python, boto3, AWS and a halfwit

coderSo week two at AWS is nearly over which has been as varied and fun as the first.

I thought I would share something I put together this week to demonstrate in the tiniest and most elementary way the power of doing stuff in the cloud.

So I am not a programmer, I hack stuff together and am reliant on the clever internet fairies to help me out. That being said and with no prior knowledge of python I managed to create a script that…

  1. Creates a Virtual Private Cloud (an isolated network)
  2. Creates a private subnet
  3. Creates an internet gateway
  4. Creates a firewall (security group) that only allows traffic on port 22 and 80
  5. Creates as many servers as I want using the above config and injects boot-up instructions into each of them ensuring they startup as webservers

Firstly – Imagine trying to do all the above in a traditional IT environment!!

Secondly – If a halfwit like me can do this with a day of scripting imagine the power of AWS in the hands of real coder!!

So as Andy Jassy would say – Giddy-up!

I attach the script below for your amusement at my clumsiness – also check out the python SDK page (boto3) HERE

# Python script to add new VPC and Launch EC2 instance
# Uses Boto3 for AWS actions
# Author: Laurence Davenport
# Version: 1.0
# Date: 11.11.2015

import re
import boto3
ec2 = boto3.resource('ec2')
client = boto3.client('ec2')

# function to display items in a list - thanks to Said Ali Samed for this
def display_list(items, key_one, key_two=None, key_three=None):
    if type(items) is not list: return
    for item in items:
        print('%i. %s  %s %s' % (items.index(item) + 1, item[key_one], item[key_two] if key_two else '',
                                 item[key_three] if key_three else ''))

#creating list of all available keypairs
keys = client.describe_key_pairs()
key_list = keys['KeyPairs']

# populating the default keypair value with the first in the list
for item in key_list:
    index = key_list.index(item)
    if index == 0:
        default_key = item['KeyName']

# set the bootstrap script for the instance
user_data = '#!/bin/sh\n yum -y install httpd php mysql php-mysql\n chkconfig httpd on\n /etc/init.d/httpd start'

#Gather data from user
happiness = "N"
while happiness != "Y":
    vpc_cidr_block =  input("Please enter VPC CIDR block []: ") or ""
    subnet_cidr_block =  input("Please enter Subnet CIDR block []: ") or ""
    print ("KeyPairs that are available to use are:")
    display_list(key_list, 'KeyName')
    key_name = input("Please enter name of keypair [" + default_key + "]: ") or default_key
    secgrp_name = input("Please enter name of Security Group name [sandboxSecGrp]: ") or "sandboxSecGrp"
    secgrp_desc = input("Please enter name of Security Group description [Sandbox security group]: ") or "Sandbox security group"
    ami_name = input("Please enter Instance AMI [ami-bff32ccc]: ") or "ami-bff32ccc"
    intance_type = input("Please enter Instance type [t2.micro]: ") or "t2.micro"

    print ("=====================================")
    print ("======== Values are set to ==========")
    print ("=====================================")
    print ("VPC CIDR block is: " + vpc_cidr_block)
    print ("Subnet CIDR block is: " + subnet_cidr_block)
    print ("Keypair name is: " + key_name)
    print ("Security group name is: " + secgrp_name)
    print ("Security group description is: " + secgrp_desc)
    print ("Instance AMI is: " + ami_name)
    print ("Instance type is: " + intance_type)
    print ("=====================================")

    happiness = input("Are you happy with all these settings [Y/N]: ") or "Y"

# Create step counter
step_no = 1

# Creating the VPC
vpc = ec2.create_vpc(CidrBlock=vpc_cidr_block)
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - VPC ID: " +
client.modify_vpc_attribute(, EnableDnsHostnames={"Value": True})

step_no += 1

# create subnet
subnet = vpc.create_subnet(CidrBlock=subnet_cidr_block)
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - subnet ID: " +
subnet.meta.client.modify_subnet_attribute(, MapPublicIpOnLaunch={"Value": True})

step_no += 1

# create internet gateway
gateway = ec2.create_internet_gateway()
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Internet Gateway ID: " +

step_no += 1

# attach internet gateway
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Attach Internet Gateway to VPC ")

step_no += 1

# Create route for vpc to internet
route_table = list(vpc.route_tables.all())[0] # get the route table id
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Add route to internet to routing table: " +

step_no += 1

# create security group
security_group = vpc.create_security_group(GroupName=secgrp_name,Description=secgrp_desc)
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Creating security group: " +

step_no += 1

# allow access for SSH
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Open port 22 in security group: " +
step_no += 1

# allow access for HTTP
print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Open port 80 in security group: " +
step_no += 1

#create instance
finished = "N"
while finished != "Y":
    instance = subnet.create_instances(ImageId=ami_name,MinCount=1,MaxCount=1, KeyName=key_name,SecurityGroupIds=[ ],UserData=user_data,InstanceType=intance_type)
    inst_resource = instance[0]
    print ("STEP "+  str(step_no) + " - Launching Instance: " +
    finished = input("Have you finished launching instances? [Y/N]: ") or "Y"

print ("=== Script Complete - Goodbye ===")



A Slice of the Raspberry Pi and Cream!

Back in the day…

When I was a lad my elder brother and father were busy tinkering with the internals of a ZX Spectrum.  Unfortunately I was a little too young to be allowed into the same room as these amateur hackers (I would probably have done the annoying little brother thing of grabbing some ZX internals and running off to flush it down the loo).  The hackers enjoyed copying endless pages of code from magazines to perform tasks that only a hardened techie would get excited about.

I am now considerably older and only slightly more grown up, however I feel that I missed a key part of my computing education by not being able to fiddle in the fundamentals of a computer.  (The first hacking I did started on a 286 PC running DOS).

However all is not lost because a project based in Cambridge, UK is building a cheap and small computer that is designed for people to fiddle, furtle and poke it. The project is run by the Raspberry Pi foundation and the stated aim is to:

“…see cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere; we actively encourage other companies to clone what we’re doing. We want to break the paradigm where without spending hundreds of pounds on a PC, families can’t use the internet. We want owning a truly personal computer to be normal for children.”

So the aim of the project was to instil the enthusiasm for computing in the “up and coming“ generation.  There has been a huge hoo-ha here in the UK recently with people questioning the value of ICT lessons in schools.  The main issue being that the curriculum is too focused on using Office products rather than the fundamentals of computer science.

The hardware consists of the basic board (about the size of a credit card) with the chip (with RAM stacked on the top), SD slot for storage and OS, USB, HDMI, Power connector, RJ45 network port, Audio jack and a few connector ports.  The aim is that enthusiasts build add-on boards that link to the basic board to extend the functionality.  One of the Raspberry Pi team has already developed a board for operating motors. (


So what would you use it for?

Well other than it being fun to play with you could use it for a tiny media PC.  There is an example of the Pi being used as an AirPlay receiver! (  If you were doing the honourable education thing then it should become the core of some interesting school computing projects.  But make the projects interesting, some examples are:

– Parent warning system (pressure sensors in the landing carpet)
– Bedroom alarm system for unauthorised access to off limit areas
– Smelly breath detector for preventing those awkward discotheque moments
– Mobile DJ rig

But can I afford to have this toy?

So when I went home one evening and told my wife that I knew what my next gadget purchase would be, she rolled her eyes and imagined a 6 month delay to the kitchen re-fit.  However when I told her the price she smiled in a “whatever makes you happy” way.  The price is a staggeringly low $25 for the 128MB RAM model and $35 for the 256MB model! 

So hats off to the Cambridge boffins… go and get a slice of the Pi and support a good educational cause!

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