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Problems with Terraform

Problems with Terraform

In my last post, I discussed using Terraform to build out the base components of an AWS environment. While running this code to build out the base environment has worked the way I intended, I have run into some pretty major issues with building out the next layer, which consist of a group of private subnets.

I ran into two key problems that I haven’t been able to solve. The first is around passing the counts from one environment to the next. In my base environment I set them as outputs and then import the state file as a data source, but when I try to use it, I get the error “value of count cannot be computed.”

The second issue is a little more complicated, but it comes down to setting variables in the module section of the file when the data doesn’t exist in base statefile. Essentially, if I don’t create a second nat gateway in the base setup, the no output shows up in the statefile. When I run the second set of Terraform scripts, I would like it to ignore or default if it doesn’t exist, rather than error.

At this point, I am pretty frustrated with it. I have decided that I am going to circle back and take another look at CloudFormation now that they have support for YAML and cross-stack variable and see if I can do everything that I want to do. I’ll post details later this week.

Terraform to Buildout AWS

Terraform to Buildout AWS

I started playing with Terraform a few months ago when I needed to spin up a prototype environment to do an evaluation of the open source version of Cloud Foundry. One of the results was some Terraform code that could bring up the essentials of an AWS VPC, which included the VPC itself, three public subnets, three NATs, three Elastic IPs (EIPs), and a Route53 hosted zone. While it might seem like overkill to use this many Availability Zones (AZs) for a prototype environment, once of the things we needed to test was how Cloud Foundry’s new multi-az support worked.

This was good for what I was working on at the time since I needed to test across muliple AZs, but it was problematic for most of the day-to day testing that I need to do as it would spin up (and charge me for) components that I didn’t really need. Most things I have to test don’t require three of everything. The challenge was, I do not want to maintain different code repositories for different use cases.

Luckily, I came across an article by Yevgeniy Brikman that had some interesting tips and tricks on how to do some loops and conditionals. The most interesting bit for the problem I am trying to solve was learning that in Terraform, a boolean true is converted to a 1 and a boolean false is converted to a 0. Yevgeniy then used an example that I proceed to incorporate into my code. Essentially, what I did was create three new variables in my environments file to define whether or not I wanted to create each of the three public subnets:

# public-subnets module
public-1a_create = true
public-1b_create = false
public-1c_create = false

Then for each resource, I added the count variable:

resource "aws_subnet" "public-1a" {
    count                   = "${var.public-1a_create}"
    vpc_id                  = "${var.vpc_id}"
    cidr_block              = "${var.public-1a_subnet_cidr}"
    map_public_ip_on_launch = true
    availability_zone       = "us-east-1a"
    tags {
        Name                  = "public-1a"
        Description           = "Public Subnet us-east-1a"
        Terraform             = "true"

Now I am able to spin up an AWS environment that only is only in one availability zone to do some testing, or bring it up in three for production. There are still a few other things that I am hoping to figure out, such as how to not set environmental variables for the second and third subnets even though you don’t need them and how to let Terraform deployments that build on the base to use the right NAT subnets if they use three AZs and the their are only two NATS. You can find the code in this repo.

Using Vagrant to Test Galaxy Roles

Using Vagrant to Test Galaxy Roles

Last summer, I wrote a post about how we were using Vagrant to test Ansible roles across AWS and the Datacenter. This has worked well with a single AWS account, but it has proven to be a little trickier in our account layout, which uses a centralized account and STS roles. Initially, I had an assume_role script that we had written that would get and set the right bits for the vagrant file to work, but it wasn’t very elegant.

While working on some Ansible roles recently, I decided to take an afternoon and see what I could come up with to make everything a little easier. I’m pretty happy with the results. It’s much more streamlined and easier to run and maintain.

If you would like to try it out yourself, you can start by cloning (or forking first) the repo to your local system:

git clone

Once you have it cloned, you will want to change directories and then checkout the sts branch:

cd vagrant-ansible-testing
git checkout sts

From here, you will need to create an env.rb file in the top level of the directory and add the environmental variables you will want to use:

ENV['AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY'] = 'xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx'
ENV['AWS_KEYPAIR_NAME'] = 'my-keypair'
ENV['MY_PRIVATE_AWS_SSH_KEY_PATH'] = '/Users/me/.ssh/my-keypair.pem'
ENV['AWS_SUBNET'] = 'subnet-xxxxxxxx'
ENV['AWS_SG'] = 'sg-xxxxxxxx' 

You can also optionally define the following variables (defaults are listed):

ENV['AWS_DEFAULT_REGION'] = 'us-east-1'
ENV['AWS_INSTANCE_TYPE'] = 't2.micro'
ENV['AWS_AMI'] = 'ami-9be6f38c' #(aws-linux)
ENV['AWS_EC2_USER'] = 'ec2-user'

After you have saved the env.rb file, you can update the requirements.yml and playbook.yml with your Ansible code. Vagrant will run the ansible-galaxy command with the -f (force) option on the “up” and “provision” vagrant sub commands. Once you have your Ansible files the way you want, all that is left is to run the vagrant command:

% vagrant up

You can iterate on your Ansible by running the vagrant command:

% vagrant provision

Once you have completed your Ansible testing, you can destroy the environment:

% vagrant destroy

That’s it. A quick and easy way to test your Ansible roles against an AWS server.

Using Vault as a Certificate Authority

Using Vault as a Certificate Authority

For the next few weeks we are doing a POC on Hashicorp’s Vault. While I am still learning about all of the functionality that Vault provides, there are a few key pieces I have already identified to check out in addition to just storing credentials. One of the big ones is the PKI backend. This would make it a lot easier for not just my team, but developers as well to generate SSL certificates. While I found some basic instructions on how to set it up from various sources (mentioned later), I decided to do my own write-up that would consolidate everything I learned.

Create the Root and Intermediate Certificates

Rather than writing up instructions on how to create a the root or intermediate CA’s, I will just post the instructions that I followed that were written up by Jamie Nguyen entitled OpenSSL Certificate Authority. For the purposes of this document, I followed the sections called Create the root pair and Create the intermediate pair.

It’s also possible to create a root certificate authority (and/or an intermediary certificate), but I prefer to do this outside of Vault so that my root certificate remains secure.

Initialize the PKI Backend

Once you have your root and intermediate certificates generated, the first think that you want to do is prepare them for upload to Vault. You can do that with by combining the intermediate certificate with your key.

cat intermediate/certs/ca-chain.cert.pem > /tmp/ca_bundle.pem
openssl rsa -in intermediate/private/intermediateCA.key.pem >> /tmp/ca_bundle.pem

These two commands will concatenate everything into one file called ca_bundle.pem. The next step is to initialize and configure the PKI backend. I was able to find some pretty good instructions on configuring it between Cuddletech’s website and a post by Joel Bastos. But since most of what I want to use Vault for will be driven from automation, I decide to focus on utilizing only the API (which made things just a little tougher).

The first step is to initialize some environmental variables that will make our commands easier to run. You’ll want to set the VAULT_ADDR to your URL of your vault server and VAULT_TOKEN to your login token.

export VAULT_TOKEN=a38dc275-86d3-48bd-57ae-237a45d6663b

Once set, you can test your configuration using the curl command to go to the health endpoint.

% curl -k -X GET ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/sys/health

Configure the PKI Backend

After you have verified that the endpoint works, you can create and configure your PKI backend.

curl -k -X POST-H "x-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" -d '{"type": "pki",   "description": "Test Root CA", "config": { "max_lease_ttl":     "87600h"}}'  ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/sys/mounts/pki-test

This command creates a new PKI backend mount called “pki-test” and sets the max_lease_ttl to 10 years. You may want to adjust these settings to whatever is suitable for your environment.
Since the post doesn’t return anything, you can verify it with the mounts endpoint. If you don’t have jq, I highly recommend you download it, as it makes viewing JSON output much easier

curl -k -X GET -H "x-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/sys/mounts|jq .

Once you have initialized the backend, you can upload the certificate bundle that you created by following the instructions noted above.

curl -k -X POST -H "x-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" -d @<(jq -n --arg a "$(</tmp/ca_bundle.pem)" '{ pem_bundle: $a }') ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/pki-test/config/ca

This command doesn’t return anything either. You can verify that it uploaded properly by trying to download the intermediate certificate.

curl -k -X GET -H "x-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/pki-test/ca/pem

Create a Role

The final step is to configure a role to issue the certificates.

curl -k -X POST -H "x-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" -d '{"allow_any_name": "true", "allow_ip_sans": "true", "max_ttl": "17520h"}' ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/pki-test/roles/example-dot-com

You can verify that the role exists with a GET to the roles endpoint.

curl -k -X GET -H "x-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/pki-test/roles/example-dot-com|jq .

Issue Certificates

Now we are all set to issue certificates from our Vault server. This can be done one of two ways. The first is to request a certificate and key from the Vault directly:

curl -H "X-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}"   -d '{ "common_name": "" }' https://${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/pki-test/issue/example-dot-com | tee >(jq -r .data.certificate > >(jq -r .data.private_key > >(jq -r .data.ca_chain[] >

This will create three files in your directory, one that contains the key, one that contains the certificate, and one that contains the certificate chain. You can also send a CSR that you created to have a certificate generated.

curl -k -X POST -H "X-Vault-Token: ${VAULT_TOKEN}" -d @<(jq -n --arg a "" --arg b "$(<../server.csr)" '{ common_name: $a, csr: $b }') ${VAULT_ADDR}/v1/pki-test/sign/example-dot-com| tee >(jq -r .data.certificate > >(jq -r .data.ca_chain[] >

Since the key was generated separately, it won’t create a new key file, but it does generate the certificate file and the certificate chain.

That’s all it takes to get a functioning CA in Vault. I’m sure that I still have a whole lot to learn about configuring and securing the PKI backend, but for our POC I think this will work nicely.

Looping Through Ansible Hosts

Looping Through Ansible Hosts

For the past week I have been working on deploying Hashicorp’s Vault using Terraform and Ansible. As I was installing and configuring the Consul server, I came across an interesting problem with building the server configuration. I’ve been following instructions from DigitalOcean and while most of the configuration has been pretty straight forward, the config.json file proved to be a bit of a challenge.

According to the instructions, for a three node cluster, you only want to put the IP addresses for the other two server into the config.json file for the server, but it took me a little while to figure out how to get Ansible to do that. While it may seem straight forward to others, I had a hard time even finding information on the internet on how to do this, so I figured I would share it here.

My first iteration was to just get it set up to do put all the IP addresses in. This was accomplished by this:

However, this is not what I wanted. I wanted it to exclude the hosts’s IP address. After searching high an low, I finally found a Jinja2 tidbit that would get me what I wanted. I didn’t realize that you could an if right in with the for loop, so I just needed to add “if server != inventory_hostname” into the for loop so that it would exclude the host it was running on.

I can see this little tidbit coming in handy for all sorts of things.

Storing Terraform State Files in S3 When Using assume_role

Storing Terraform State Files in S3 When Using assume_role

We use a lot of different AWS accounts, so rather than managing credentials across all of them we have built a model where one is strictly used for managing users accounts (both locally and via ADFS).  From there, all of our interactive and automated logins use STS to assume roles in other accounts.  As we started to dive more into Terraform, I was excited to find that they supported this with the aws_assume_role resource.

However, as we started to implement this, we quickly ran into a problem: the terraform command itself doesn’t support assuming a role in another account, so we would either need to store the state files in one account (in this case, our auth account), or figure out how to allow the auth account to put the files an S3 bucket of the account we are working with.  since I don’t want to store ANY data in the auth account, I had to go figure out how to give users from my auth account access to the account I am working on.  In the end, it was relatively straight forward.  I just need to add a bucket policy in the target account and a policy in the auth account that I then attached to my team’s user group.

The first step is to create a bucket policy that allows my user to list the contents of the file and to also be able to get and put the state files.  I could probably lock the policy down more, and only restrict it to the terraform-state folder that I have in my bucket, but since I have full access outside of terraform anyways, I didn’t think it was as important.  This is the policy I used:

Once the bucket policy was in place, I added the below role to my auth account and attached it to my user group.  I figure as I put more accounts under Terraform control, I’ll just add additional resources.

Once the two policies were in place, Terraform was able to use the S3 bucket in the account we building out.

Testing Ansible Galaxy Roles

Testing Ansible Galaxy Roles

With the push to move our roles to Ansible Galaxy as much as possible, we needed to come up with a good way to test the roles as we write them. Up until now, we would build and test them completely within Ansible against the specific system type that we planned to run on. While this works ok against the focused roles that we were writing, it doesn’t work very well for generalized roles that are expected to run on the many different Linux distributions that we run at Blackbaud.

To solve this, we have come up with a Vagrant configuration that allows us to test against multiple OSs both locally (via VirtualBox or VMware) or in the cloud (AWS). You can check out code here. To get started, simple clone the project to you your local machine.

git clone

The Vagrantfile in the master branch provides three test environments: aws-linux, centos7, and ubuntu. The aws-linux role will build an Amazon Linux host in AWS while the CentOS and Ubuntu nodes environments are vmware_desktop based nodes that are pulled from Atlas. This gives me a way to test our roles against both cloud and local instances. If you don’t have VMware Fusion or Workstation, you can change the provider from vmware_desktop to virtualbox and they should work as well.

Before launching the instances, you need to download your ansible roles to run. This is done with the ansible-galaxy command.

% ansible-galaxy install blackbaud.linux-hardening

And then update your playbook to include the roles:

- hosts: all
   become: true
     - blackbaud.linux-hardening

Finally, set some variables to be able to connect to your Amazon Environment:


Now we are ready to test the

vagrant up
# Brings up all three instances and tests

vagrant up <aws-linux|centos7|ubuntu>
# Brings up the specified instance and tests

It will launch each instance and run through the the Ansible on each node and show you the results. It will jump right into the next node when it completes the previous one, so keep an eye on the output to see the results. When you are done, you can simply destroy the nodes.

vagrant destroy -f 
Ansible Role Style Guide

Ansible Role Style Guide

Ansible Role Style Guide

In my last post, I discussed how to get started with creating an Ansible Galaxy role. This post will go into more detail on what comprises a roles and how we use it at Blackbaud for building Ansible roles that can be reused and shared throughout the company.

By default, running the ansible-galaxy init command will create the following directory structure:

|- defaults/
    |- main.yml
|- handlers/
    |- main.yml
|- meta/
    |- main.yml
|- tasks/
    |- main.yml
|- tests/
    |- inventory
    |- test.yml
|- vars/
    |- main.yml

Depending on the role that is being created, it is possible that some of these directories will not be needed. It is recommended that you remove the directories that are not being used. Also, a templates directory isn’t created with ansible-galaxy init, but you can add it if it is necessary.


The default folder contains the default values of any of the variables that are used throughout the rest of the role (You can learn more about variable precedence here. This should be reserved for variables that mainly don’t often stray from the defined value but that may in certain specific instances.


The handlers directory contains the process handlers that can be notified when changes occur. For example, you can have a handler that restarts SSH when changes to the configuration file are made:

- name: restart ssh
     name: "{{ ssh_service}}"
     state: restarted


The meta directory serves two purposes. The first is to define the ansible galaxy role, including the version needed, what platforms are supported, etc, and to define any dependencies that the role may have.

  author: Mark Honomichl
  description: Ansible for Hardening a Linux Host
  company: Blackbaud
  license: MIT
  min_ansible_version: 1.2
    - name: EL
        - all
    - name: Amazon
        - all
    - name: Ubuntu
        - all
    - security
    - linux
dependencies: []


Tasks is where all the tasks of the role are defined. With larger roles, it is recommended that seperate tasks files are created for similar tasks and then called in the main.yml file via the includes directive.

- name: Update Ubuntu
     upgrade: dist
  when: ansible_distribution == "Ubuntu"
  tags: update_os

- include: "hostname.yml"


The tests directory is included so that the role can be tested via Travis CI. No changes should need to be made to this directory.


The vars directory is primarily used to define variables that can be different across platforms or environments. For example, in ubuntu the ssh service is called “ssh” while in EL it is called “sshd”. Rather than writing two handlers, we can write it as defined in the above handlers section and then define ssh_service as a varaible in file called Ubuntu.yml and CentOS.yml respectively, and then include the correct file in the tasks section with an includes call.

- name: Include OS Specific Variables
   include_vars: "{{ ansible_distribution }}.yml" 


The .travis.yml file is generated by default to allow the role to run in Travis CI. By default, it spins up a container, installs ansible, and runs a syntax check against the code. If possible, it is recommended that you actually run the playbook by adding a second ansible-playbook command without the –syntax-check option.

Once the role is completed, update the file with the information requested. Make sure this document clearly defines how to use the role. Update the Author information with the following:

Created in 2016 by [Blackbaud](
Getting Started with Ansible Galaxy

Getting Started with Ansible Galaxy

I started using Ansible in December when I joined Blackbaud, and while I do feel like the team is doing some really innovative stuff with our Ansible roles, most of the stuff we do is pretty straightforward. After spending the last six months building up a monolithic repository, we are starting to examine how we can break the roles out into Ansible Galaxy roles that can better be shared across the company. I figured since I was documenting how to create a Galaxy compatible role for the company, I would go ahead and share those instructions here as well.

Create a GitHub Repository

The first step is to create an empty git repository on GitHub. This can be done by logging into your account and clicking on the ‘New repository’ button. We prefix all of our roles at Blackbaud with ‘ansible-role-’ so that we can easily distinguish them when looking at the hundreds of repos that we have. For example, the linux-hardening role that we have is called ‘ansible-role-linux-hardening’.
We create the repo without any files (.gitignore,, or LICENSE) so that we can manage all of that properly later. We generally start all of our roles as private so that we can have a chance to build it out and test it before we make it public.

Create the Local Repository

Once our empty repo has been created at GitHub, the next step is to create the Ansible Galaxy skeleton directory structure on a local machine. This is done with the ‘ansible-galaxy’ command.

ansible-galaxy init ansible-role-<ROLE-NAME>

Where <ROLE-NAME> is the name of the role (i.e. linux-hardening). Once the files are created you need to initialize a git repository, add the files, and push them up to GitHub.

cd ansible-role-assume-role
git init
git add .
git commit -m "Commit Skeleton Role"
git remote add origin
git push -u origin master

Now you can begin editing your role.

Sharing Ansible Roles

Sharing Ansible Roles

When I started back in December, Blackbaud did not have a single line of code written to help build, deploy or manage our environments. The Platform Engineering team has come a long way in these last six months. As of this morning the team is just shy of 50K lines of code, consisting primarily of Ansible and Python.
I’m really proud of the work that the team has been doing around Ansible. Over the next few weeks I am hoping to share some of those innovations, not just in this blog, but also via github. However, the one place that I feel that we have been lacking is in how we have build our Ansible directory out. We have built this monolithic repository that contains everything we use.
Some people (even here at Blackbaud) like the thought of a mono-repo, something where everything exists and dependencies are easy to satisfy. In this instance, however, having a mono-repo makes it very difficult for us to share our ansible with other teams within the organization. It is an all or nothing proposition. If you want to use our linux-hardening role, you have to download everything and try to either move it to a new directory or figure out how to add stuff to our repo.
This is antithetical to everything that we are hoping to accomplish. We want to be able to share individual roles across the organization in an organized way that allows our engineering teams (and operational teams) to use what they need without having to sift through tons of roles they will never need.
To make it easier to share roles, we will begin moving our roles into individual repositories and utilizing Ansible Galaxy to share individual roles between teams. By building self-contained units, not only will it help us better share roles between teams, but it will allow us to share some of our roles with the community.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some details of how we are doing that.