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Review AWS Quick Starts for third-party integrations

AWS Quick Starts integrations use CloudFormation templates to automate deployment of popular technologies from Tableau and IBM, among others. Learn how this 'AWS App Store' works.

Quick Starts are AWS-approved deployment guides that provide a simplified way to spin up complex applications. IT teams can use Quick Starts for real-world deployments, to quickly test out a proof of concept or to sort out an application's various architectural elements.

In a few steps, developers use AWS Quick Starts to launch native and partner services on the Amazon cloud, such as the XebiaLabs DevOps Platform or Cisco Blockchain Platform. For example, the Quick Start to set up an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud across availability zones takes just three steps, compared to the 100 or so it takes to set up manually.

AWS' many Quick Starts go beyond the Amazon Machine Images (AMI) available in the AWS Marketplace because they can package multiple services from different vendors -- and they typically come with a simple licensing model.

Quick Start templates vs. third-party integration guides

At a high level, an AWS Quick Start consists of the following:

  • a JavaScript Object Notation or YAML AWS CloudFormation template to automate deployment and configuration;
  • a document describing how to use the template; and
  • a GitHub repository for retrieving and customizing the CloudFormation templates.

As of June 2019, AWS offers more than 150 Quick Starts. These guides address several basic AWS deployment options, as well as a range of third-party technologies, from IoT and machine learning to blockchain and containers. Some third-party integrations, such as the Kubernetes Quick Start by VMware, only require a few steps and can be completed in a couple minutes. Integrations with bigger, more complex services, such as the Quick Start for IBM Cloud Private for Data, can take hours to implement.

Third-party vendors can offer the same bundle of CloudFormation templates, reference guides and code repositories independently, but Quick Starts have an advantage because their integrations are vetted by AWS engineers and user experience designers.

AWS open source tool validates Quick Starts

To validate new Quick Starts and updates, the AWS Quick Start team created TaskCat to test CloudFormation templates.

This open source tool deploys a CloudFormation template to multiple AWS regions and generates a report for each region. Developers can also specify different parameter files to run.

TaskCat is free and available for any user to download and test their own CloudFormation templates. AWS also created a Quick Start for CI/CD pipeline testing that weaves together TaskCat for testing, CodePipeline for continuous integration and AWS CodeBuild as the build service.

Some vendors offer multiple ways to deploy their software on AWS. For instance, the Quick Start for Tableau Server on AWS uses CloudFormation templates to automatically deploy a Tableau Server on a single EC2 instance or a cluster of them. Users can self-deploy Tableau Server on AWS or rely on the AWS Marketplace bring-your-own-license AMI or AWS Marketplace paid AMI.

Tableau's options, though, have clear limitations. The two Marketplace installations cannot scale out. Furthermore, the paid AMI option is neither production-ready nor upgradeable. The self-deployment option adds support for Active Directory, which the Quick Start doesn't have. However, it lacks a CloudFormation template, so developers have to manually initiate more than 100 steps that would otherwise be automated through an AWS Quick Start.

How the Quick Start partnerships work

Quick Starts are essentially the 'AWS App Store.'
Wayne Geils AWS technology evangelist, ServerCentral Turing Group

Quick Starts create valuable feedback loops between AWS and its partners. To develop a new Quick Start, AWS solutions architects and their vendor counterparts start an iterative process that can take two to four weeks. The engineers write CloudFormation templates that will way simplify the use case in question and make its application more flexible on AWS with a third-party integration. Once the Quick Start is live, users can submit bug fixes and code recommendations to AWS and its partners on GitHub.

"Quick Starts are essentially the 'AWS App Store,'" said Wayne Geils, AWS technology evangelist at ServerCentral Turing Group, a cloud consultancy. "It provides the best way to quickly understand the connections between various applications and services that are AWS approved."

If users need to deploy or learn about a new technology on AWS, they should prioritize a search through AWS Quick Starts.

Quick Starts often come bundled with short-term licensing agreements, which make it easier to test out complex software without commitment, Geils said. For example, SAP HANA via Quick Starts can be especially useful, because it doesn't require a long-term license purchase. The license fee is baked into the instance cost.

Consider these Quick Start limitations

Quick Start templates are similar to AWS Solutions, which are another set of guides for AWS users. Both automate the deployment of complex environments. But where the AWS Solutions portfolio offers full reference architecture for a comprehensive environment, Quick Starts are apps that serve a specific and more limited purpose, Geils said. AWS Solutions are better-suited for enterprises that want to adopt best practices for architectures, while Quick Starts work better for quickly launching feature functionality into production.

In addition to their limited scope, some Quick Starts can be costly. Enterprises should investigate the licensing model baked into a Quick Start to evaluate the price before deployment. Engineers might find a better deal with a different deployment approach. Once engineers understand all the components in the implementation, they might want to fine-tune the CloudFormation template for costs and performance.

Organizations must also remember Quick Starts reflect an opinionated architecture for a particular use case, which can limit how their engineers approach problem-solving. Technical experts within an enterprise may have different opinions than those expressed in a Quick Start, but it can be difficult to implement those opinions after an initial Quick Start deployment. To introduce other approaches, customize the CloudFormation templates for the new architecture instead.

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