=Dev” tag and invokes the worker function for each of the instances. Decoupling the trigger function from the worker function enables a simpler programming model for parallel execution of tasks on multiple instances.


  1. Sign in to the AWS Management Console and open the AWS Lambda console.
  2. Choose Create a Lambda function.
  3. On the Select blueprint page, type cron in the search box.
  4. Choose lambda-canary.
  5. On the Configure event sources page, Event source type defaults to Scheduled Event.  You can create a new schedule by entering a name for the schedule, or can select one of your existing schedules.  For Schedule expression, you can specify a fixed rate (number of minutes, hours, or days between invocations) or you can specify a cron-like expression. Note that rate frequencies of less than five minutes are not supported at this time.
     Lambda SSH Configure Events 
  6. Choose Next. The Configure Function page appears.
    Here, you can enter the name and description of your function. Replace the sample code here with the following code.

    import boto3
    def trigger_handler(event, context):
        #Get IP addresses of EC2 instances
        client = boto3.client('ec2')
        for r in instDict['Reservations']:
            for inst in r['Instances']:
        #Invoke worker function for each IP address
        client = boto3.client('lambda')
        for host in hostList:
            print "Invoking worker_function on " + host
                Payload='{"IP":"'+ host +'"}'
            print invokeResponse
            'message' : "Trigger function finished"
  7. After adding the trigger code in the console, create the appropriate execution role and set a timeout. Note that the execution role must have permissions to execute EC2 DescribeInstances and invoke Lambda functions. Example IAM Policies for the trigger Lambda role are as follows:
  8. Choose Next, choose Enable later, and then choose Create function.


Worker Function

Next, put together the worker Lambda function that connects to an Amazon EC2 instance using SSH, and then run the script. To initiate SSH connections from the Lambda client, use the Paramiko library. Paramiko is an open source Python implementation of the SSHv2 protocol, providing both client and server functionality. Worker function will irst download a private key file from a secured Amazon S3 bucket to the local /tmp folder, and then use that key file to connect to the EC2 instances by using SSH. You must keep your private key secure and make sure that only the worker function has read access to the file on S3. Assuming that EC2 instances have S3 access permissions through an EC2 role, worker function will download the script from S3 and execute it locally on each EC2 instance.


  1. Create file on your local Linux machine or on an EC2 instance using following code

    import boto3
    import paramiko
    def worker_handler(event, context):
        s3_client = boto3.client('s3')
        #Download private key file from secure S3 bucket
        s3_client.download_file('s3-key-bucket','keys/keyname.pem', '/tmp/keyname.pem')
        k = paramiko.RSAKey.from_private_key_file("/tmp/keyname.pem")
        c = paramiko.SSHClient()
        print "Connecting to " + host
        c.connect( hostname = host, username = "ec2-user", pkey = k )
        print "Connected to " + host
        commands = [
            "aws s3 cp s3://s3-bucket/scripts/ /home/ec2-user/",
            "chmod 700 /home/ec2-user/",
        for command in commands:
            print "Executing {}".format(command)
            stdin , stdout, stderr = c.exec_command(command)
            'message' : "Script execution completed. See Cloudwatch logs for complete output"

    Now, creating a deployment package is straightforward. For this example, create a deployment package using Virtualenv.

  2. Install Virtualenv on your local Linux machine or an EC2 instance.
    $ pip install virtualenv
  3. Create a virtual environment named “helloworld-env“, which will use a Python2.7 interpreter.
    $ virtualenv –p /usr/bin/python2.7 path/to/my/helloworld-env
  4. Activate helloworld-env.
    source path/to/my/helloworld-env/bin/activate
  5. Install dependencies.
    $pip install pycrypto

    PyCrypto provides the low-level (C-based) encryption algorithms we need to implement the SSH protocol.

    $pip install paramiko
  6. Add to the zip file.
    $zip path/to/zip/
  7. Add dependencies from helloworld-env to the zip file.
    $cd path/to/my/helloworld-env/lib/python2.7/site-packages
    $zip –r path/to/zip/
    $cd path/to/my/helloworld-env/lib64/python2.7/site-packages
    $zip –r path/to/zip/

    Using the AWS console (skip the blueprint step) or AWS CLI, create a new Lambda function named worker_function and upload
    Example IAM policies for the worker Lambda role are as follows:

    Caution: To keep your keys secure, make sure no other IAM users or roles, other than intended users, have access to this S3 bucket.


Upload key and script to S3

All you need to do now is upload your key and script file to S3 buckets and then you are ready to run the example.


  1. Upload to an appropriate S3 bucket (e.g., s3://s3-bucket/scripts/). is a simple shell script that prints “Hello World from instanceID” to a log file and copies that log file to your S3 folder.

    #Get instanceId from metadata
    instanceid=`wget -q -O - http://instance-data/latest/meta-data/instance-id`
    LOGFILE="/home/ec2-user/$instanceid.$(date +"%Y%m%d_%H%M%S").log"
    #Run Hello World and redirect output to a log file
    echo "Hello World from $instanceid" > $LOGFILE
    #Copy log file to S3 logs folder
    aws s3 cp $LOGFILE s3://s3-bucket/logs/
  2. Upload keyname.pem file, which is your private key to connect to EC2 instances, to a secure S3 bucket (e.g., s3://s3-key-bucket/keys/keyname.pem). To keep your keys secure, make sure no IAM users or roles, other than intended users and the Lambda worker role, have access to this S3 bucket.


Running the example

As a final step, enable your trigger_function event source by choosing trigger_function from the list of Lambda functions, choosing the Event sources tab, and clicking Disabled in the State column.

You can now test your newly created Lambda functions and monitor execution logs. AWS Lambda logs all requests handled by your function and automatically stores logs generated by your code using Amazon CloudWatch Logs. The following screenshots show my CloudWatch Logs after completing the preceding steps.

Trigger function log in CloudWatch Logs:

Worker function log in Cloudwatch Logs:

Log files that were generated in my S3 bucket:


Other considerations

  • With the new Lambda VPC support, you can connect to your EC2 instances running in your private VPC by providing private subnet IDs and EC2 security group IDs as part of your Lambda function configuration.
  • AWS Lambda now supports a maximum function duration of 5 minutes, and so you can use scheduled Lambda functions to run jobs that are expected to finish within 5 minutes. For longer running jobs, you can use following syntax to run jobs in the background so that the Lambda function doesn’t wait for command execution to finish.
    c.exec_command(cmd + ' > /dev/null 2>&1 &')