Automating network mastering scenarios for Amazon VPC

Vyacheslav Voronenko
8 min readOct 13, 2016



For a long time Amazon Web Services is one of the most often used platforms to deploy and run new projects. For more complex project you usually start with mastering your network infrastructure, fortunately amazon provides definitive guide on most often used network topologies. You can review some at

For some reason, in most of cases I’ve seen customer always configure setup manually, and than document steps with screenshots in project wiki. Than, after some time, original knowledge gets lost and moving or deploying application again leads to careful manual steps.

In this article I will demonstrate how I automate network creation with Ansible for the application according to project requirements, and store network creation logic alongside the project. In this way, your project infrastructure evolves and releases together with your application releases.


For the demo let’s choose more complex setup, as described here VPC with Public and Private Subnets (NAT)

Let’s take a look on definition, and network topology picture:

The configuration for this scenario includes a virtual private cloud (VPC) with a public subnet and a private subnet. We recommend this scenario if you want to run a public-facing web application, while maintaining back-end servers that aren’t publicly accessible. A common example is a multi-tier website, with the web servers in a public subnet and the database servers in a private subnet. You can set up security and routing so that the web servers can communicate with the database servers.

The instances in the public subnet can receive inbound traffic directly from the Internet, whereas the instances in the private subnet can’t. The instances in the public subnet can send outbound traffic directly to the Internet, whereas the instances in the private subnet can’t. Instead, the instances in the private subnet can access the Internet by using a network address translation (NAT) gateway that resides in the public subnet. The database servers can connect to the Internet for software updates using the NAT gateway, but the Internet cannot initiate connections to the database servers.

Let’s implement a bit more sophisticated example to described: make application highly available my placing app servers in multiple subnet. Thus in public subnet we will have Elastic Load Balancer, that would be linked to several subnets we create.

In our scenario we will use both functions from Ansible AWS module, and direct awscli commands, where Ansible does not have support yet.

At the beginning, we would have no VPC on our account:


As regions have difference in availablility zones sets, let’s create two constants, to fix available AZ zones names for provisioning + provide some reasonable name for the environment.

vpc_availability_zone_t1: b
vpc_availability_zone_t2: c
readable_env_name: "app-{{env}}"


Let’s define VPC according to Scenario 2 picture. To be as close to Amazon example as possible, I would make 0.0 & 2.0 subnets public, and 1.0 and 3.0 private; As you see in VPC configuration we already provide handy readable naming and tags. For two public networks, we specify default routing table.

- cidr:
az: "{{aws_region}}{{vpc_availability_zone_t1}}"
resource_tags: {"Name": "{{readable_env_name}}-sb-pub-{{aws_region}}-{{vpc_availability_zone_t1}}", "Environment":"{{readable_env_name}}", "AZ" : "{{vpc_availability_zone_t1}}" }
- cidr:
az: "{{aws_region}}{{vpc_availability_zone_t2}}"
resource_tags: { "Name": "{{readable_env_name}}-sb-pub-{{aws_region}}-{{vpc_availability_zone_t2}}", "Environment":"{{readable_env_name}}", "AZ" : "{{vpc_availability_zone_t2}}" }
- cidr:
az: "{{aws_region}}{{vpc_availability_zone_t1}}"
resource_tags: {"Name": "{{readable_env_name}}-sb-priv-{{aws_region}}-{{vpc_availability_zone_t1}}", "Environment":"{{readable_env_name}}", "AZ" : "{{vpc_availability_zone_t1}}" }
- cidr:
az: "{{aws_region}}{{vpc_availability_zone_t2}}"
resource_tags: { "Name": "{{readable_env_name}}-sb-priv-{{aws_region}}-{{vpc_availability_zone_t2}}", "Environment":"{{readable_env_name}}", "AZ" : "{{vpc_availability_zone_t2}}" }
vpc_internet_gateway: "yes"
- subnets:
- dest:
gw: igw

Create VPC

To create VPC, we use already available Ansible module, ec2_vpc; On run we provide parameters to it using setup above.

- name: NETWORK | Create the VPC
state: present
region: "{{ aws_region }}"
Environment: "{{ readable_env_name }}"
Name: "{{ readable_env_name }}-vpc-{{aws_region}}"
cidr_block: "{{ vpc_cidr_block }}"
subnets: "{{ vpc_subnets }}"
dns_support: true
dns_hostnames: true
internet_gateway: "{{ vpc_internet_gateway|string }}"
route_tables: "{{ vpc_route_tables_public }}"
wait: yes
register: vpc

Upon this part execution we will have VPC created alongside with subnets:

Take a look on Nat gateways created — as you see, we have 1 Nat gateway per public subnet.

Take a look on route table created, as you see — public subnets have internet gateway set,

while private subnet have route entry that forwards outgoing requests through NAT.

Nat instances magic

Nowadays Amazon recommends to create Nat gatewates, rather then NAT instances. To master NAT gateway, we need to

  • allocate elastic IP
  • create NAT gateway and associate NAT gateway with subnet
  • wait for NAT gateway to be partially available, to create Route table for private subnet.
  • create route table for private subnet & set NAT gateway for outgoing traffic

To allocate elastic IP we would use existing module from ansible:, ec2_eip. Please note, that by default each account is limited to 5 elastic ips per region.

- name: NETWORK | allocate a new elastic IP without associating it to anything - 1
ec2_eip: in_vpc=yes reuse_existing_ip_allowed=yes state=present region="{{aws_region}}"

in order to create NAT gateway, in Ansible v1 we have to use awscli:

- name: NETWORK | Create NAT instance for subnet 1
shell: "aws ec2 create-nat-gateway --region {{aws_region}} --subnet-id {{aws_vpc_pubsubnet1_runtime}} --allocation-id {{aws_vpc_privsubnet1_allocation}}"

Here little hack: if you need immediately use Nat gateway, for example, to create custom routing table,- give AWS time to partially initialize and register it:

Now we can create custom route tables:

- name: NETWORK | Create new route table for the private subnet 1
shell: "aws ec2 create-route-table --region {{aws_region}} --vpc-id {{aws_vpc_id_runtime}}"
- name: NETWORK | Associate route table with private subnet 1
shell: "aws ec2 associate-route-table --region {{aws_region}} --route-table-id {{routetable_private_1}} --subnet-id {{aws_vpc_privsubnet1_runtime}}"
- name: NETWORK | Create NAT route record for private subnet 1
shell: "aws ec2 create-route --region {{aws_region}} --route-table-id {{routetable_private_1}} --destination-cidr-block '' --nat-gateway-id {{nat_instance1}}"

Security groups

We can define requirements for security groups alongside with firewall rules. Pay attention on examples below, how you can create rule both for CIDR block and for specific security group(s)

I want to have four security group.

First for load balancer, accepting http and https.

Second for jump box in public subnet, so I can ssh to that box, and ping, login, and troubleshoot my application instances. Thus I need to open SSH and ICMP on app servers from that box.

Third — for Jump box itself, as I want to limit access to Jump box from my office IP only (assuming, gateway has public ip address

Forth — for my database box, usually RDS. Assuming, we use MySQL — I need to open 3306 port from APP servers.

- name: "{{readable_env_name}}-public-LOADBALANCER"
desc: "security group for public access"
- proto: tcp
from_port: 80
to_port: 80
- proto: tcp
from_port: 443
to_port: 443
- name: "{{readable_env_name}}-public-JUMPBOX"
desc: "security group that allows access from dedicated jump box in public network to internal resources"
- proto: tcp
from_port: 22
to_port: 22
cidr_ip: "" #Your office private ip
- name: "{{readable_env_name}}-private-APP"
desc: "Network for internal app servers"
- proto: tcp
from_port: 22
to_port: 22
group_id: "{{readable_env_name}}-public-JUMPBOX"
- proto: tcp
from_port: 80
to_port: 80
group_id: "{{readable_env_name}}-public-LOADBALANCER"
- proto: tcp
from_port: 443
to_port: 443
group_id: "{{readable_env_name}}-public-LOADBALANCER"
- proto: icmp
from_port: -1 # icmp type, -1 = any type
to_port: -1 # icmp subtype, -1 = any subtype
group_id: "{{readable_env_name}}-public-JUMPBOX"
- name: "{{readable_env_name}}-private-DATABASE"
desc: "resources that are private"
- proto: tcp
from_port: 3306 # MYSQL
to_port: 3306
group_id: "{{readable_env_name}}-private-APP"

Don’t you find setup readable from definition? I do.

Let’s check setup created:

List of secutity groups created:

Public security group with inbound rules:

Private app servers group with inbound rules:

Database access security group with inbound rules:

Jump box security group with inbound rules:

Running the provisioning

Running ansible provisioning is as easy as executing shell file of the structure below:

As you see, we specify environment name (demo), desired region to create VPC in (us-east-1), and set your secure AWS credentials as environment variables for provisioning.

#!/bin/sh# Static parameters
echo $BOX_NAMEprudentia local <<EOF
unregister $BOX_NAME
verbose 4set env demo
set aws_region us-east-1
provision $BOX_NAMEunregister $BOX_NAME

Wondering how long it will take? Less then 1 minute. Compare to manual setup …

PLAY RECAP ******************************************************************** : ok=42 changed=12 unreachable=0 failed=0

At the end you will have all the information about network created, so you can store it, or template to some configuration file:

Points of Interest

I recommend to store and evolve deployment and provisioning recipes with your application code. Believe me, when you know that you can put your environment up from scratch saying in 10–40 minutes, your customer will be less nervous :)

If you would use that approach to implement different case of network setup, I would be grateful if you share your experience. If you need to implement continuous integration on your project — you are welcome.

Mentioned samples for use with Ansible v1 (1.9.4) could be seen on or forked from

Mentioned samples for use with Ansible v2 ( could be seen on or forked from



Vyacheslav Voronenko

Software engineer, with project management background. Founder @ — cool automation for the people :) — have a problem that needs to be solved?