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AWS Config: Monitoring Resource Configurations for Compliance

AWS Config is an indispensable service with a bit of an identity problem: It really should be called something like “AWS Monitors Everything And Keeps Your Apps In Compliance,” because it is that important. But since there’s no way to put everything it does in a short, snappy name, “AWS Config” will do.

What does AWS Config do? Basically, it monitors the current and past configurations of your AWS resources, compares those configurations to your target configurations, and reports current configurations, changes to configurations, and the ways in which your resources interact (with reference to configuration).

Let’s take a closer look at what that means and how it works, starting with the “how it works” part…

How AWS Config Works

AWS Config continually monitors the configuration of your AWS resources. It records configuration changes in a normalized format, and makes that information available through its API. It also compares current configurations with configuration standards you have established, and makes that information available in dashboard format via its API.

AWS Config can also be optionally set to send text alerts regarding both configuration changes and its evaluation of existing configurations vs. your configuration standards.

By default, AWS Config tracks the configuration of all of your resources, recording configurations, metadata, attributes, and associated relationships and events. You can, however, tell it to track only specific types of resources.

It takes snapshots of resource configurations, and it records an ongoing stream of resource configuration changes, storing this data in configuration histories. These histories can include software (down to the application level), providing you with a comprehensive record of your AWS operation’s configuration.

Configuration standards are contained in rules. You can use Amazon’s preconfigured set of rules (which may be fully adequate for many operations), customize those rules, or define your own set of rules. In all cases, AWS Config checks configurations against these rules, and reports the current state of compliance with them.

What AWS Config Means to You

What does this mean for your organization’s AWS operations? Monitoring is vital to any Internet or network-based application or service, of course. Without it, you cannot guarantee the functionality or security of your software. Configuration monitoring has a special role, since it provides direct insight into an application’s state, its relationship with its environment, and the rules and conditions under which it is currently operating.

Most kinds of software monitoring are symptomatic, recording behavior in one form or another, whether it is I/O, CPU or memory use, calls to other modules or system resources, or error messages. This makes it possible to detect many types of trouble and track performance, but it generally does not directly indicate the cause of most functional or performance problems.

Configuration monitoring, on the other hand, can give you a direct view into the possible causes of such problems. How does this work? Since AWS Config allows you to codify configuration rules, let’s start with compliance.

Regulatory Compliance

Many of the online services available today are in regulated industries. This is true of banking and other financial services, of course, but it also applies to such things as health services, insurance, and public utilities. In many cases, failure to comply with regulatory standards for online services can result in significant financial or even legal penalties. These standards (particularly those affecting confidentiality and data security) can and often are reflected in configuration settings.

If, for example, you provide online financial services, you may be required to provide a high level of security for both customer and transaction records, to maintain secure records of all activity, and to detect and record anomalous actions. At least some of these requirements may in turn require you to maintain specific configuration settings.

If you include the required settings in your customized AWS Config rules, you will have a way to automatically determine whether your site’s configuration has gone out of compliance. You can set AWS Config to automatically send a text alert to the engineers and managers responsible for compliance, so that they can quickly investigate the problem and adjust the configuration to bring your services back into compliance.

In-House Standards

Even if you do not operate in a regulated industry, you may need to comply with in-house standards within your company, particularly when it comes to things such as security and performance, both of which can require you to maintain specific configuration settings. AWS Config can automatically notify you of any configuration changes which may have an effect on security or performance, so that you remain fully compliant with your company’s standards.

Error and Performance Troubleshooting

The configuration histories that AWS Config records can also be very valuable in tracing both errors and performance problems. You can look back through the historical record to find out when specific configuration changes took place, and try to correlate them with software failures or performance degradation.

AWS Config and Sumo

As is often the case with monitoring data, the output from AWS Config becomes considerably more valuable when it is integrated into a comprehensive, analytics-based dashboard system.

The Sumo Logic App for AWS Config provides easy integration of AWS Config data into Sumo’s extensive analytics and dashboard system. It gives you not only a powerful overview, but also a detailed look at resource modifications, as well as drill-down insight into resource details.

Analytics-based features such as these, which turn AWS Config’s raw data into genuine, multidimensional insights, make it possible to use such data for real-time configuration and performance management, security monitoring, and application optimization.

Monitoring configuration data gives you greater hands-on control over security, performance, and functionality, and it provides you with insights which are simply not available with conventional, behavior-based application monitoring by itself. By combining AWS Config and the power of Sumo Logic’s analytics, you can turn your team into genuine software-management superheroes.

About the Author

Michael Churchman is involved in the analysis of software development processes and related engineering management issues.

AWS Config: Monitoring Resource Configurations for Compliance is published by the Sumo Logic DevOps Community. If you’d like to learn more or contribute, visit devops.sumologic.com. Also, be sure to check out Sumo Logic Developers for free tools and code that will enable you to monitor and troubleshoot applications from code to production.

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