Automate rollbacks for Amazon ECS rolling deployments with CloudWatch alarms

by Viji Sarathy and Kevin Rondinone | on

Introduction

Amazon ECS now offers native support for monitoring and automatically reacting to changes during a rolling update by using Amazon CloudWatch metric alarms. This enables customers to easily automate discovery and remediation for failed deployments and minimize the performance and availability impacts. Customers can configure Amazon CloudWatch alarms for their rolling updates using the familiar Amazon ECS application programming interfaces (APIs) or from the Amazon ECS Console. In this post, we’ll demonstrate how this new feature works using a sample scenario, which manages rolling updates to a service with an Amazon CloudWatch alarm that monitors the average response latency of the service.

Background

Rolling update is the deployment type most commonly used by Amazon ECS customers to deploy their services to a cluster. When using this deployment type, the Amazon ECS scheduler replaces the currently running tasks with new tasks on a rolling basis until the desired count is reached. The number of tasks that the scheduler adds or removes from the service during a rolling update is controlled by the deployment configuration .

By default, when the tasks in a service are unable to reach a healthy state, the scheduler applies the service throttling logic to retry the deployments and it required manual intervention to cancel the deployments after a certain number of failed attempts. Since the announcement of Amazon ECS deployment circuit breaker, customers have had the ability to automatically roll back unhealthy service deployments without the need for manual intervention. You can optionally use circuit breaker in the deployment configuration, which causes the deployment to transition to a failed state if it can’t reach a steady state and roll it back to the last completed deployment.

Even if the tasks in a service reach a healthy state, there are several reasons why a deployment may need to be rolled back. The service could have had changes introduced to its code or configuration, causing its performance to degrade from an established baseline in a given environment. This can be detected by monitoring a set of metrics collected from the service using Amazon CloudWatch. These could be system metrics such as the CPU, memory utilization, or custom service metrics such as average response latency.

Customers that deploy their services to Amazon ECS using Amazon Web Services CodeDeploy have had the ability to monitor the deployments with Amazon CloudWatch metric alarms . An alarm watches a single metric over a time period that you specify and is activated (i.e., changing state from OK to ALARM) based on the value of the metric relative to a given threshold over a number of time periods. Amazon Web Services CodeDeploy can be configured to stop the deployment whenever an alarm is activated and subsequently roll the deployment back. The new feature we announced enables customers to handle such automation natively using Amazon ECS API without needing to use additional services.

How does it work?

When customers create or update services with Amazon ECS API using a JSON string, they can configure one or more Amazon CloudWatch metric alarms in the deploymentConfiguration field as shown in the following:

"deploymentConfiguration":{
   "deploymentCircuitBreaker":{
      "enable":true,
      "rollback":true
   },
   "maximumPercent":200,
   "minimumHealthyPercent":50,
   "alarms":{
      "alarmNames":[
         "HighResponseLatencyAlarm"
      ],
      "enable":true,
      "rollback":true
   }
} 

The Command Line Interface (CLI) equivalent of the above, namely, the --deployment-configuration argument, is shown in the following:

--deployment-configuration "maximumPercent=200,minimumHealthyPercent=50,deploymentCircuitBreaker={enable=true,rollback=true},alarms={alarmNames=[HighResponseLatencyAlarm],enable=true,rollback=true}"

Referring to Figure 1 below, during a rolling update, Amazon ECS starts monitoring the list of configured Amazon CloudWatch alarms as soon as one or more tasks of the updated service (i.e., these tasks now make up the primary deployment, while the previously running tasks make up the active deployment) are in a running state (t = t2). When a rolling update is done without configuring any alarms, the deployment process is deemed complete when the primary deployment is healthy and has reached the desired count and the active deployment has been scaled down to 0. The timeline in Figure 1 shows both these events occurring at t = t3 but in most use cases they may be staggered, depending on factors such as target group de‑registration delay and health check settings (in case the service uses a load balancer). If you configure alarms, the deployment process is allowed to continue for an additional duration referred to as the bake time. During this period, the primary deployment remains in the IN_PROGRESS state. The length of this duration is calculated by Amazon ECS based on the properties of the Amazon CloudWatch alarms such as their Periods and Evaluation Periods. At the end of this duration (t = t4), if none of alarms have been activated and they remain in an OK state, then Amazon ECS considers this to be a successful update and proceeds to delete the active deployment and change the status of the primary deployment to COMPLETED. If the alarms were to change state sometime after t = t4, then they won’t have any effect.

Figure 1. Deployment workflow without any rollbacks

Referring to Figure 2 below, if an Amazon CloudWatch alarm is activated (i.e., state change from OK to ALARM) anytime between t = t2 and t = t4, Amazon ECS begins the rollback. The customer is notified about the failed deployment via the event bus and the status of current deployment is changed to FAILED. Also, what was previously the active deployment now becomes the primary and is scaled back up to the desired counts. The failed deployment is scaled down and ultimately deleted.

Figure 2. Deployment workflow with rollback triggered by CloudWatch alarm

Rolling updates with alarms in action

Let’s now test how rolling updates work in conjunction with Amazon CloudWatch alarms using a sample workload deployed to an Amazon ECS cluster. The illustration below in Figure 3 shows the setup employed for this test. It comprises a frontend service that exposes a set of REST APIs and interacts with a datastore service which in turn performs CRUD operations against an instance of Aurora PostgreSQL database. The tasks of the frontend service are registered with the target group attached to an Application Load Balancer. A steady stream of requests is sent to this workload using an external load generator. Elastic Load Balancing reports several metrics to Amazon CloudWatch that can be used to verify that the system is performing as expected. In this test, we are using the TargetResponseTime metric, which measures the time elapsed, in seconds, after the request leaves the load balancer until a response from the target is received.

Figure 3. Rolling deployment with alarm-based rollbacks to a service registered with a load balancer

Details of the Amazon CloudWatch metric alarm created based on this metric are shown below. The alarm is configured to be activated if the TargetResponseTime metric breaches the threshold value of 0.1 seconds at least 5 times over a 10-minute interval.

Figure 4. Details of the CloudWatch metric alarm used in the deployment configuration

Figure 5 shows the graph of the TargetResponseTime metric, which averages around 50 milliseconds for the initial deployment of the frontend service.

Figure 5. Graph of TargetResponseTime metric for the initial deployment

A rolling update is now initiated with a newer revision of the frontend service. The application code for this revision has been modified so that the response time from the service exceeds the threshold value of 0.1 second configured for the Amazon CloudWatch metric alarm. The JSON data below shows the status of primary and active deployments sometime after the update was initiated. This juncture corresponds to t = t3 in the timeline in Figure 2 when the active deployment has been scaled down to 0 and the primary deployment has been scaled up to the desired count. In the JSON data, the task definition FrontendAlarmTask:3 corresponds to the initial version of the service and FrontendAlarmTask:4 is that of the updated version.

[
    {
        "id": "ecs-svc/1330173481524238954",
        "status": "PRIMARY",
        "taskDefinition": "arn:aws:ecs:us-west-2:XXX:task-definition/FrontendAlarmTask:4",
        "desiredCount": 2,
        "pendingCount": 0,
        "runningCount": 2,
        "failedTasks": 0,
        "createdAt": "2022-12-12T23:00:40.748000-05:00",
        "updatedAt": "2022-12-12T23:01:32.930000-05:00",
        "launchType": "EC2",
        "networkConfiguration": {
        },
        "rolloutState": "IN_PROGRESS",
        "rolloutStateReason": "ECS deployment ecs-svc/1330173481524238954 in progress."
    },
    {
        "id": "ecs-svc/7260558072093326498",
        "status": "ACTIVE",
        "taskDefinition": "arn:aws:ecs:us-west-2:XXX:task-definition/FrontendAlarmTask:3",
        "desiredCount": 0,
        "pendingCount": 0,
        "runningCount": 0,
        "failedTasks": 0,
        "createdAt": "2022-12-12T22:30:29.943000-05:00",
        "updatedAt": "2022-12-12T23:02:20.611000-05:00",
        "launchType": "EC2",
        "networkConfiguration": {
        },
        "rolloutState": "COMPLETED",
        "rolloutStateReason": "ECS deployment ecs-svc/7260558072093326498 completed."
    }
]

The Figure 6 shows a graph of the TargetResponseTime metric after the deployment was updated. It also points out the approximate instants when the deployment bake time starts and when the alarm is activated, initiating the rollback.

Figure 6. Graph of TargetResponseTime metric for the updated deployment

The JSON data below shows the status of primary and active deployments right after the rollback was initiated and the reason why the rollback was initiated.

[
    {
        "id": "ecs-svc/7260558072093326498",
        "status": "PRIMARY",
        "taskDefinition": "arn:aws:ecs:us-west-2:XXX:task-definition/FrontendAlarmTask:3",
        "desiredCount": 2,
        "pendingCount": 0,
        "runningCount": 2,
        "failedTasks": 0,
        "createdAt": "2022-12-12T22:30:29.943000-05:00",
        "updatedAt": "2022-12-12T23:08:22.484000-05:00",
        "launchType": "EC2",
        "networkConfiguration": {
        },
        "rolloutState": "IN_PROGRESS",
        "rolloutStateReason": "ECS deployment detected triggered alarm(s): rolling back to deploymentId ecs-svc/7260558072093326498."
    },
    {
        "id": "ecs-svc/1330173481524238954",
        "status": "ACTIVE",
        "taskDefinition": "arn:aws:ecs:us-west-2:XXX:task-definition/FrontendAlarmTask:4",
        "desiredCount": 0,
        "pendingCount": 0,
        "runningCount": 1,
        "failedTasks": 0,
        "createdAt": "2022-12-12T23:00:40.748000-05:00",
        "updatedAt": "2022-12-12T23:08:22.433000-05:00",
        "launchType": "EC2",
        "networkConfiguration": {
        },
        "rolloutState": "FAILED",
        "rolloutStateReason": "ECS deployment failed: alarm(s) detected."
    }
]

Rolling updates with alarms for backend services

The dynamics of managing a rolling update with alarms for a backend service (such as the datastore service in this sample scenario) that isn’t registered with a target group of a load balancer will be very similar. Note that as there won’t be any delays related to deregistration of tasks from a target group, the deployment is likely to reach the juncture that corresponds to t = t3 in Figure 2 much faster during these scenarios. However, as the deployment bake time starts only at t = t3, potential performance issues can still be surfaced up by monitoring appropriate Amazon CloudWatch alarms if you have implemented observability best practices into your microservices.

Figure 7. Rolling deployment to a backend service with alarm-based rollbacks

Customers can setup Amazon CloudWatch alarms based on any one of the system metrics that CloudWatch Container Insights collects for Amazon ECS . No additional setup is required for this. To use custom service metrics, there are different options available. If the application has been instrumented with Prometheus client library, then you can use Container Insights Prometheus metrics monitoring to automate the discovery of Prometheus metrics from Amazon ECS workloads and ingest them as custom metrics into Amazon CloudWatch. For applications instrumented with OpenTelemetry SDK, you can use A WS Distro for OpenTelemetry to export application metrics to Amazon CloudWatch .

Conclusion

The blog discussed the details of automating the rollback of ECS rolling deployment using CloudWatch alarms. This feature is now generally available, and can be used via the Amazon Web Services CLI, Amazon Web Services SDK, or Amazon Web Services CloudFormation. We greatly value our customers feedback at Amazon, so please let us know how this new feature is working for you. We encourage you to submit any issues or questions to the containers public roadmap on GitHub .