This week I was evaluating AWS RDS Proxy. If you are familiar with the Relational Database Service (RDS) and use MySQL or Postgres, this is an additional option to consider.

Proxies in general by the name accept incoming requests and perform some management before those requests are forwarded to the ultimate target.

RDS proxy takes incoming database connections and can perform several capabilities including collection pooling and capping the total database connections with each configured proxy holding a percentage of the total connections for the target cluster. The proxy can handle routing only for writer instances (at this time) to minimize a planned or unplanned failover. The RDS proxy however does not address the underlying problem of too many connections to the database, it just adds another layer, that is or may be more configurable or tunable than an application requesting connections.

The RDS Proxy is automatically Highly Available (HA). You can determine this by looking at the host IPs of the MySQL processlist. I have yet to identify any other means of seeing if a connection is a proxy connection at the database level if you are using the same credentials. RDS Proxy does give you the ability via Secrets Manager to connect as a different user. You can specify a connection initialization query. I used a SET variable so that application could determine if it was using a Proxy however that is of little benefit in server connection management.

The RDS proxy can enforce TLS, something which in my opinion should always be used for application to data store communications, but historically has been overlooked at practically every company I have worked for or consulted to. Just because you are communicating within a VPC does not protect your communications from actors within your VPC. I can remember at a prior employment the disappointment of cross-region replication that was encrypted being dropped because it was too hard to migrate or manage. That shows an all too common problem of laziness over security.

If you are new to a particular technology the age of the Internet gives you search capabilities to find numerous articles. If you search for anything AWS you will generally always get as the top results the official pages, it takes some digging to find other articles. Prior to this lesson I had only read about RDS Proxy, I had never actually setup one.

When anybody is learning something new, I like to say your value add is not to just read an article, but reproduce and then adapt or enhance. This Amazon example is no different. Repeating each step showed multiple errors in syntax which I can contribute back as comments. If this was open source code, you could contribute a pull request (PR). The good news is the first example of configuring a proxy includes by GUI and CLI commands. I always like to do my work on the command line, even the first iteration. You cannot scale a human moving a mouse around and clicking. What I found however was that the official AWS CLI lacked a key component of the proxy setup around group targets. The UI provides a capability that the CLI did not. Another discrepancy was when I was making modifications to the proxy in the GUI I would get an error, but I could make that change via the CLI. These discrepancies are an annoyance for consistency and first evaluation.

So what was the outcome of my evaluation? First I was able to demonstrate I could add a proxy to an existing cluster in one of our test environments and direct traffic from a mysql client thru the proxy to the target database. I was able to use Secrets Manager (SSM) to enforce credentials for authorization. I did not look into Identity Access Management (IAM) roles support. I was able to benchmark with sysbench simulated load to compare latency of the proxy traffic versus direct traffic. I have simplified my examples so that anybody can run these tests themselves for simple validation.

I could enforce TLS communications for the mysql client testing, however our company internal http proxy caused the usual self signed certificate issues with sysbench, something I really need to master. Surprisingly I looked at what options sysbench gave me for SSL options (side bar we should always refer to this as TLS instead of SSL), but the defined options for the installed recent version are still using the ssl name. The scope of options differed from the source code online so a question as to why? That’s the great thing about open source, you can read the code. You may have even met the author at a conference presentation.

Where the evaluation hit a business impact was in comparative performance. I am still awaiting an AWS support response to my evaluation.

What’s next is to get an application team to evaluate end to end database operations, easily done as Route 53 DNS is used for endpoint communications.
Where I got stuck was incorporating the setup of RDS proxy within Terraform We currently use version 12. While there was the aws_db_proxy module, I needed an updated version of the aws provider to our environment. The official Hashicorp documentation of the resource really does not highlight the complexity necessary to create a proxy. While you will have already configured a VPC, and subnets, even Ingres security groups and secrets which all parts necessary for RDS cluster, you need a number of integrated pieces.

You will need an IAM role for your proxy, but that role requires a policy to use KMS to get the secrets you wish to use for authorization. This interdependency of KMS and secret ARNs make is difficult to easily launch a RDS proxy as you would an RDS aurora cluster. Still it’s a challenge for something else to do. The added complexity is the RDS proxy also needs an authorization argument, for example the –auth argument in the AWS CLI. I see this as a complexity for management of RDS users that you wish to also be configured for use in the proxy.

As with any evaluation or proof of concept (POC) the devil is in the details. How do you monitor your new resources, what logging is important to know, what types of errors can happen, and how do you address these.

Another issue I had was the RDS proxy required a new version of the AWS client in order to run RDS commands such as describe-db-proxies. That adds an additional administrative dependency to be rolled out.

Proxies for MySQL have been around for decades, I can remember personally working on the earliest version of MySQL Proxy at MySQL Inc back in 2007. The gold standard if you use MySQL, is ProxySQL by Sysown’s Ren√© Canna√≤. This is a topic for a different discussion.

Checkout my code for this work.