Solutions Architect Associate Exam Cheat Sheet
Almost everything you need to know to pass one of the most famous certifications of AWS - updated for SAA-C03!
20 min read
Table of contents
- Update: SAA-C03 is released! 🎉
- Exam Guide
- Example Questions
- Keyword Collection
- Wrap-ups for different AWS Services and Components
- Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and Networking
- EC2 (Elastic Compute 2)
- Route 53
- KMS (Key Management Service)
- S3 (Simple Storage Service) & Glacier
- Storage Gateway
- Relation Database Service (RDS)
- Simple Queue Service (SQS)
- Simple Notification Service (SNS)
- Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
- Identity and Access Management (IAM)
- Taking the Online Exam with PSI
- First-hand experiences
More and more companies that are building their products are requiring contractors to be AWS certified to work for them. This document will be a quick cheat sheet on the most important things to remember for the Solutions Architect exam which is a perfect starter certification. If you just recently started to work with AWS it could also be good to take the Cloud Practitioner exam first.
Update: SAA-C03 is released! 🎉
At the end of August 2022, AWS released the updated version of the Solutions Architect Associate - now labeled with SAA-C03.
Each AWS exam is categorized into different domains. For SAA-C03, those domains did not update, but their significance within the exam did. Resiliency & performance became slightly less important, while security and cost-optimization ranked up.
Security is now the major focus in this exam, meaning security services like IAM and security features of each of the core services became even more relevant. As IAM is the most critical and fundamental service anyway, it now really pays off to learn all the fundamentals and even advanced features before jumping into the exam.
The exam now also covers additional services that either didn't exist when SAA-C03 was released or weren't mature enough, including but not only:
AWS Global Accelerator
AWS Directory Service
Elastic Fabric Adapter
Elastic Network Adapter
Learn about the fundamentals of those new services to be prepared for probably upcoming exam questions which do not got into the level of detail as with the core services.
AWS publishes its own exam guide, listing all the requirements and areas to focus on. The guide for SAA-C03 lists in detail all the sub-topics you need to know for each.
AWS also provides a small set of example questions. It doesn't help you to get prepared for the exam from a domain perspective but previews the style of questions you'll face.
Besides working a lot with AWS in your day-to-day business, you can practice easily with a subscription to CloudAcademy.com. They provide thousands of example questions that are very similar to the real questions you will face in the exams. You can also take them as a timed practice exam with a detailed result afterward, which will tell you if you have passed or not.
In contrast to the Cloud Practitioner exam, the questions and answers for the Solutions Architect are very long and can contain a lot of unnecessary (or even confusing) information. Therefore it’s good to get to know the important keywords with will most of the time immediately point to a specific solution.
Abstracted Services / Managed Services- mostly, this will lead you to either DynamoDB (NoSQL), Aurora (relational data), S3 (data storage), or Lambda (computing resources). Benefits are reduced administration & operations and less effort to meet compliance requirements.
Fault Tolerant / Disaster- use multiple availability zones and some fail-over possibilities to a different region, e.g. active-active or active-passive configuration with the help of Route53.
Highly Available- use multiple availability zones, e.g. for your EC2 Instances with an LB in front of multi-AZ database deployment.
Long Term Storage- archiving data into a, mostly infrequently accessed, storage solution like Glacier, Glacier Deep Storage. S3 Intelligent Tiering or S3 Infrequent Access can also be considered if certain retrieval times have to be guaranteed.
Real-Time Processing- often related to some Kinesis integration.
Scalable- either make use of auto-scaling policies for instances or read replicas for your databases.
Elastic- your environment is able to scale based on demand.
Wrap-ups for different AWS Services and Components
In the test exams, I’ve encountered almost everything mentioned in the following paragraphs regularly, so everything here is really a must-know before taking the exam.
Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) and Networking
VPCs can span multiple availability zones in a single region and can contain several public and private subnets. A public subnet contains a route to an internet gateway (which you need to set up). A private subnet has in general no internet access. If this is needed, you need to maintain a NAT Gateway or Instance and also whitelist traffic to those. If you need SSH access from the internet to a resource in a private subnet you need to set up a bastion host on a public subnet and configure your Security Groups and Network Access Control Lists accordingly for forwarding traffic on port 22.
Disaster Recovery Plans
Backup and Restore — self-describing; has highest RTO and RPO but lowest cost
Pilot Light — Storing critical systems as a template from which resources can be scaled out in the event of a disaster
Warm Standby — a duplicate version of only your business-critical systems that are always running, in case you need to divert your workloads to them in the event of a disaster.
Multi-Site — self-describing; lowest RTO and RPO but highest cost
Recovery Time Objective — time needed to bring services back online after a major incident
Recovery Point Objective — the data loss measured in time
rules how traffic can flow within your VPC
always contains a destination and a target, e.g.
0.0.0.0/0(CIDR Destination) and
igw-1234567890. The CIDR block contains all IPv4 addresses of the subnet and points them to the Internet Gateway.
attached to certain subnets
there is a default route table (main route table) which will be associated with each newly created subnet as long as you don’t attach one by urself
the main route table can’t be deleted
you can add, modify, and remove routes in this table
one subnet can only have one route table
the same route table can be attached to multiple subnets
route tables can also be attached to your Virtual Private Gateway or Internet Gateway so you can define how traffic entering your VPC will be routed
your VPC always has an implicit router to which your route tables will be attached to
Virtual Private Gateway (VPC Gateway)
- needed if you want to connect your AWS VPC with an on-premise Network
Network Access Control List (NACLs)
operating on the subnet level and are stateless
they can define block & allow rules
by default allow traffic for all ports in both directions
return traffic must be explicitly allowed
Security Groups (SGs)
operating on the instance level and are stateful
they only define only allow rules
the default security group allows communication of components within the security group, allow all outgoing traffic and block all incoming traffic
return traffic is implicitly allowed (opposite to NACLs)
SGs can be attached or removed from EC2 instances at any time (state of machine does not need to be stopped or terminated)
rules always need to specify CIDR ranges and never a single IP
if you want to have a dedicated IP, e.g.
10.20.30.40you also need to define it as a CIDR range covering only a single IP by its subnet mask:
CIDR (Classless Inter-Domain Routing)
Certain range of IP-Addresses
Important to know how they are built, because they are used in different touch points, e.g. SGs
needed to access AWS Services which are not part of your VPC
there are different types
Gateway Endpoint — for DynamoDB and S3
Interface Endpoint — all other Services & are powered by AWS PrivateLink
NAT Gateway & Instance
needed to connect to the public internet from your private subnets
there are two different types
NAT Instance — managed by the user with no default auto-scaling
NAT Gateway — AWS Managed Gateway, scales based on demand, fewer administrations required, and higher availability compared to the NAT Instance
connecting different VPCs
also possible to connect with VPCs of other accounts
CIDR-ranges should not overlap
connections are not transitive, therefore
A ← Peering → B ← Peering → Cmeans that there is no connection between A and C
- hub for VPCs to merge multiple VPCs (could also include your on-premise VPC) into one giant VPC
Elastic IP Addresses (EIPs)
- can be moved from one instance to another within multiple VPCs in the same region
The exam heavily focuses on core services, which are the basic building blocks for almost any application.
EC2 (Elastic Compute 2)
Your basic compute resources in AWS and one of the first services that were released.
Amazon Machine Image (AMI)
predefined image, e.g. for Linux or Windows
you can create your own AMI by launching it with an instance and then extending or modifying it and then saving it as a custom AMI
contains one or more EBS snapshots or for instance-store-backed AMIs a template for the root volume (operating system, app server, applications, …)
contains launch permissions for the volumes to attach to the instance after launch
can be either EBS-backed or Instance Store-backed
On-Demand — no long-term commitment and a fixed price per second. Use this for short-term, irregular workloads that can’t be interrupted
Reserved — long-term commitment (1 to 3 years). Use for high-uptime requirements at core-infrastructure
Spot — auction-based bidding for unused EC2 resources — very cheap, but workload can be interrupted if your offer falls below market levels
Dedicated Host — entire rack/server dedicated to your account, so no shared hardware — only for very high-security requirements because it’s very expensive
Dedicated Instance — physically isolated at the host level, but may share some hardware with other instances from your AWS account
Elastic File System (EFS)
good for sharing data with multiple instances
can also be attached to Lambda functions
paying for storage in use & for data transferred
General Purpose Performance Mode — for low latency requirements
Max I/O Performance Mode — for high IOPS requirements, e.g. big data or media processing; has higher latency than General Purpose Mode
Elastic Block Storage (EBS)
Virtual file system drive
can’t be used simultaneously at several instances: only one per time (not a network drive)
you can take snapshots of it
if the EBS volume is the root volume, by default it will be deleted when the instance gets terminated
non-root volumes will not be terminated after the instance gets terminated
created in a single region
for high availability/disaster recovery you need snapshots saved to S3
Pricing is only for defined storage capacity, not per transferred data
has several types
Cold HDD — lowest-cost designed for less frequently accessed workloads
SC1 — up to 250 IOPS (250 MiB/s), 99.8–99.9% Durability
Throughput Optimised HDD — low-cost designed for frequently accessed workloads
ST1 — up to 500 IOPS (500 MiB/s), 99.8–99.9% Durability
General Purpose SSD — the balance of price and performance
GP2/GP3 — up to 16.000 IOPS (250–1000MiB/s), 99.8–99.9% Durability
Provisioned IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) — high performance for mission-critical, low-latency, or high-throughput workloads
IO1/IO2 — up to 64.000 IOPS (1000MiB/s), 99.8–99.9% Durability
IO2 Block Express — up to 256.000 IOPS (4000MiB/s), 99.999% Durability
Provisioned IOPS can be attached to multiple EC2 instances — other types do not support this
most convenient way of creating backups is using the Data Lifecycle Manager to create automated, regular backups
gets deleted at instance termination or hardware failure
use only for a session or cached data
very high IOPS
Grouping your instance together on a certain level to achieve certain goals
Spread — distribute instances across availability zones for high availability
Cluster — place instances on the same rack for high network bandwidth
Partition — multiple cluster groups, so you can have the best from both sides: high availability through spreading and high bandwidth through clustering
can’t span over multiple regions
different types of policies are available
Target Tracking Policies
Choose a scaling metric & a target value, e.g. CPU utilization
EC2 Auto Scaling will take care of creating the CloudWatch alarms that trigger the policy to scale
you can define warm-up times for which the target tracking won’t be activated (if your instances start and CPU spikes to 100%, you don’t want to scale because of this CPU utilization)
Step & Simple Scaling Policies
scale based on defined metrics
if thresholds are breached for the defined number of periods, AutoScaling Policies will become active
Step scaling policies allow you to define steps based on the size of the alarm breach
e.g. Scale-out policy
[0,10%] -> 0, (10%, 20%] -> +10%, (20%, null] -> +30% with desired 10 instances
if the metric value changes from 50 (desired value) to 60, the scale-out policy will add 1 Instance (10% of your desired 10)
if the metric changes afterward (after the cooldown of the Scaling Policy) to 70 in the metric value, another 3 Instances will be launched (30% of your desired 10)
same can be defined for Scale-in policies
Scaling based on SQS
scale based on a metric of an SQS queue, e.g. ApproximateNumberOfMessagesVisible
scale your application instances based on a time schedule
A scalable domain name service that's fully managed by AWS.
you want all of your resources to be available the majority of the time
When a resource becomes unavailable, Route 53 can detect that it’s unhealthy and stop including it when responding to queries
when you want a primary resource or group of resources to be available the majority of the time and you want a secondary resource or group of resources to be on standby in case all the primary resources become unavailable
when responding to queries, Route 53 includes only the healthy primary resources
If all the primary resources are unhealthy, Route 53 begins to include only the healthy secondary resources in response to DNS queries
KMS (Key Management Service)
A service to create and manage keys that can be used for encryption or signing your data.
Encryption of AMIs & EBS Volumes
can be shared evenly across the AWS Account boundary by assigning the targeted accounts as users of the master encryption key
is natively integrated with other services like SQS, S3, or DynamoDB to easily encrypt data
S3 (Simple Storage Service) & Glacier
Durable object storage that is easy to use and almost doesn't have any limitations.
S3 asynchronously replicates your data to all availability zones of your bucket region
has no cap for the number of files within a bucket
Server Side Encryption (SSE)
SSE-S3 (Server Side Encryption managed by S3) — S3 manages the data and the encryption keys
SSE-C (Server Side Encryption managed by the Customer) — you’re responsible for your encryption keys
you can use different encryption keys for different versions of a file in an s3 bucket
Amazon recommends regular rotation of keys by the customer itself
SSE-KMS (Server Side Encryption managed by AWS, KMS, and the customer) — AWS manages the data key but you're responsible for the customer master key kept in KMS (Key Management Service)
based on Geo-Location
with Signed URLs — needs expiration date & time of the URL (as well as AWS Security Credentials / Bucket Name containing the objects) for creation
restrict access to certain VPCs
S3 stores objects in buckets, Glacier in vaults
Object Locks: Retention Modes
users can’t override or delete objects unless they have specific required rights
you protect objects against being deleted by most users, but you can still grant some users permission to alter the retention settings or delete the object if necessary
a protected object version can’t be overwritten or deleted by any user, including the root user in your AWS account
its retention mode can’t be changed, and its retention period can’t be shortened
gives on-premise services access to unlimited cloud storage
different Storage types
Stored — use S3 to backup data, but store locally → you are limited in the amount of space you can allocate
Cached — stores all data on S3 and uses local only for caching
has different Gateway Types
File Gateway — stores files as objects in S3, using NFS and SMB file protocols
Tape Gateway — virtual tape library for storing backups, using iSCSI protocol
Volume Gateway — using EBS volumes, using the iSCSI protocol; data written to those volumes can be backed up asynchronously to EBS snapshots
Relation Database Service (RDS)
There is support for Multi-AZ Deployments
synchronously replicates data between multiple Availability Zones
offers higher availability, failover support
only minimal downtime when scaling up
you can select your engine of choice
SQL Server — does not support read replicas in a separate region
Amazon Aurora — MySQL and PostgreSQL compatible, fully managed (serverless solution) & supports read replicas, point-in-time recovery, continuous backups to S3 & replication across AZs
The core building block for serverless applications.
integrates natively with different services like SQS or SNS
can run on x86 or ARM/Graviton2 architectures
compute-resources (vCPU) are sized based on memory settings
dynamic configuration with environment variables
AWS abstracts away all your infrastructure and runs your functions in micro-containers
can be attached to VPCs - due to the Hyperplane integration in 2019, this doesn't come with restrictions like ENI bootstrap or private IP consumption anymore
can be triggered via notifications from other services like SQS or S3
destinations: on successful or failed executions you can invoke other services to handle those events
exposure of your functions to the internet either via API Gateway or Function URLs
dependencies can be extracted into Layers that can be attached to one or several functions
Edge-computing and delivering content closer to your customer's locations.
AWS distributes your content to more than 225 edge locations & 13 regional mid-tier caches on six continents and 47 different countries
origins define the sources where a distribution retrieves its content if it's not cached yet
a single distribution can use multiple origins
caching behavior is controlled by a cache policy, either AWS managed or custom (which parts of the request should be used as a cache-key)
Lambda@Edge and CloudFront functions allow you to run general-purpose code on edge locations close to the customer
with geo-restrictions, you can enforce approval or blocking lists for specific countries
CloudFront supports AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) that lets you monitor HTTP/s requests and control access to your content
The fundamental infrastructure-as-code tool at AWS.
templates are the definition of the infrastructure resources that should be created by CloudFormation and how they are composed
for each template, CloudFormation will create a stack which is a deployable unit and contains all your resources
CloudFormation detects change sets for your stacks at deployment time to calculate what create/update/delete command it needs to run
via outputs, you can reference other resources dynamically that may not exist yet
Simple Queue Service (SQS)
A queuing service that allows you to build resilient, event-driven architectures.
another core building block for serverless applications
allows you to run tasks in the background
offers different types of queues
First-In-First-Out (FIFO): executes messages in the order SQS receives them
Standard Queues: higher throughput but no guarantee of right ordering
Dead-Letter-Queues (DLQs) allow you to handle failures and retries
Retention periods define how long a messages stays in your queue until it's either dropped or redriven to a DLQ
Simple Notification Service (SNS)
Managed messaging service to send notifications to customers or other services.
consumers can subscribe to topics and then will receive all messages publish to this topic
comes in two different types, equal to SQS: FIFO and Standard
messages can be archived by sending them to Kinesis Data Firehose (and afterward to either S3 or Redshift)
Elastic Load Balancing (ELB)
Distribute traffic between computing resources.
comes in four different flavours
Classic (CLB): oldest types, works on both layer 4 and layer 7 - no longer featured on AWS exams
Application (ALB): works on layer 7 and routes content based on the content of the request
Network (NLB): works on layer 4 and routes based on IP data
Gateway (GLB): works on layer 3 and 4 - mostly used in front of firewalls
load balancing enhances fault-tolerance as automatically distributes traffic to healthy targets which can also reside in different availability zones
ELB can be either internet facing (has public IP, needs a public VPC) or internal-only (private VPC, no public IP, can only route to private IP addresses)
EC2 instances or Fargate tasks can be registered to ELB's target groups
A fully managed NoSQL database service.
a non-relational database, based on Casandra
comes with two different capacity modes
on-demand: scales based on the number of requests and you only pay per consumed read or write capacity unit
provisioned: define how many read/write capacity units are needed and pay a fixed price per month - you can use auto-scaling policies together with CloudWatch alarms to scale based on work loads
a (unique) primary key is either built via the hash key or the hash key and range key
Global (can be created any time) and Local (only when your table is created) Secondary Indexes help you to allow additional access patterns
can use streams to trigger other services like Lambda on create/update/delete events
Time-to-Live (TTL) attribute allows for automatic expiry of items
global tables can span multiple regions and automatically sync data between them
encryption of tables by default: either via KMS keys managed by AWS or the customer itself
a set of different data types (scalar, document, set)
Identity and Access Management (IAM)
The core security building block for all applications running on AWS.
follow best practices like never using your root user, but dedicated IAM users with enable MFA
there are different entity types: users, groups, policies and roles
user: end-user, accessing the console or AWS API
group: a group of users, sharing the same priviledges
policy: a defined list of permissions, defined as JSON
role: a set of policies, that can be assumed by a user or AWS service to gain all the policies permissions
by default, all actions are denied and need to be explicitly allowed via IAM
an explicit deny always overwrites an allow action
An observability platform that is integrated with almost every AWS service.
log events: messages that are collected by CloudWatch from other services, always containing a timestamp
log groups: a cluster of log messages, related to a service
log streams: further drill down of messages, e.g. for a specific Lambda micro-container instance or Fargate task
CloudWatch collects metrics by default from a lot of services, including Lambda, EC2, or ECS
Default metrics do not come with costs
X-Ray allows for distributed tracing to understand how a single request interacted with different services
Alarms can be used to send emails or SMS messages via SNS on certain events or to trigger actions like auto-scaling policies
Monitor and record account activity across your AWS infrastructure (check this article for the differences with CloudWatch)
records events in your AWS account as JSON
you can decide which events are tracked by creating trails
a trail will forward your events to an S3 bucket and/or CloudWatch log group
CloudTrail records different types of audit events
Management events: infrastructure management operations, e.g. IAM policy adjustments or VPC subnet creations
Data Events: events that retrieve, delete or modify data within your AWS account, e.g. CRUD operations on DynamoDB or a GET for an object in S3
Insight Events: records anomalies in your API usage of your account based on historical usage patterns
you can additionally define filter rules to not track all events of a certain type, but only a subset. Maybe you're interested in tracking modifications and deletions in DynamoDB, but not reads.
Taking the Online Exam with PSI
You can schedule online exams for all certifications with PSI. Exams can also be rescheduled or canceled (you’ll get a full refund) until 24 hours before the exam without additional costs. For the exam itself make sure that…
you’ve taken the system compatibility test
downloaded the Secure Browser by PSI and installed it successfully (it must be only installed for your user — do not select “install for everybody”)
you have room for yourself at exam time which is absolutely silent. You’ll be watched while the exam takes place. Sounds of other people or leaving your desk will result in a failed exam.
your webcam needs to be ‘flexible’. You need to show your room & desk before the exam starts.
stable internet connection. Dropping out of the session also results in a failed exam. (My experience: my connection dropped for 2–3 minutes within the exam. I reconnected and was still allowed to finish the exam)
you’re ready 30 minutes before the official start time. That’s the time you can begin your check-in. It takes up to 15 minutes for assigning your exam and another 5–10 minutes to do the pre-check.
In my opinion, a lot of questions in the exam were noticeably harder than the example questions I faced on CloudAcademy. Also, there was a heavy focus on either migrating from OnPremise to AWS, interoperability modes between AWS & OnPremise (especially by making use of AWS Storage Gateway for outsourcing storage or having easily stored backups in AWS), or Connection AWS with OnPremise Networks (e.g. with VPN or AWS Direct Connect). Also, a lot of the possible answers only contained minor differences. So mostly you really have to know about very specific service details.
Day-to-day business at work with AWS
CloudAcademy Cloud Solutions Architect Example Exams as well as Domain Knowledge Quizzes
Medium: Ultimate Cheat Sheet for AWS Solutions Architect Exam