Posts Tagged SaaS
You’re a startup with an idea for a revolutionary new software product. You quickly build a beta version and deploy it to the cloud. After a successful social-marketing campaign and concerted sales effort, dozens of customers subscribe to your SaaS-based product. You’re ecstatic…until you realize you never architected your product for this level of success. You were so busy coding, raising capital, marketing, and selling, you never planned how you would scale your Sass product. How you would ensure your customer’s security, as well as your own. How you would meet the product reliability, compliance, and performance you promised. And, how you would monitor and meter your customer’s usage, no matter how fast you or they grew.
I’ve often heard budding entrepreneurs jest, if only success was their biggest problem. Certainly, success won’t be their biggest problem. For many, the problems come afterward, when they disappoint their customers by failing to deliver the quality product they promised. Or worse, damaging their customer’s reputation (and their own) by losing or exposing sensitive data. As the old saying goes, ‘you never get a second chance to make a first impression.’ Customer trust is hard-earned and easily lost. Properly architecting a scalable and secure SaaS-based product is just as important as feature development and sales. No one wants to fail on Day 1—you worked too hard to get there.
Architecting a Successful SaaS
In this series of posts, Architecting a Successful SaaS, we will explore how to properly plan and architect a SaaS product offering, designed for hosting on the cloud. We will start by answering basic questions, like, what is SaaS, what are the alternatives to SaaS for software distribution, and what are the most common SaaS product models. We will then examine different high-level SaaS architectures, review tenant isolation strategies, and explore how SaaS vendors securely interact with their customer’s cloud accounts. Finally, we will discuss how SaaS providers can meet established best practices, like those from AWS SaaS Factory and the AWS Well-Architected Framework.
For this post, I have chosen many examples of cloud services from AWS and vendors from AWS Marketplace. However, the principals discussed may be applied to other leading cloud providers, SaaS products, and cloud-based software marketplaces. All information in this post is publicly available.
What is SaaS?
According to AWS Marketplace, ‘SaaS [Software as a Service] is a delivery model for software applications whereby the vendor hosts and operates the application over the Internet. Customers pay for using the software without owning the underlying infrastructure.’ Another definition from AWS, ‘SaaS is a licensing and delivery model whereby software is centrally managed and hosted by a provider and available to customers on a subscription basis.’
A SaaS product, like other forms of software, is produced by what is commonly referred to as an Independent Software Vendor (ISV). According to Wikipedia, an Independent Software Vendor ‘is an organization specializing in making and selling software, as opposed to hardware, designed for mass or niche markets. This is in contrast to in-house software, which is developed by the organization that will use it, or custom software, which is designed or adapted for a single, specific third party. Although ISV-provided software is consumed by end-users, it remains the property of the vendor.’
Although estimates vary greatly, according to The Software as a Service (SaaS) Global Market Report 2020, the global SaaS market was valued at about $134.44B in 2018 and is expected to grow to $220.21B at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.1% through 2022. Statista predicts SaaS revenues will grow even faster, forecasting revenues of $266B by 2022, with continued strong positive growth to $346B by 2027.
Cloud-based Usage Models
Let’s start by reviewing the three most common ways that individuals, businesses, academic institutions, the public sector, and government consume services from cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and IBM Cloud (now includes Red Hat).
Indirect users are customers who consume cloud-based SaaS products. Indirect users are often unlikely to know which cloud provider host’s the SaaS products to which they subscribe. Many SaaS products can import and export data, as well as integrate with other SaaS products. Many successful companies run their entire business in the cloud using a combination of SaaS products from multiple vendors.
- An advertising firm that uses Google G Suite for day-to-day communications and collaboration between its employees and clients.
- A large automotive parts manufacturer that runs its business using the Workday cloud-based Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) suite.
- A software security company that uses Zendesk for customer support. They also use the Slack integration for Zendesk to view, create, and take action on support tickets, using Slack channels.
- A recruiting firm that uses Zoom Meetings & Chat to interview remote candidates. They also use the Zoom integration with Lever recruiting software, to schedule interviews.
Direct users are customers who use cloud-based Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) products to build and run their software; the DIY (do it yourself) model. The software deployed in the customer’s account may be created by the customer or purchased from a third-party software vendor and deployed within the customer’s cloud account. Direct users may purchase IaaS and PaaS services from multiple cloud providers.
- An advanced hobbyist that uses AWS IoT Core and Amazon QuickSight as part of a custom Smart Home automation application.
- A private equity firm that maintains its own proprietary AI-based investment recommendation engine using a combination of cloud-based services, like AWS Lambda and Amazon SageMaker.
- A mobile payment company that uses Amazon EKS and Amazon DynamoDB to run its own high-volume credit card processing application. To help ensure PCI compliance, they also use Aqua’s customer-deployed product, Aqua Cloud Native Security Platform for EKS (BYOL).
Hybrid users are customers who use a combination of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS products. Customers often connect multiple IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS products as part of larger enterprise software application platforms.
- A payroll company that hosts its proprietary payroll software product, using IaaS products like Amazon EC2 and Elastic Load Balancing. In addition, they use an integrated SaaS-based fraud detection product, like Cequence Security CQ botDefense, to ensure the safety and security of payroll customers.
- An online gaming company that operates its applications using the fully-managed container-based PaaS service, Amazon ECS. To promote their gaming products, they use a SaaS-based marketing product, like Mailchimp Marketing CRM.
Most cloud-based software is sold in one of two ways, Customer-deployed or SaaS. Below, we see a breakdown by the method of product delivery on AWS Marketplace. All items in the chart, except SaaS, represent Customer-deployed products. Serverless applications are available elsewhere on AWS and are not represented in the AWS Marketplace statistics.
An ISV who sells customer-deployed software products to consumers of cloud-based IaaS and PaaS services. Products are installed by the customer, Systems Integrator (SI), or the ISV into the customer’s cloud account. Customer-deployed products are reminiscent of traditional ‘boxed’ software.
Customers typically pay a reoccurring hourly, monthly, or annual subscription fee for the software product, commonly referred to as pay-as-you-go (PAYG). The subscription fee paid to the vendor is in addition to the fees charged to the customer by the cloud service provider for the underlying compute resources on which the customer-deployed product runs in the customer’s cloud account.
Some customer-deployed products may also require a software license. Software licenses are often purchased separately through other channels. Applying a license you already own to a newly purchased product is commonly referred to as bring your own license (BYOL). BYOL is common in larger enterprise customers, who may have entered into an Enterprise License Agreement (ELA) with the ISV.
Customer-deployed cloud-based software products can take a variety of forms. The most common deliverables include some combination of virtual machines (VMs) such as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), Docker images, Amazon SageMaker models, or Infrastructure as Code such as AWS CloudFormation, HashiCorp Terraform, or Helm Charts. Customers usually pull these deliverables from a vendor’s AWS account or other public or private source code or binary repositories. Below, we see the breakdown of customer-deployed products, by the method of delivery, on AWS Marketplace.
Although historically, AMIs have been the predominant method of customer-deployed software delivery, newer technologies, such as Docker images, serverless, SageMaker models, and AWS Data Exchange datasets will continue to grow in this segment. The AWS Serverless Application Repository (SAR), currently contains over 500 serverless applications, not reflected in this chart. AWS appears to be moving toward making it easier to sell serverless software applications in AWS Marketplace, according to one recent post.
Customer-deployed cloud-based software products may require a connection between the installed product and the ISV for product support, license verification, product upgrades, or security notifications.
- Fortinet provides high-performance, integrated network security solutions for global enterprise businesses. Fortinet sells its customer-deployed AMI-based product, Fortinet FortiGate (BYOL) Next-Generation Firewall, on AWS Marketplace.
- Alluxio is a leader in data orchestration for big data and AI and ML workloads. Alluxio sells its customer-deployed AMI-based product, Alluxio Enterprise Edition – Caching for Data Analytics, on AWS Marketplace.
- Kasten provides cloud-native data management for Amazon EKS (Managed Kubernetes Service). Kasten offers their customer-deployed container-based product for backup and restore, disaster recovery, and mobility of Kubernetes applications, Kasten K10, on AWS Marketplace.
- Deep Vision AI specializes in visual recognition technology for images and videos. Deep Vision offers several API products, including the Deep Vision context recognition API, Deep Vision brand recognition API, and Deep Vision face recognition API, all sold on the AWS Marketplace. The APIs work with Amazon SageMaker, and are priced on an hourly rate for realtime inference and batch transforms. Customer-deployed products, designed for Amazon SageMaker, are a growing category on AWS Marketplace.
An ISV who sells SaaS software products to customers. The SaaS product is deployed, managed, and sold by the ISV and hosted by a cloud provider, such as AWS. A SaaS product may or may not interact with a customer’s cloud account. SaaS products are similar to customer-deployed products with respect to their subscription-based fee structure. Subscriptions may be based on a unit of measure, often a period of time. Subscriptions may also be based on the number of users, requests, hosts, or the volume of data.
A significant difference between SaaS products and customer-deployed products is the lack of direct customer costs from the underlying cloud provider. The underlying costs are bundled into the subscription fee for the SaaS product.
Similar to Customer-deployed products, SaaS products target both consumers and businesses. SaaS products span a wide variety of consumer, business, industry-specific, and technical categories. AWS Marketplace offers products from vendors covering eight major categories and over 70 sub-categories.
SaaS Product Variants
I regularly work with a wide variety of cloud-based software vendors. In my experience, most cloud-based SaaS products fit into one of four categories, based on the primary way a customer interacts with the SaaS product:
- Stand-alone: A SaaS product that has no interaction with the customer’s cloud account;
- Data Access: A SaaS product that connects to the customer’s cloud account to only obtain data;
- Augmentation: A SaaS product that connects to the customer’s cloud account, interacting with and augmenting the customer’s software;
- Discrete Service: A variation of augmentation, a SaaS product that provides a discrete service or function as opposed to a more complete software product;
A stand-alone SaaS product has no interaction with a customer’s cloud account. Customers of stand-alone SaaS products interact with the product through an interface provided by the SaaS vendor. Many stand-alone SaaS products can import and export customer data, as well as integrate with other cloud-based SaaS products. Stand-alone SaaS products may target consumers, known as Business-to-Consumer (B2C SaaS). They may also target businesses, known as Business-to-Business (B2B SaaS).
- A Cloud Guru, the leading online cloud training platform, sells its A Cloud Guru AWS Training & Certification SaaS product on AWS Marketplace.
- Hubspot is a leading provider of marketing, sales, and service B2B SaaS products for businesses. Hubspot, which is hosted on AWS in the US, offers its Marketing Hub All-in-One Inbound Marketing Software, through their website.
- Trello is another example of a B2B SaaS product. Trello, whose Trello product is hosted on AWS, enables users to organize and prioritize their projects.
A SaaS product that connects to a customer’s data sources in their cloud account or on-prem. These SaaS products often fall into the categories of Big Data and Data Analytics, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, and IoT (Internet of Things). Products in these categories work with large quantities of data. Given the sheer quantity of data or real-time nature of the data, importing or manually inputting data directly into the SaaS product, through the SaaS vendor’s user interface is unrealistic. Often, these SaaS products will cache some portion of the customer’s data to reduce customer’s data transfer costs.
Similar to the previous stand-alone SaaS products, customers of these SaaS products interact with the product thought a user interface provided by the SaaS vendor.
- Zepl provides an enterprise data science analytics platform, which enables data exploration, analysis, and collaboration. Zepl sells its Zepl Science and Analytics Platform SaaS product on AWS Marketplace. The Zepl product provides integration to many types of customer data sources including Snowflake, Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Athena, Google BigQuery, Apache Cassandra (Amazon MCS), and other SQL databases.
- Sisense provides an enterprise-grade, cloud-native business intelligence and analytics platform, powered by AI. Sisense offers its Sisense Business Intelligence SaaS product on AWS Marketplace. This product lets customers prepare and analyze disparate big datasets using Sisense’s Data Connectors. The wide array of connectors provide connectivity to dozens of different cloud-based and on-prem data sources.
- Databricks provides a unified data analytics platform, designed for massive-scale data engineering and collaborative data science. Databricks offers its Databricks Unified Analytics Platform SaaS product on AWS Marketplace. Databricks allows customers to interact with data across many different data sources, data storage types, and data types, including batch and streaming.
- DataRobot provides an enterprise AI platform, which enables global enterprises to collaboratively harness the power of AI. DataRobot sells its DataRobot Automated Machine Learning for AWS SaaS product on AWS Marketplace. Using connectors, like Skyvia’s OData connector, customers can connect their data sources to the DataRobot product.
A SaaS product that interacts with, and augments a customer’s application, which is managed by the customer in their own cloud account. These SaaS products often maintain secure, loosely-coupled, unidirectional or bidirectional connections between the vendor’s SaaS product and the customer’s account. Vendors on AWS often use services like Amazon EventBridge, AWS PrivateLink, VPC Peering, Amazon S3, Amazon Kinesis, Amazon SQS, and Amazon SNS to interact with customer’s accounts and exchange data. Often, these SaaS products fall within the categories of Security, Logging and Monitoring, and DevOps.
Customers of these types of SaaS products generally interact with their own software, as well as the SaaS product thought an interface provided by the SaaS vendor.
- CloudCheckr provides solutions that enable clients to optimize costs, security, and compliance on leading cloud providers. CloudCheckr sells its Cloud Management Platform SaaS product on AWS Marketplace. CloudCheckr uses an AWS IAM cross-account role and Amazon S3 to exchange data between the customer’s account and their SaaS product.
- Splunk provides the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence. Splunk sells its Splunk Cloud SaaS product on AWS Marketplace. Splunk Cloud enables rapid application troubleshooting, ensures security and compliance, and provides monitoring of business-critical services in real-time. According to their documentation, Splunk uses a combination of AWS S3, Amazon SQS, and Amazon SNS services to transfer AWS CloudTrail logs from the customer’s accounts to Splunk Cloud.
Discrete SaaS products are a variation of SaaS augmentation products. Discrete SaaS products provide specific, distinct functionality to a customer’s software application. These products may be an API, data source, or machine learning model, which is often accessed completely through a vendor’s API. The products have a limited or no visual user interface. These SaaS products are sometimes referred to as a ‘Service as a Service’. Discrete SaaS products often fall into the categories of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Financial Services, Reference Data, and Authentication and Authorization.
- Twinword provides a variety of text analysis APIs, including the Sentiment Analysis API, Text Similarity API, Emotion Analysis API, and Text Classification API, all sold on the AWS Marketplace. The APIs are priced, based on the number of requests per month.
- Sensifai offers a comprehensive video recognition system that can be used to tag videos and pictures. Sensifai offers several SaaS-based APIs, including Automatic Video Recognition, Automatic Audio or Sound Classification, and Action Recognition (Trainable Algorithm), all sold on the AWS Marketplace.
AWS Data Exchange
There is a new category of products on AWS Marketplace. Released in November 2019, AWS Data Exchange makes it easy to find, subscribe to, and use third-party data in the cloud. According to AWS, Data Exchange vendors can publish new data, as well as automatically publish revisions to existing data and notify subscribers. Once subscribed to a data product, customers can use the AWS Data Exchange API to load data into Amazon S3 and then analyze it with a wide variety of AWS analytics and machine learning services.
Data Exchange seems to best fit the description of a customer-deployed product. However, given the nature of the vendor-subscriber relationship, where data may be regularly exchanged—revised and published by the vendor and pulled by the subscriber—I would consider Data Exchange a cloud-based hybrid product.
AWS Data Exchange products are available on AWS Marketplace. The list of qualified data providers is growing and includes Reuters, Foursquare, TransUnion, Pitney Bowes, IMDb, Epsilon, ADP, Dun & Bradstreet, and others. As illustrated below, data sets are available in the categories of financial services, public sector, healthcare, media, telecommunications, and more.
- Dun & Bradstreet currently offers over 30 data products on AWS Marketplace, delivered using AWS Data Exchange. Products include Direct Marketing Services – First Research Industry Profile, Insurance Agencies & Brokerages – First Research Industry Profile, and Department Stores (US) – Industry Marketing File. Dun & Bradstreet’s datasets are priced, based on a 12-month subscription.
- Reuters currently has nine data products on AWS Marketplace, delivered using AWS Data Exchange. Products include Reuters News Archive: Automotive (1 Year), Reuters News Archive: Pharmaceutical (1 Year), and Reuters News Archive: Energy (1 Year).
- SafeGraph offers accurate Points-of-Interest (POI) data, business listings, and store visitor insights data for commercial places in the United States. SafeGraph currently offers 23 different products on AWS Marketplace, delivered using AWS Data Exchange, including SafeGraph Core Places – Restaurants, SafeGraph Core Places – Entire US, and SafeGraph Foot Traffic Patterns (2019) – Car Dealerships.
In this first post, we’ve become familiar with the common ways in which customers consume cloud-based IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS products and services. We also explored the different ways in which ISVs sell their software products to customers. In future posts, we will examine different high-level SaaS architectures, review tenant isolation strategies, and explore how SaaS vendors securely interact with their customer’s cloud accounts. Finally, we will discuss how SaaS providers can meet best-practices, like those from AWS SaaS Factory and the AWS Well-Architected Framework.
Here are some great references to learn more about building and managing SaaS products on AWS.
- SaaS on AWS
- SaaS Success Stories
- AWS SaaS Factory
- Simplify SaaS Procurement with AWS Marketplace
- AWS Marketplace: Software-as-a-Service–Based Products
This blog represents my own view points and not of my employer, Amazon Web Services..
Cloud computing image – © Copyright melpomen (123rf.com).
Building a Microservices Platform with Confluent Cloud, MongoDB Atlas, Istio, and Google Kubernetes Engine
Leading SaaS providers have sufficiently matured the integration capabilities of their product offerings to a point where it is now reasonable for enterprises to architect multi-vendor, single- and multi-cloud Production platforms, without re-engineering existing cloud-native applications. In previous posts, we have integrated other SaaS products, including as MongoDB Atlas fully-managed MongoDB-as-a-service, ElephantSQL fully-manage PostgreSQL-as-a-service, and CloudAMQP RabbitMQ-as-a-service, into cloud-native applications on Azure, AWS, GCP, and PCF.
In this post, we will build and deploy an existing, Spring Framework, microservice-based, cloud-native API to Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), replete with Istio 1.0, on Google Cloud Platform (GCP). The API will rely on Confluent Cloud to provide a fully-managed, Kafka-based messaging-as-a-service (MaaS). Similarly, the API will rely on MongoDB Atlas to provide a fully-managed, MongoDB-based Database-as-a-service (DBaaS).
In a previous two-part post, Using Eventual Consistency and Spring for Kafka to Manage a Distributed Data Model: Part 1 and Part 2, we examined the role of Apache Kafka in an event-driven, eventually consistent, distributed system architecture. The system, an online storefront RESTful API simulation, was composed of multiple, Java Spring Boot microservices, each with their own MongoDB database. The microservices used a publish/subscribe model to communicate with each other using Kafka-based messaging. The Spring services were built using the Spring for Apache Kafka and Spring Data MongoDB projects.
Given the use case of placing an order through the Storefront API, we examined the interactions of three microservices, the Accounts, Fulfillment, and Orders service. We examined how the three services used Kafka to communicate state changes to each other, in a fully-decoupled manner.
The Storefront API’s microservices were managed behind an API Gateway, Netflix’s Zuul. Service discovery and load balancing were handled by Netflix’s Eureka. Both Zuul and Eureka are part of the Spring Cloud Netflix project. In that post, the entire containerized system was deployed to Docker Swarm.
Developing the services, not operationalizing the platform, was the primary objective of the previous post.
The following technologies are featured prominently in this post.
In May 2018, Google announced a partnership with Confluence to provide Confluent Cloud on GCP, a managed Apache Kafka solution for the Google Cloud Platform. Confluent, founded by the creators of Kafka, Jay Kreps, Neha Narkhede, and Jun Rao, is known for their commercial, Kafka-based streaming platform for the Enterprise.
Confluent Cloud is a fully-managed, cloud-based streaming service based on Apache Kafka. Confluent Cloud delivers a low-latency, resilient, scalable streaming service, deployable in minutes. Confluent deploys, upgrades, and maintains your Kafka clusters. Confluent Cloud is currently available on both AWS and GCP.
Confluent Cloud offers two plans, Professional and Enterprise. The Professional plan is optimized for projects under development, and for smaller organizations and applications. Professional plan rates for Confluent Cloud start at $0.55/hour. The Enterprise plan adds full enterprise capabilities such as service-level agreements (SLAs) with a 99.95% uptime and virtual private cloud (VPC) peering. The limitations and supported features of both plans are detailed, here.
Similar to Confluent Cloud, MongoDB Atlas is a fully-managed MongoDB-as-a-Service, available on AWS, Azure, and GCP. Atlas, a mature SaaS product, offers high-availability, uptime SLAs, elastic scalability, cross-region replication, enterprise-grade security, LDAP integration, BI Connector, and much more.
MongoDB Atlas currently offers four pricing plans, Free, Basic, Pro, and Enterprise. Plans range from the smallest, M0-sized MongoDB cluster, with shared RAM and 512 MB storage, up to the massive M400 MongoDB cluster, with 488 GB of RAM and 3 TB of storage.
MongoDB Atlas has been featured in several past posts, including Deploying and Configuring Istio on Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and Developing Applications for the Cloud with Azure App Services and MongoDB Atlas.
According to Google, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) provides a fully-managed, production-ready Kubernetes environment for deploying, managing, and scaling your containerized applications using Google infrastructure. GKE consists of multiple Google Compute Engine instances, grouped together to form a cluster.
A forerunner to other managed Kubernetes platforms, like EKS (AWS), AKS (Azure), PKS (Pivotal), and IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service, GKE launched publicly in 2015. GKE was built on Google’s experience of running hyper-scale services like Gmail and YouTube in containers for over 12 years.
GKE’s pricing is based on a pay-as-you-go, per-second-billing plan, with no up-front or termination fees, similar to Confluent Cloud and MongoDB Atlas. Cluster sizes range from 1 – 1,000 nodes. Node machine types may be optimized for standard workloads, CPU, memory, GPU, or high-availability. Compute power ranges from 1 – 96 vCPUs and memory from 1 – 624 GB of RAM.
In this post, we will deploy the three Storefront API microservices to a GKE cluster on GCP. Confluent Cloud on GCP will replace the previous Docker-based Kafka implementation. Similarly, MongoDB Atlas will replace the previous Docker-based MongoDB implementation.
Kubernetes and Istio 1.0 will replace Netflix’s Zuul and Eureka for API management, load-balancing, routing, and service discovery. Google Stackdriver will provide logging and monitoring. Docker Images for the services will be stored in Google Container Registry. Although not fully operationalized, the Storefront API will be closer to a Production-like platform, than previously demonstrated on Docker Swarm.
For brevity, we will not enable standard API security features like HTTPS, OAuth for authentication, and request quotas and throttling, all of which are essential in Production. Nor, will we integrate a full lifecycle API management tool, like Google Apigee.
The source code for this demonstration is contained in four separate GitHub repositories, storefront-kafka-docker, storefront-demo-accounts, storefront-demo-orders, and, storefront-demo-fulfillment. However, since the Docker Images for the three storefront services are available on Docker Hub, it is only necessary to clone the storefront-kafka-docker project. This project contains all the code to deploy and configure the GKE cluster and Kubernetes resources (gist).
Source code samples in this post are displayed as GitHub Gists, which may not display correctly on all mobile and social media browsers.
The setup of the Storefront API platform is divided into a few logical steps:
- Create the MongoDB Atlas cluster;
- Create the Confluent Cloud Kafka cluster;
- Create Kafka topics;
- Modify the Kubernetes resources;
- Modify the microservices to support Confluent Cloud configuration;
- Create the GKE cluster with Istio on GCP;
- Apply the Kubernetes resources to the GKE cluster;
- Test the Storefront API, Kafka, and MongoDB are functioning properly;
MongoDB Atlas Cluster
This post assumes you already have a MongoDB Atlas account and an existing project created. MongoDB Atlas accounts are free to set up if you do not already have one. Account creation does require the use of a Credit Card.
For minimal latency, we will be creating the MongoDB Atlas, Confluent Cloud Kafka, and GKE clusters, all on the Google Cloud Platform’s us-central1 Region. Available GCP Regions and Zones for MongoDB Atlas, Confluent Cloud, and GKE, vary, based on multiple factors.
For this demo, I suggest creating a free, M0-sized MongoDB cluster. The M0-sized 3-data node cluster, with shared RAM and 512 MB of storage, and currently running MongoDB 4.0.4, is fine for individual development. The us-central1 Region is the only available US Region for the free-tier M0-cluster on GCP. An M0-sized Atlas cluster may take between 7-10 minutes to provision.
MongoDB Atlas’ Web-based management console provides convenient links to cluster details, metrics, alerts, and documentation.
Once the cluster is ready, you can review details about the cluster and each individual cluster node.
In addition to the account owner, create a
demo_user account. This account will be used to authenticate and connect with the MongoDB databases from the storefront services. For this demo, we will use the same, single user account for all three services. In Production, you would most likely have individual users for each service.
Again, for security purposes, Atlas requires you to whitelist the IP address or CIDR block from which the storefront services will connect to the cluster. For now, open the access to your specific IP address using whatsmyip.com, or much less-securely, to all IP addresses (
0.0.0.0/0). Once the GKE cluster and external static IP addresses are created, make sure to come back and update this value; do not leave this wide open to the Internet.
The Java Spring Boot storefront services use a Spring Profile,
gke. According to Spring, Spring Profiles provide a way to segregate parts of your application configuration and make it available only in certain environments. The
gke Spring Profile’s configuration values may be set in a number of ways. For this demo, the majority of the values will be set using Kubernetes Deployment, ConfigMap and Secret resources, shown later.
The first two Spring configuration values will need are the MongoDB Atlas cluster’s connection string and the
demo_user account password. Note these both for later use.
Confluent Cloud Kafka Cluster
Similar to MongoDB Atlas, this post assumes you already have a Confluent Cloud account and an existing project. It is free to set up a Professional account and a new project if you do not already have one. Atlas account creation does require the use of a Credit Card.
The Confluent Cloud web-based management console is shown below. Experienced users of other SaaS platforms may find the Confluent Cloud web-based console a bit sparse on features. In my opinion, the console lacks some necessary features, like cluster observability, individual Kafka topic management, detailed billing history (always says $0?), and persistent history of cluster activities, which survives cluster deletion. It seems like Confluent prefers users to download and configure their Confluent Control Center to get the functionality you might normally expect from a web-based Saas management tool.
As explained earlier, for minimal latency, I suggest creating the MongoDB Atlas cluster, Confluent Cloud Kafka cluster, and the GKE cluster, all on the Google Cloud Platform’s us-central1 Region. For this demo, choose the smallest cluster size available on GCP, in the us-central1 Region, with 1 MB/s R/W throughput and 500 MB of storage. As shown below, the cost will be approximately $0.55/hour. Don’t forget to delete this cluster when you are done with the demonstration, or you will continue to be charged.
Cluster creation of the minimally-sized Confluent Cloud cluster is pretty quick.
Once the cluster is ready, Confluent provides instructions on how to interact with the cluster via the Confluent Cloud CLI. Install the Confluent Cloud CLI, locally, for use later.
As explained earlier, the Java Spring Boot storefront services use a Spring Profile,
gke. Like MongoDB Atlas, the Confluent Cloud Kafka cluster configuration values will be set using Kubernetes ConfigMap and Secret resources, shown later. There are several Confluent Cloud Java configuration values shown in the Client Config Java tab; we will need these for later use.
SASL and JAAS
Some users may not be familiar with the terms, SASL and JAAS. According to Wikipedia, Simple Authentication and Security Layer (SASL) is a framework for authentication and data security in Internet protocols. According to Confluent, Kafka brokers support client authentication via SASL. SASL authentication can be enabled concurrently with SSL encryption (SSL client authentication will be disabled).
There are numerous SASL mechanisms. The PLAIN SASL mechanism (SASL/PLAIN), used by Confluent, is a simple username/password authentication mechanism that is typically used with TLS for encryption to implement secure authentication. Kafka supports a default implementation for SASL/PLAIN which can be extended for production use. The SASL/PLAIN mechanism should only be used with SSL as a transport layer to ensure that clear passwords are not transmitted on the wire without encryption.
According to Wikipedia, Java Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS) is the Java implementation of the standard Pluggable Authentication Module (PAM) information security framework. According to Confluent, Kafka uses the JAAS for SASL configuration. You must provide JAAS configurations for all SASL authentication mechanisms.
Similar to MongoDB Atlas, we need to authenticate with the Confluent Cloud cluster from the storefront services. The authentication to Confluent Cloud is done with an API Key. Create a new API Key, and note the Key and Secret; these two additional pieces of configuration will be needed later.
Confluent Cloud API Keys can be created and deleted as necessary. For security in Production, API Keys should be created for each service and regularly rotated.
With the cluster created, create the storefront service’s three Kafka topics manually, using the Confluent Cloud’s
ccloud CLI tool. First, configure the Confluent Cloud CLI using the
ccloud init command, using your new cluster’s Bootstrap Servers address, API Key, and API Secret. The instructions are shown above Clusters Client Config tab of the Confluent Cloud web-based management interface.
Create the storefront service’s three Kafka topics using the
ccloud topic create command. Use the
list command to confirm they are created.
# manually create kafka topics ccloud topic create accounts.customer.change ccloud topic create fulfillment.order.change ccloud topic create orders.order.fulfill # list kafka topics ccloud topic list accounts.customer.change fulfillment.order.change orders.order.fulfill
topic describe, displays topic replication details. The new topics will have a replication factor of 3 and a partition count of 12.
--verbose flag to the command,
ccloud --verbose topic describe, displays low-level topic and cluster configuration details, as well as a log of all topic-related activities.
The deployment of the three storefront microservices to the
dev Namespace will minimally require the following Kubernetes configuration resources.
- (1) Kubernetes Namespace;
- (3) Kubernetes Deployments;
- (3) Kubernetes Services;
- (1) Kubernetes ConfigMap;
- (2) Kubernetes Secrets;
- (1) Istio 1.0 Gateway;
- (1) Istio 1.0 VirtualService;
- (2) Istio 1.0 ServiceEntry;
v1alpha3 API introduced the last three configuration resources in the list, to control traffic routing into, within, and out of the mesh. There are a total of four new io
v1alpha3 API routing resources: Gateway, VirtualService, DestinationRule, and ServiceEntry.
Creating and managing such a large number of resources is a common complaint regarding the complexity of Kubernetes. Imagine the resource sprawl when you have dozens of microservices replicated across several namespaces. Fortunately, all resource files for this post are included in the storefront-kafka-docker project’s gke directory.
To follow along with the demo, you will need to make minor modifications to a few of these resources, including the Istio Gateway, Istio VirtualService, two Istio ServiceEntry resources, and two Kubernetes Secret resources.
Istio Gateway & VirtualService
Both the Istio Gateway and VirtualService configuration resources are contained in a single file, istio-gateway.yaml. For the demo, I am using a personal domain,
storefront-demo.com, along with the sub-domain,
api.dev, to host the Storefront API. The domain’s primary A record (‘@’) and sub-domain A record are both associated with the external IP address on the frontend of the load balancer. In the file, this host is configured for the Gateway and VirtualService resources. You can choose to replace the host with your own domain, or simply remove the host block altogether on lines 13–14 and 21–22. Removing the host blocks, you would then use the external IP address on the frontend of the load balancer (explained later in the post) to access the Storefront API (gist).
There are two Istio ServiceEntry configuration resources. Both ServiceEntry resources control egress traffic from the Storefront API services, both of their ServiceEntry Location items are set to
MESH_INTERNAL. The first ServiceEntry, mongodb-atlas-external-mesh.yaml, defines MongoDB Atlas cluster egress traffic from the Storefront API (gist).
Both need to have their
host items replaced with the appropriate Atlas and Confluent URLs.
Inspecting Istio Resources
The easiest way to view Istio resources is from the command line using the
kubectl CLI tools.
istioctl get gateway istioctl get virtualservices istioctl get serviceentry kubectl describe gateway kubectl describe virtualservices kubectl describe serviceentry
In this demo, we are only deploying to a single Kubernetes Namespace,
dev. However, Istio will also support routing traffic to multiple namespaces. For example, a typical non-prod Kubernetes cluster might support
uat, each associated with a different sub-domain. One way to support multiple Namespaces with Istio 1.0 is to add each host to the Istio Gateway (lines 14–16, below), then create a separate Istio VirtualService for each Namespace. All the VirtualServices are associated with the single Gateway. In the VirtualService, each service’s host address is the fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of the service. Part of the FQDN is the Namespace, which we change for each for each VirtualService (gist).
MongoDB Atlas Secret
There is one Kubernetes Secret for the sensitive MongoDB configuration and one Secret for the sensitive Confluent Cloud configuration. The Kubernetes Secret object type is intended to hold sensitive information, such as passwords, OAuth tokens, and SSH keys.
Kubernetes Secrets are Base64 encoded. The easiest way to encode the secret values is using the Linux
base64 program. The
base64 program encodes and decodes Base64 data, as specified in RFC 4648. Pass each MongoDB URI string to the
base64 program using
MONGODB_URI=mongodb+srv://demo_user:your_password@your_cluster_address/accounts?retryWrites=true echo -n $MONGODB_URI | base64 bW9uZ29kYitzcnY6Ly9kZW1vX3VzZXI6eW91cl9wYXNzd29yZEB5b3VyX2NsdXN0ZXJfYWRkcmVzcy9hY2NvdW50cz9yZXRyeVdyaXRlcz10cnVl
Repeat this process for the three MongoDB connection strings.
Confluent Cloud Secret
The confluent-cloud-kafka-secret.yaml file contains two data fields in the Secret’s data map,
sasl.jaas.config. These configuration items were both listed in the Client Config Java tab of the Confluent Cloud web-based management console, as shown previously. The
sasl.jaas.config data field requires the Confluent Cloud cluster API Key and Secret you created earlier. Again, use the base64 encoding process for these two data fields (gist).
Confluent Cloud ConfigMap
Accounts Deployment Resource
To see how the services consume the ConfigMap and Secret values, review the Accounts Deployment resource, shown below. Note the environment variables section, on lines 44–90, are a mix of hard-coded values and values referenced from the ConfigMap and two Secrets, shown above (gist).
Modify Microservices for Confluent Cloud
As explained earlier, Confluent Cloud’s Kafka cluster requires some very specific configuration, based largely on the security features of Confluent Cloud. Connecting to Confluent Cloud requires some minor modifications to the existing storefront service source code. The changes are identical for all three services. To understand the service’s code, I suggest reviewing the previous post, Using Eventual Consistency and Spring for Kafka to Manage a Distributed Data Model: Part 1. Note the following changes are already made to the source code in the
gke git branch, and not necessary for this demo.
The previous Kafka
ReceiverConfig Java classes have been converted to Java interfaces. There are four new
ReceiverConfigNonConfluent classes, which implement one of the new interfaces. The new classes contain the Spring Boot Profile class-level annotation. One set of Sender and Receiver classes are assigned the
@Profile("gke") annotation, and the others, the
@Profile("!gke") annotation. When the services start, one of the two class implementations are is loaded, depending on the Active Spring Profile,
gke or not
gke. To understand the changes better, examine the Account service’s SenderConfigConfluent.java file (gist).
Line 20: Designates this class as belonging to the
gke Spring Profile.
Line 23: The class now implements an interface.
Lines 25–44: Reference the Confluent Cloud Kafka cluster configuration. The values for these variables will come from the Kubernetes ConfigMap and Secret, described previously, when the services are deployed to GKE.
Lines 55–59: Additional properties that have been added to the Kafka Sender configuration properties, specifically for Confluent Cloud.
Once code changes were completed and tested, the Docker Image for each service was rebuilt and uploaded to Docker Hub for public access. When recreating the images, the version of the Java Docker base image was upgraded from the previous post to Alpine OpenJDK 12 (
Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) with Istio
Having created the MongoDB Atlas and Confluent Cloud clusters, built the Kubernetes and Istio resources, modified the service’s source code, and pushed the new Docker Images to Docker Hub, the GKE cluster may now be built.
For the sake of brevity, we will manually create the cluster and deploy the resources, using the Google Cloud SDK gcloud and Kubernetes kubectl CLI tools, as opposed to automating with CI/CD tools, like Jenkins or Spinnaker. For this demonstration, I suggest a minimally-sized two-node GKE cluster using n1-standard-2 machine-type instances. The latest available release of Kubernetes on GKE at the time of this post was 1.11.5-gke.5 and Istio 1.03 (Istio on GKE still considered beta). Note Kubernetes and Istio are evolving rapidly, thus the configuration flags often change with newer versions. Check the GKE Clusters tab for the latest
clusters create command format (gist).
Executing these commands successfully will build the cluster and the
dev Namespace, into which all the resources will be deployed. The two-node cluster creation process takes about three minutes on average.
We can also observe the new GKE cluster from the GKE Clusters Details tab.
Creating the GKE cluster also creates several other GCP resources, including a TCP load balancer and three external IP addresses. Shown below in the VPC network External IP addresses tab, there is one IP address associated with each of the two GKE cluster’s VM instances, and one IP address associated with the frontend of the load balancer.
While the TCP load balancer’s frontend is associated with the external IP address, the load balancer’s backend is a target pool, containing the two GKE cluster node machine instances.
A forwarding rule associates the load balancer’s frontend IP address with the backend target pool. External requests to the frontend IP address will be routed to the GKE cluster. From there, requests will be routed by Kubernetes and Istio to the individual storefront service Pods, and through the Istio sidecar (Envoy) proxies. There is an Istio sidecar proxy deployed to each Storefront service Pod.
Below, we see the details of the load balancer’s target pool, containing the two GKE cluster’s VMs.
As shown at the start of the post, a simplified view of the GCP/GKE network routing looks as follows. For brevity, firewall rules and routes are not illustrated in the diagram.
Apply Kubernetes Resources
Again, using kubectl, deploy the three services and associated Kubernetes and Istio resources. Note the Istio Gateway and VirtualService(s) are not deployed to the
dev Namespace since their role is to control ingress and route traffic to the
dev Namespace and the services within it (gist).
Once these commands complete successfully, on the Workloads tab, we should observe two Pods of each of the three storefront service Kubernetes Deployments deployed to the
dev Namespace, all six Pods with a Status of ‘OK’. A Deployment controller provides declarative updates for Pods and ReplicaSets.
On the Services tab, we should observe the three storefront service’s Kubernetes Services. A Service in Kubernetes is a REST object.
On the Configuration Tab, we should observe the Kubernetes ConfigMap and two Secrets also deployed to the dev Environment.
Below, we see the confluent-cloud-kafka ConfigMap resource with its data map of Confluent Cloud configuration.
Below, we see the confluent-cloud-kafka Secret with its data map of sensitive Confluent Cloud configuration.
Test the Storefront API
If you recall from part two of the previous post, there are a set of seven Storefront API endpoints that can be called to create sample data and test the API. The HTTP GET Requests hit each service, generate test data, populate the three MongoDB databases, and produce and consume Kafka messages across all three topics. Making these requests is the easiest way to confirm the Storefront API is working properly.
- Sample Customer: accounts/customers/sample
- Sample Orders: orders/customers/sample/orders
- Sample Fulfillment Requests: orders/customers/sample/fulfill
- Sample Processed Order Event: fulfillment/fulfillment/sample/process
- Sample Shipped Order Event: fulfillment/fulfillment/sample/ship
- Sample In-Transit Order Event: fulfillment/fulfillment/sample/in-transit
- Sample Received Order Event: fulfillment/fulfillment/sample/receive
Thee are a wide variety of tools to interact with the Storefront API. The project includes a simple Python script, sample_data.py, which will make HTTP GET requests to each of the above endpoints, after confirming their health, and return a success message.
Postman, my personal favorite, is also an excellent tool to explore the Storefront API resources. I have the above set of the HTTP GET requests saved in a Postman Collection. Using Postman, below, we see the response from an HTTP GET request to the
Postman also allows us to create integration tests and run Collections of Requests in batches using Postman’s Collection Runner. To test the Storefront API, below, I used Collection Runner to run a single series of integration tests, intended to confirm the API’s functionality, by checking for expected HTTP response codes and expected values in the response payloads. Postman also shows the response times from the Storefront API. Since this platform was not built to meet Production SLAs, measuring response times is less critical in the Development environment.
If you recall, the GKE cluster had the Stackdriver Kubernetes option enabled, which gives us, amongst other observability features, access to all cluster, node, pod, and container logs. To confirm data is flowing to the MongoDB databases and Kafka topics, we can check the logs from any of the containers. Below we see the logs from the two Accounts Pod containers. Observe the
AfterSaveListener handler firing on an
onAfterSave event, which sends a
CustomerChangeEvent payload to the
accounts.customer.change Kafka topic, without error. These entries confirm that both Atlas and Confluent Cloud are reachable by the GKE-based workloads, and appear to be functioning properly.
MongoDB Atlas Collection View
Review the MongoDB Atlas Clusters Collections tab. In this Development environment, the MongoDB databases and collections are created the first time a service tries to connects to them. In Production, the databases would be created and secured in advance of deploying resources. Once the sample data requests are completed successfully, you should now observe the three Storefront API databases, each with collections of documents.
In addition to the Atlas web-based management console, MongoDB Compass is an excellent desktop tool to explore and manage MongoDB databases. Compass is available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. One of the many great features of Compass is the ability to visualize collection schemas and interactively filter documents. Below we see the
fulfillment.requests collection schema.
Confluent Control Center
Confluent Control Center is a downloadable, web browser-based tool for managing and monitoring Apache Kafka, including your Confluent Cloud clusters. Confluent Control Center provides rich functionality for building and monitoring production data pipelines and streaming applications. Confluent offers a free 30-day trial of Confluent Control Center. Since the Control Center is provided at an additional fee, and I found difficult to configure for Confluent Cloud clusters based on Confluent’s documentation, I chose not to cover it in detail, for this post.
Tear Down Cluster
Delete your Confluent Cloud and MongoDB clusters using their web-based management consoles. To delete the GKE cluster and all deployed Kubernetes resources, use the
cluster delete command. Also, double-check that the external IP addresses and load balancer, associated with the cluster, were also deleted as part of the cluster deletion (gist).
In this post, we have seen how easy it is to integrate Cloud-based DBaaS and MaaS products with the managed Kubernetes services from GCP, AWS, and Azure. As this post demonstrated, leading SaaS providers have sufficiently matured the integration capabilities of their product offerings to a point where it is now reasonable for enterprises to architect multi-vendor, single- and multi-cloud Production platforms, without re-engineering existing cloud-native applications.
In future posts, we will revisit this Storefront API example, further demonstrating how to enable HTTPS (Securing Your Istio Ingress Gateway with HTTPS) and end-user authentication (Istio End-User Authentication for Kubernetes using JSON Web Tokens (JWT) and Auth0)
All opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily the views of my current or past employers or their clients.