How the Onica Elastic Engineering team automated disaster recovery for Amazon RDS instances

by Oliver Fletcher, Senior Manager, Cloud Practice, Rackspace Technology

Originally published on the AWS Partner Network (APN) Blog.


As organizations move to Amazon Web Services (AWS), ensuring you have an effective disaster recovery (DR) strategy in place to manage outages is paramount.

You can adopt several strategies to meet requirements to ensure business continuity. However, organizations should understand what their Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) should be for workloads so they can select a DR strategy that’s best suited for their AWS workloads. Organizations can adequately design disaster recovery solutions by defining a common understanding of RTO and RPO requirements.

In this post, I discuss how the Elastic Engineering team at Onica, a Rackspace Technology company, co-created a solution with a client that leverages serverless architecture and enables an automated backup and restore for Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) instances.

A backup and restore DR strategy backs up your data by using point-in-time backups to a DR location and restores this data when necessary to recover from a disaster event.

Onica is an [AWS Premier Consulting Partner with multiple AWS Competencies and the Amazon RDS Service Delivery validation. We are also a member of the AWS Managed Service Provider (MSP) and Well-Architected Partner programs.

Adopt a DR strategy while reducing operational overhead

Effectively managing a backup and restore strategy can be burdensome, requiring manual input and additional toil for engineers. By using automation, serverless architecture, and proactive monitoring, organizations can reduce operational overhead and focus on unlocking trapped value.

At a high level, the solution developed by the Onica Elastic Engineering team leverages the RDS instance snapshot feature to create a point-in-time snapshot of an RDS instance in a primary AWS region.

The solution then copies the snapshot to the DR region and can restore it when a disaster recovery event occurs. To ensure that the proliferation of snapshots does not occur, the solution manages the deletion of snapshots in the primary region after they’re copied and retains those in the DR region for only a set number of retention days.

The solution uses the AWS Boto3 SDK to define an AWS Lambda function in the Python 3 programming language to automate these DR tasks.

The solution also incorporates proactive monitoring and alerting to ensure engineers can monitor the backup processes. It enables engineers to identify when a DR event occurs in their primary AWS region. Amazon CloudWatch

[Amazon Simple Notification Service(SNS) and RDS event subscriptions enable this insight.

By using AWS CloudFormation and open-source tools such as Runway Stacker, and the Serverless Framework, the solution leverages infrastructure as code (IaC) so you can treat it as application code through source control and deploy it in a repeatable fashion.

Solution workflow and architecture

The RDS Backup Lambda takes a snapshot of the RDS instance in the primary AWS region based on a cron schedule and copies the RDS instance snapshot to the AWS region.

Next, the RDS Backup Cleanup Lambda deletes the snapshot in the primary AWS region based on a schedule and deletes the snapshot in the region based on a cron schedule and a retention period (number of days).

Finally, the RDS Backup Restore Lambda enables the restore of an RDS instance in the DR region when a disaster recovery event occurs

onica dr pic 1

Figure 1: Solution Architecture 

Solution: AWS Lambda functions

AWS Lambda enables organizations to run their code without having to provision and manage the underlying infrastructure required to host their code base for applications.

This design decision helps to reduce the infrastructure footprint of a legacy backup and restore solution and thus reduces operational overhead and hosting costs. The following sections detail the Lambda functions that enable the Onica solution.

RDS Backup

The RDS Backup function leverages the Boto3 create_db_snapshot method to create the RDS snapshot.

The solution creates each snapshot by using a naming convention that includes the prefix lambda-dr-snapshot, the RDS instance name, and the date when the RDS snapshot occurs. When the rds-backup-copy function runs, it uses this naming convention is used to search for the snapshot.

The following figure outlines the environment variable we have to define in the serverless.yml file

Onica dr pic 2

Figure 2: RDS Backup Lambda flowchart 

RDS Backup Copy

The RDS Backup Copy function leverages the boto3 library to copy the RDS instance snapshots created by the RDS Backup Lambda from the primary region’s Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) bucket to the DR region’s S3 bucket. It does this by using the copy_db_snapshot method from the Boto3 SDK.

The naming convention for the snapshot created in the DR region follows the same convention as the RDS Backup Lambda. This Lambda also requires several environment variables to be set within the serverless.yml file.

Onica dr pic 3

Figure 3: RDS Backup Copy Lambda flowchart 

RDS Backup Cleanup

The RDS Backup Cleanup function leverages the boto3 library to delete the RDS instance snapshots created by the RDS Backup Lambda from the primary region’s S3 bucket and the DR region’s S3 bucket. Do this by using the delete_db_snapshot  method from the Boto3 SDK.

The RDS snapshots in the primary region are deleted after the RDS Backup Copy function has run. The snapshots that reside in the DR region are retained for the set amount of retention days and then deleted.

onica dr pic 4

Figure 4: RDS Backup Cleanup Lambda flowchart 

This Lambda also requires several environment variables to be set within the serverless.yml file.

onica dr table 1

RDS Backup Restore 

The RDS Backup Restore function leverages the Boto3 SDK to restore the RDS instance snapshots created by the RDS Backup Lambda from the primary region’s S3 bucket to a new RDS instance in the DR region. Do this by using the restore_db_instance_from_db_snapshot  method from the Boto3 SDK.

This function requires several values for environment variables to complete. It also requires us to create the DB Subnet Group before running the function. The environment variables need to define the following details in the serverless.yml file.

onica dr pic 5

 Figure 5: RDS Backup Restore Lambda flowchart

IMPORTANT: If you don’t require a multi-AWS Availability Zone for the RDS instance being restored, you need to change the multi-az variable found in the handler. If you want the RDS instance to be restored to be public-facing, you need to change the rds_public variable found in the handler.

onica dr table 2

Solution: Auxiliary AWS services 

The following sections outline the details for each of the auxiliary AWS services that enable scheduling, encryption, monitoring and logging for the solution.

Amazon EventBridge

The Lambda functions are scheduled using the cron scheduler, which ensures you can align with your organization’s RTO and RPO. The schedule is defined by using Amazon EventBridge and the cron expression for the Lambda functions are defined using the Serverless Framework. This is defined in the serverless.yaml file.

AWS Key Management Service (KMS)

The DR region for the RDS Backup Copy Lambda function leverages AWS Key Management Service (KMS). The solution uses the key that CloudFormation provisions to encrypt the RDS snapshot created in the DR region when it initiates the RDS Backup Copy Lambda Function. This ensures the system protects the snapshot data in the DR region.

The KMS key requires us to define an AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role in the dev-us-east-2 environment file. We define the KMSIAMRole0 parameter value and grant administrator access to the role for the KMS key in the DR region. You can find details of the actions in the kms.yaml file.

 Amazon SNS

We use CloudFormation to deploy SNS topics and subscriptions. The solution uses SNS topics to capture RDS events for both the availability and backup categories. To ensure proactive monitoring, the solution provisions SNS subscriptions to enable the system to send email alerts to DevOps engineers. SNS sends an email when the RDS snapshot completes or an outage occurs for the RDS instances.

The SNS subscriptions require us to set an email in the dev-us-east-2 environment file. Define the value for the RDSSNSEmail parameter.

Amazon RDS Event Subscriptions

CloudFormation deploys Amazon RDS event subscriptions and enables SNS topics to subscribe to the availability and backup categories for the RDS instances that leverage this solution.

The RDS event subscriptions need to include a comma-delimited list of the RDS instances. We define the list in the dev-us-east-2 environment file and also the value for the DBInstances parameter.

Next step

This post describes the necessary components of the deployment. Another blog describes a serverless DR implementation of our solution.

Learn more about Rackspace Elastic Engineering.