Choosing a CI/CD approach: Open Source on AWS, an Iponweb story
Iponweb is a global leader in building programmatic and real-time advertising technology and infrastructure for some of the world’s biggest digital media buyers and sellers. The company develops client-facing products and internal development tools that must be platform agnostic to support spanning across multiple cloud services.
In this post, we explore how Iponweb applied key considerations when choosing a continuous integration, continuous deployment (CI/CD), what they determined to be the right CI/CD approach for them, and review some considerations that may apply to your own business needs. And in the next post, we will dive even deeper into these key considerations.
How did Iponweb decide what they needed?
The first and most important question in designing a Well-Architected approach is: “How do you determine your priorities?” AWS Well-Architected defines the first two best practices to do that as: ”evaluate external customer needs” (Iponweb’s clients) and “evaluate internal customer needs” (Iponweb’s team).
Iponweb started with these two considerations while selecting the strategic toolset. After evaluating their customers’ requirements, the next step was to look at the needs of the Iponweb team. Their priorities included the products and features required, the cost, and the ability to build multi-cloud solutions.
Iponweb is dedicated to operating securely with the reliability and performance to support their customers. Solutions had to satisfy their fundamental requirements in these areas to be considered in their evaluation.
Iponweb evaluated available options for the CI tool chain and found that, for their needs, GitLab was the clear winner, differentiated by delivering the greatest number of required features at the best price while being platform agnostic.
AWS had the complete set of tools, services, and best practices to support Iponweb’s goal to establish an open-source, self-hosted CI environment using GitLab. Upon completing their thorough evaluation process, Iponweb selected AWS to implement its CI environment.
Iponweb understood the investment they would be making within their team to leverage and support all the desired features of GitLab. Iponweb evaluated the expertise of its internal teams and factored in ease of integration with supporting services.
They adopted several AWS services that satisfied their undifferentiated needs, which allowed them to remove the operational burden and cost of maintaining their own implementations of various capabilities and features.
Furthermore, the availability of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) Spot Instances provided the opportunity to further manage costs for their CI resource needs and usage patterns.
Iponweb leveraged their existing security control implementations and integration with AWS to support adopting additional AWS services. AWS was responsible for the security of the cloud, including the underlying AWS services. Iponweb was able to focus on secure and effective configurations of those services and secure and effective configuration of their GitLab implementation. This ensured the security of their open-source, self-hosted CI environment.
When setting priorities for the design of a Well-Architected approach, it’s imperative to “manage benefits and risks,” which emphasizes making informed decisions when adopting open source or any tools. Iponweb achieved their best value solution by applying Well-Architected practices in Operational Excellence, Cost Optimization, and Security pillars by leveraging AWS products and services.
Overview of solution
Continuous integration consists of three key processes, each of which AWS supports:
- Code stage – Iponweb built the centralized Git repository on the GitLab platform on EC2 servers, providing the UI and API to store and manage the code.
- Test and build stage – They used GitLab as the application layer to manage build and test flows through GitLab Runners (compute workers for CI jobs). This layer is implanted via GitLab in containers, and is deployed and managed by Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS).
- Publish stage – Amazon Elastic Container Registry (Amazon ECR) stores the infrastructure containers for the runners and product containers.
The following diagram illustrates this architecture:
At the core of Iponweb’s CI platform architecture is the open-source GitLab Community Edition.
Implementing the solution
CI jobs are either run regularly or triggered by events such as merge requests. The jobs are described as code in YAML files and are stored and versioned along with the product code itself. Runner versions are published into Amazon ECR and launched as Docker containers in Amazon EKS.
Runner code is stored as Helm charts that help Iponweb package up and manage their large-scale Kubernetes deployments. In addition, Amazon EKS has support for Helm and many other plugins for Kubernetes.
Iponweb developers innovate at a very fast pace, and customize Iponweb’s client solutions in rapid iterations. To address uncertain container registry requirements, Iponweb decided to use Amazon ECR. As a managed service, Amazon ECR eliminates concerns about scaling capacity and management. Integration of GitLab with Amazon EKS and Amazon ECR is provided out of the box through a UI and predefined scripts, with no additional overhead to develop and deploy code or plugins.
Iponweb was able to implement the Well-Architected design principle: “stop continuously estimating its capacity needs.” Enabling them to focus on more strategic development activities. They performed a thorough analysis of each component, looking at the total cost of ownership, including operations and management. In doing so, they implemented the best practice from the Cost Optimization pillar: “How do you evaluate cost when you select services?”
In the Cost Optimization pillar, a key question is “How do you use pricing models to reduce costs?” Iponweb deployed runners in Amazon EKS for precise, granular, and on-demand compute scaling for each CI job. These tasks have short-term capacity needs, so Iponweb benefited from configuring Amazon EKS on Spot Instances, achieving factor price reduction. The EC2 Spot pricing model is most appropriate for their CI resource needs and usage patterns.
To protect their data at rest, Iponweb followed a best practice from the Security pillar: “Implement secure key management.” They used AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) to manage secrets for the runners.
To protect the code and artifacts, and to ensure these valuable assets don’t leave the CI environment inappropriately, Iponweb followed best practices in Infrastructure Protection from the Security pillar question, “How do you protect your networks?” Iponweb scrupulously defined the network protection requirements, limiting their exposure by controlling traffic at all layers, and implementing security groups to prevent inappropriate access into and out of their VPC.
Michael Benuhis, CTO at Iponweb, says:
“Iponweb was able to get the best of open-source software and public cloud services by building the continuous integration platform on Amazon Web Services. Open-source tools provided Iponweb platform agnosticism for serving our diverse customer base, while managed Amazon EKS on EC2 Spot Instances eliminated the operational burden of managing our own Kubernetes infrastructure, and with greater cost efficiency.”
Iponweb has satisfied their current needs and aren’t looking for improvement in the short term. They will stay on the free version of GitLab, satisfied for the moment with what they have achieved. They have custom automations in place to synchronize with GitLab and integrate with their existing tools. They like the features provided by the paid version of GitLab, but there isn’t a business case to support an informed decision to upgrade at this time.
They have achieved their goal of using Amazon EKS and Spot under GitLab CI/CD integrated with their existing systems and satisfying their needs.