Experiences with the new AWS Application Load Balancer

Originally posted on Andrew’s blog @ cloudconsultancy.info

Summary

Recently I had an opportunity to test drive AWS Application load balancer as my client had a requirement for making their websocket application fault tolerant. The implementation was complete windows stack and utilised ADFS 2.0 for SAML authentication however this should not affect other people’s implementation.

The AWS Application load balancer is a fairly new feature which provides layer 7 load balancing and support for HTTP/2 as well as websockets. In this blog post I will include examples of the configuration that I used to implement as well is some of the troubleshooting steps I needed to resolve.

The application load balancer is an independent AWS resource from classic ELB and is defined as aws elbv2 with a number of different properties.

Benefits of Application Load Balancer include:

  • Content based routing, ie route /store to a different set of instances from /apiv2
  • Support for websocket
  • Support for HTTP/2 over HTTPS only (much larger throughput as it’s a single stream multiplexed meaning it’s great for mobile and other high latency apps)
  • Cheaper cost than classic, roughly 10% cheaper than traditional.
  • Cross-zone load balancing is always enabled for ALB.

Some changes that I’ve noticed:

  • Load balancing algorithm used for application load balancer is currently round robin.
  • Cross-zone load balancing is always enabled for an Application Load Balancer and is disabled by default for a Classic Load Balancer.
  • With an Application Load Balancer, the idle timeout value applies only to front-end connections and not the LB-> server connection and this prevents the LB cycling the connection.
  • Application Load balancer is exactly that and performs at Layer 7, so if you want to perform SSL bridge use Classic load balancer with TCP and configure SSL certs on your server endpoint.
  • cookie-expiration-period value of 0 is not supported to defer session timeout to the application. I ended up having to configure the stickiness.lb_cookie.duration_seconds value. I’d suggest making this 1 minute longer than application session timeout, in my example a value of 1860.
  • The X-Forwarded-For parameter is still supported and should be utilised if you need to track client IP addresses, in particular useful if going through a proxy server.

For more detailed information from AWS see http://docs.aws.amazon.com/elasticloadbalancing/latest/userguide/how-elastic-load-balancing-works.html.

Importing SSL Certificate into AWS – Windows

(http://docs.aws.amazon.com/IAM/latest/UserGuide/id_credentials_server-certs.html )

  1. Convert the existing pkcs key into .pem format for AWS

You’ll need openssl for this, the pfx and the password for the SSL certificate.

I like to use chocolatey as my Windows package manager, similar to yum or apt-get for Windows, which is a saviour for downloading package and managing dependencies in order to support automation, but enough of that, check it out @ https://chocolatey.org/

Once choco is installed I simply execute the following from an elevated command prompt.

“choco install openssl.light”

Thereafter I run the following two commands which breaks out the private and public keys (during which you’ll be prompted for the password):

openssl pkcs12 -in keyStore.pfx -out SomePrivateKey.key –nodes –nocerts

openssl pkcs12 -in keyStore.pfx -out SomePublic.cert –nodes –nocerts

NB: I’ve found that sometimes copy and paste doesn’t work when trying to convert keys.

  1. Next you’ll need to also break out the trust chain into one contiguous file, like the following.
-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----

Intermediate certificate 2

-----END CERTIFICATE-----

-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----

Intermediate certificate 1

-----END CERTIFICATE-----

-----BEGIN CERTIFICATE-----

Optional: Root certificate

-----END CERTIFICATE-----

Save the file for future use,

thawte_trust_chain.txt

Example attached above is for a Thawte trust chain with the following properties

“thawte Primary Root CA” Thumbprint ‎91 c6 d6 ee 3e 8a c8 63 84 e5 48 c2 99 29 5c 75 6c 81 7b 81

With intermediate

“thawte SSL CA - G2” Thumbprint ‎2e a7 1c 36 7d 17 8c 84 3f d2 1d b4 fd b6 30 ba 54 a2 0d c5

Ordinarily you’ll only have a root and intermediate CA, although sometimes there will be second intermediary CA.

Ensure that your certificates are base 64 encoded when you export them.

  1. Finally execute the following after authenticating to the AWS CLI (v1.11.14+ to support aws elbv2 function) then run “aws configure” applying your access and secret keys, configuring region and format type. Please note that this includes some of the above elements including trust chain and public and private keys.

If you get the error as below

A client error (MalformedCertificate) occurred when calling the UploadServerCertificate operation: Unable to validate certificate chain. The certificate chain must start with the immediate signing certificate, followed by any intermediaries in order. The index within the chain of the invalid certificate is: 2”

Please check the contents of the original root and intermediate keys as they probably still have the headers and maybe some intermediate,

ie

Bag Attributes

localKeyID: 01 00 00 00

friendlyName: serviceSSL

subject=/C=AU/ST=New South Wales/L=Sydney/O=Some Company/OU=IT/CN=service.example.com

issuer=/C=US/O=thawte, Inc./CN=thawte SSL CA - G2

Bag Attributes

friendlyName: thawte

subject=/C=US/O=thawte, Inc./OU=Certification Services Division/OU=(c) 2006 thawte, Inc. - For authorized use only/CN=thawte Primary Root CA

issuer=/C=US/O=thawte, Inc./OU=Certification Services Division/OU=(c) 2006 thawte, Inc. - For authorized use only/CN=thawte Primary Root CA

AWS Application LB Configuration

Follow this gist with comments embedded. Comments provided based on some gotchas during configuration.

You should be now good to go, the load balancer takes a little while to warm up, however will be available within multiple availability zones.

If you have issues connecting to the ALB, validate connectivity direct to the server using curl.  Again chocolatey comes in handy “choco install curl”

Also double check your security group registered against the ALB and confirm NACLS.

WebServer configuration

You’ll need to import the SSL certificate into the local computer certificate store. Some of the third party issuing (Ensign, Thawte, etc) CAs may not have the intermediate CA within the computed trusted Root CAs store, especially if built in a network isolated from the internet, so make sure after installing the SSL certificate on the server that the trust chain is correct.

You won’t need to update local hosts file on the servers to point to the load balanced address.

Implementation using CNAMEs

In large enterprises where I’ve worked there have been long lead times associated with fairly simple DNS changes, which defeats some of the agility provided by cloud computing. A pattern I’ve often seen adopted is to use multiple CNAMEs to work around such lead times. Generally you’ll have a subdomain domain somewhere where the Ops team have more control over or shorter lead times. Within the target domain (Example.com) create a CNAME pointing to an address within the ops managed domain (aws.corp.internal) and have a CNAME created within that zone to point to the ALB address, ie

Service.example.com -> service.aws.corp.internal -> elbarn.region.elb.amazonaws.com

With this approach I can update service.aws.corp.internal to reflect a new service which I’ve built via a new ELB and avoid the enterprise change lead times associated with a change in .example.com.