AWS Cloudformation is a concept for modelling and setting up your Amazon Web Services resources in an automatic and unified way. You create templates that describe your AWS resoruces, e.g. EC2 instances, EBS volumes, load balancers etc. and Cloudformation takes care of all provisioning and configuration of those resources. When Cloudformation provisiones resources, they are grouped into something called a stack. A stack is typically represented by one template.
The templates are specified in json, which allows you to easily version control your templates describing your AWS infrastrucutre along side your application code.
Cloudformation fits perfectly in Continuous Delivery ways of working, where the whole AWS infrastructure can be automatically setup and maintained by a delivery pipeline. There is no need for a human to provision instances, setting up security groups, DNS record sets etc, as long as the Cloudformation templates are developed and maintained properly.
You use the AWS CLI to execute the Cloudformation operations, e.g. to create or delete a stack. What we’ve done at my current client is to put the AWS CLI calls into certain bash scripts, which are version controlled along side the templates. This allows us to not having to remember all the options and arguments necessary to perform the Cloudformation operations. We can also use those scripts both on developer workstations and in the delivery pipeline.
A drawback of Cloudformation is that not all features of AWS are available through that interface, which might force you to create workarounds depending on your needs. For instance Cloudformation does not currently support the creation of private DNS hosted zones within a Virtual Private Cloud. We solved this by using the AWS CLI to create that private DNS hosted zone in the bash script responsible for setting up our DNS configuration, prior to performing the actual Cloudformation operation which makes use of that private DNS hosted zone.
As Cloudformation is a superb way for setting up resources in AWS, in contrast of managing those resources manually e.g. through the web UI, you can actually enforce restrictions on your account so that resources only can be created through Cloudformation. This is something that we currently use at my current client for our production environment setup to assure that the proper ways of workings are followed.
I’ve created a basic Cloudformation template example which can be found here.