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QUAIL - The QUbe Aws Instance Leaser

Quail Logo

Quail gives your users the tools to provision the compute instances they need without involving your operations staff. It comes with a user interface where your team can select configure their EC2 instance and provision it with a click of a button in any supported region or account. And you don't have to worry about cleaning them up - Quail handles that for you, too!


A basic list of features supported includes:

  • Automated provisioning and clean-up of EC2 instances
    • Instance expiration time is specified at launch, and can be configured with a maximum lifetime
  • Users have the ability to 'emergency-extend' the life of an instance
  • Maximum number of instances per user is configurable per-team
  • Multiple operating system support, with unique AMIs, Security Groups and IAM roles configured per-team
  • Centralised authentication via Okta
  • Terraform based, modular deployment - to fit in with even the most esoteric of AWS environments!


Quail interface screenshot

How does it work?

Quail consists of a front end web application written in React, leveraging AWS API Gateway and Lambda functions to orchestrate CloudFormation Stacks and StackSets in order to provision temporary EC2 instances for logged-in users. Authentication is handled via Okta (and so allows authentication via Social platforms as well as SAML, OpenIDConnect, etc.).

Application configuration is stored in DynamoDB tables, which provides the permitted instance types, AMI IDs, Security Groups and IAM permissions that are assigned. Quail uses the concept of 'teams' to differentiate configurations and available provisioning templates.

When a user provisions a new instance, the relevant CloudFormation template is provisioned - the example application currently only covers provisioning an EC2 instance, but these templates are free-form so you can add other resources should they be required. Refer to the Example App configuration for more information.


You'll need an AWS account, AWS CLI installed and AWS credentials configured locally (using aws configure) in order to run the project.

SES is used to send email notifications with status updates or to notify about failures. The region where the project is deployed will need to have a domain or an email address validated in SES, and the terraform notification-email variable needs to be configured to use the desired email. You'll need to disable SES sandbox mode in order to be able to send emails to addresses outside of the SES verified email list.

Terraform (>=1.3) is used to provision the resources for the project. If you're using a non-default aws cli user profile, provide the details to terraform with terraform init -backend-config="profile=<YOUR_PROFILE_NAME>"

You can receive failure notifications to an SNS topic already used in your organization if you provide its arn in the external-sns-failure-topic-arn terraform variable. Otherwise, leaving the variable blank, will create a new topic. Lambda failures or provisioning failures will send notifications to the topic.

Okta is used for authentication. You can sign up for a developer account and you'll need to create an API key for terraform to use.

For anything other than test deployments, you will likely want to fork this repository, and create your own variant of the example-app application, to fit your environment.

Repository Structure

The application is split into multiple modules:

  • backend-ecr contains the backend source code, builds a docker image and pushed it to ECR
  • backend contains the API (Lambda, Step Functions and API Gateway)
  • frontend-ecr contains the frontend application, builds it in a multi-stage docker image and publishes a nginx container to ECR
  • frontend-ecs-hosting configures the hosting configuration for serving the UI on ECS, and the associated ELB and Route53 config
  • utilities-account contains per-account helpers, e.g. IAM config that doesn't need to be managed by the application
  • utilities-regional contains regional helpers, e.g. VPC config for the instances, that doesn't need to be managed by the application.
  • okta-app contains the configuration of an Okta Oauth application.
  • okta-data creates several uses and groups that can be used to test the app.

A sample application using the modules is available in the example-app folder.

Example App Deployment

The example app has been set up to decouple application deployment from infrastructure/ configuration deployment. It consits of three modules - backend-images, frontend-image and infrastructure.

Due to dependencies between the componenets, the following steps should be followed in order to complete the initial deployment.

  1. Deploy the resources from the backend-image directory.
  2. Use the outputs from the backend-image deployment as input to infrastructure
  3. Set skip-resources-first-deployment to true in the infrastructure variable file.
  4. Deploy the infrastructure dir.
  5. Use the outputs from the infrastructure deployment as input to frontend-image
  6. Deploy the frontend-image directory.
  7. Use the outputs from the frontend-image deployment as input to infrastructure
  8. Set skip-resources-first-deployment to false in the infrastructure variable file.
  9. Deploy the infrastructure directory again.



Contributions to this repository are welcome, via the usual method of GitHub Issues and Pull Requests.


Copyright © 2021 Qube Research and Technologies

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use these files except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at:, or from the LICENSE file contained in this repository.

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.