Scaling an Open edX platform can become unwieldy. Let’s take a look at how Terraform can help you maintain control of everything inside your AWS account

Note: get the source code for this article at https://github.com/lpm0073/cookiecutter-openedx-devops. Follow the instructions in the README.

Open edX is a beast! How do you tame it?

In all fairness, that question is prone to coming up for any successful, modern web platform that goes through a growth spurt. In this article we’ll explore how I manage not just one, but several very large Open edX installations. Here are what I consider to be the key success factors:

  • Infrastructure as code. I use Terraform, but there are other good alternatives. Terraforms gives me the ability to version control my backend infrastructure service configurations so that I can safely fallback when I make a mistakes, and it gives me complete automation of the entire life cycle of each service which saves me lots of time.
  • Dedicated VPC. I use a dedicated VPC for each Open edX installation, which helps to optimize the network for each installation as well as to keep systems from bleeding into each other, and, it also helps with tear-downs.
  • Managed Services. All of my Open edX platforms run on AWS, and I’m biased towards using their managed services such as RDS for MySQL, DocumentDB for MongoDB, EKS for Kubernetes, and Elasticache for Redis. This dramatically reduces the number of failure points for which you are directly responsible.
  • Kubernetes. Paradoxically, adding Kubernetes simplifies most aspects of system management
  • Simple security policies. We’ll talk more below about firewall settings, user accounts, admin accounts, and exposing your backend services to the outside world.

Earlier this year I open-sourced my personal Terraform and Github Actions scripts in the form of a Cookiecutter template repository named Cookiecutter Openedx Devops. You can use this Cookiecutter to create your own Open edX devops repository, perfectly configured with your custom domain name and AWS account information. Cookiecutter Open edX Devops is a highly opinionated set of tools for creating and maintaining an AWS backend for Open edX that satisfies all five of these principals.