CloudFormation driven Consul in AutoScalingGroup

Jessie Eastland, „Dreamy Twilight“, Consul Logo added, CC BY-SA 3.0

CloudFormation templates are a great way to manage AWS resources. All resources for a stack are configured in a json and CloudFormation takes care of creating or updating your stack.
Consul is a distributed, consistent data store for Service Discovery and configuration which also features health checks and supports for distributed locks.
Consul deployed and updated via CloudFormation provides a nice foundation for any kind of modern infrastructure.


If you specify instances in your stack directly by using the AWS::EC2::Instance resource, updating anything that requires recreation of the instance will bring up a new instance and terminate the old one. If you need more control over the recreation, the instances need to be managed via a AutoScalingGroup.

By default, updating a AutoScalingGroup won't affect the instances. You need to manually terminate them and let AutoScale spin up a new instance.
To automatically update the instances, you can specify a UpdatePolicy requiring at least n instances in service while doing a rolling upgrade.

In the case of consul this isn't enough. Without checking that a new consul node actually came up and connected successfully to the cluster we might lose to quorum and the cluster becomes stale.

Fortunately CloudFormation offers a UpdatePolicy option WaitOnResourceSignals which can be used to signal that any new consul node coming up connects sucessfully to the cluster before the any new instance gets terminated.


The changes to the CloudFormation template are straight forward. In the AutoScalingGroup we add a UpdatePolicy with WaitOnResourceSignals: true like this:

"UpdatePolicy" : {  
  "AutoScalingRollingUpdate" : {
    "MinInstancesInService" : 2,
    "PauseTime" : "PT15M",
    "WaitOnResourceSignals" : true

If WaitOnResourceSignals is set,

AWS CloudFormation suspends the update of an Auto Scaling group after any new Amazon EC2 instances are launched into the group. AWS CloudFormation must receive a signal from each new instance within the specified pause time before AWS CloudFormation continues the update.

Now we simply need to make sure any new instance sends a success signal after it came up and consul connected successfully to the cluster.

Send success signal

Once a new instance starts, we need to wait for consul to join the cluster and replicate. Since we need to guarantee that a new node actually joined the cluster, not some partition of it, we need something that goes through the raft log.
When looking at the consul documentation, there are a few endpoint we could use. Unfortunately the documentation doesn't state what the consistency guarantees of status endpoints like peers are, so I had to ask. Turns out, we can trust peers.
With that knowing, we can simply wait for consul being ready as part of the UserData script, then signal success by using the cfn-signal tool:

"UserData": { "Fn::Base64" : { "Fn::Join" : ["", [  
  "IP=$(ip addr show dev eth0|awk '/inet /{print $2}'|cut -d/ -f1)\n",
  "while ! curl -s http://localhost:8500/v1/status/peers | grep -q $IP:; do echo Waiting for consul; sleep 1; done\n",
  "cfn-signal --resource InfraScalingGroup --stack ", {"Ref": "AWS::StackName"}, " --region ", {"Ref" : "AWS::Region"}, "\n"


The ami runs consul on start and uses a IAM role with read-only EC2 access. Since we tagged all consul instances, this allows the init script to discover peers via the AWS API:

ID=$(curl $URL/meta-data/instance-id)  
REGION=$(curl $URL/dynamic/instance-identity/document | \  
  jq -r .region)

SERVERS=$(aws --region $REGION ec2 describe-instances \  
  --filters \
  "Name=tag:aws:cloudformation:stack-id,Values=$STACK_ID" \
  "Name=tag:role,Values=consul" \
  "Name=instance-state-name,Values=running" | \
    jq -r '.Reservations[].Instances[].PrivateIpAddress' \

We also need to check that SERVERS include the necessary number of peers to form a cluster. Since we're using runit which restarts failing jobs, we just fail if we found less peers than expected and wait to get restarted:

if [ $(echo "$SERVERS" | wc -l) -lt $BOOTSTRAP_EXPECT ]  
  echo "Not enough peers, expected $BOOTSTRAP_EXPECT nodes but got $SERVERS"
  exit 1

Once all peers are up and running, we can start consul:

exec /usr/bin/consul agent -data-dir /var/lib/consul \  
  -config-dir=/etc/consul \
  $(echo "$SERVERS" | sed 's/^/ -retry-join /' | tr -d '\n')

Updating the Stack

With all this in place you can do a fully automated rolling upgrade while keeping a quorum. Just update the stack and you should get something like this while having a fully operable cluster:

Update Stack Log