AWS’ CDK for ECS Fargate, or how to run infrequent large jobs

Yep, it’s one of those titles where unless you know what it’s about you probably don’t know what it’s about. If you feel with these abbreviations, go ahead and scroll down a bit. Otherwise, let me go ahead and expand here a bit: Amazon Web Services’ Cloud Development Kit for Elastic Container Service Fargate. That’s probably not clearer so on to the descriptions we go.


Cloud Development Kit

This is an SDK for the Cloud Formation. It allows to write an infrastructure as if it was a code. It currently supports a couple of languages, including Python and Java, but it feels that the main one is TypeScript. The CDK compiles to native Cloud Formation (Cfn) so whatever is missing in Cfn will also be missed in CDK. Additionally, some modules are in experimental phase which means that their api isn’t fully established. I doubt whether these changes are going to be significant; most likely property naming or different default setting. However, they reserve an option to introduce breaking changes to these modules, e.g. Cognito.

Elastic Container Service (ECS)

As with most AWS services, just ignore the “Elastic” part and we’re set – Container service. It allows to run containers, mainly Docker, away from your machine. It has some functionality to enable Docker Swarm or Kubernetes-like orchestrating and means to provision resources when needed. Actually, currently there are two types of resource provisioning – self- and auto-managed. The self-managed solution is simply called “EC2” as it requires you to provide EC2 or auto-scaling group where the ECS can install its framework and per need utilize required volume. The auto-managed option is called…


Treat this like a heavy AWS Lambda and you won’t be too far off. The difference is that the Lambda is often used to run just a code and sometimes the whole runtime provided in a single container. With the ECS you have to provide at least one container which are bundled in a group and renamed to a Task Definition. The Fargate service allows you to forget about everything except mentioned task definitions. They’ll do the provisioning and scaling for you (not for free) but you need to specify metrics based on which you want the scaling in and out.

How to run infrequent large jobs?

A couple of times there have been a situation when occasionally I need to run a large job/script. By a large I mean that its execution on my laptop takes about 10-60 min. This needs to run every week for 100 of different configuration. A use case is retraining a prediction model with the latest weekly report. All in all I need to have a medium computational job that will burst once a week. As with any problem there are many potential solutions. Before stating what’s my preferred design pattern let’s strike out a couple of candidates.

Amazon Lambdas. These would be awesome if they didn’t have a timeout. Unfortunately, access to their process is being shut down <a href=""after 15 min and, besides, their memory is up to 3Gb which sometimes might be to little. Smart people might suggest dividing the logic into finer granularity, to which I’d say that they’re not that smart and don’t try to fix everything with a hammer.

Why not just have one host instance and run all these jobs one after another? Well, why not just pass exam by changing the question and answering your own? No, I want them all done within an hour since getting the result so I can plan the following week accordingly.

Ok, maybe have a periodic function like a cron job or CloudWatch event and run a lambda function that provisions EC2 hosts, and… ? This quickly becomes dependency hell. You need to provision host, then run there something, deprovision… it quickly changes into a Step Function workflow and you need to maintain code for the infrastructure and its logic. Way too much hassle.

My preferred solution is ECS. Containers have this nice property that once you try them, you like them and you stay with them. What works for me is to have all the logic in a container with specific entrypoint (simple dockerfile example below) and wrapped it into a Task Defintiion that provides arguments (command) to the container. The number of running tasks depends on an SQS size; if it has more than 0 messages then keep on adding tasks. These messages can have additional parameters that the logic knows how to extra. Done. That’s it. The autos calling property will take care that for the majority of time there are 0 containers and as soon as one start sending messages it will increase the number of containers.

How does the CDK come to play here? They provide a solution to do just that with only a few lines of code. CDK has a module called ECS patterns which provides recipes for the common ECS patterns like Application/Network Load Balanced clusters or periodic scheduled jobs. The one that I talked about is called Queue Processing Fargate Service (there’s also EC2 version). Excluding alarms, the whole infrastructure for mentioned services takes about 5 lines (basic example below). There are of course additional parts dependent on your service but the infrequent scaling bit is done. Cool, right?

Example of ECS’s CDK TypeScript

const queue: sqs.Queue = new sqs.Queue(this, 'ResourceQueue', 'MySqsQueue');
const image = ecs.ContainerImage.fromEcrRepository(ecr.Repository.fromRepositoryName(this, 'ResourceName', 'container');

const scalingSteps: Array = [ {change: -1, upper: 0}, {change: 1, lower: 0}, ];
const command: Array = ["--sqsUrl", queue.queueUrl];

const ecsService = new ecs_patterns.QueueProcessingFargateService(this, "FargateService", {
image, command scalingSteps, queue

Typical docker for Python jobs

FROM python:3.7-slim

WORKDIR /usr/src/app

COPY requirements.txt ./
RUN pip install --no-cache-dir -r requirements.txt

COPY . .

ENTRYPOINT [ "python", "" ]

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