Reasons Why AWS Elastic Beanstalk Sucks

So I’ve been using Amazon Web Services Elastic Beanstalk for a few PHP and Java apps. I’ve decided I definitely don’t like it. Here’s why.

Well actually, a quick bit of background. I love how straightforward and powerful Heroku is (and I can maybe even forgive them for that whole dyno routing debacle), but the dealbreaker for me is it being US-based. I live in Australia, and while our routing to the East Coast isn’t terrible, it’s still not ideal to serve a predominantly Australian website from there.

Small history lesson aside, here are the main reasons why I dislike Elastic Beanstalk.

Slow

Okay okay, this might be quibbling a bit, because any kind of orchestrated deployment platform like Beanstalk/Heroku is probably much faster than even the most experienced sysadmin could run up a LAMP stack, configure it, and deploy your crappy PHP app to. That said, Beanstalk is quite painfully slow to start up a new app, or make changes to, especially when you compare it to Heroku.

Weird

Vague title yes, but allow me to explain. Elastic Beanstalk does things I just don’t understand:

  • Destroys and recreates EC2 images unnecessarily. Why do I need a whole new instance when I simply change a security group?
  • Why does git aws.push repush the entire repo if there was no changes since last push?

Some of these might just be me doing things wrong, but that ties in well with my next point, and it’s the big one.

TERRIBLE Documentation

Oh my GOD. AWS has notoriously bad documentation in general, but Elastic Beanstalk HAS to be an elaborate joke Amazon is playing on the world. What little documentation there actually is on entire swathes of functionality provided by Elastic Beanstalk is chaotically organized. There’s two different command line toolsets available to interact with Elastic Beanstalk. The newer one has tragic documentation coverage, but is quite powerful when you scrounge enough information on how to use it.

I really cannot overstate how poor the Elastic Beanstalk documentation is. It’s extremely frustrating as I’ve been spoiled by fairly excellent documentation resources on the internets. Again, contrast Elastic Beanstalk with Heroku on the documentation front - there’s really no comparison.

Okay, Some Positives

So as much as Elastic Beanstalk can be frustrating, it does have some positive aspects. It’s a great way to deploy applications to AWS, when comparing to tedious approaches like manually setting up an AWS environment, or using complex solutions like Netflix Asgard, or CloudFormation. Also, it really is the only decent PaaS available in Australia.

I have noticed that Elastic Beanstalk has been receiving fairly frequent updates and improvements, so perhaps the shortcomings in documentation for it could be attributed to the velocity in which the core service is being iterated on.

/rant

As much as I don’t like Elastic Beanstalk in its current state, I will continue to use it for applications I develop/maintain that have a predominantly Australian audience. I will cross my fingers and hope that Elastic Beanstalk service and documentation improve over the coming months, or that AWS OpsWorks evolves to be a better alternative.

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