SMS and Email Alerting for Hardware Failure

Tags aws, programming
Target Audience Programmers & hobby sysadmins.
Attention Conservation Notice This is a fairly straightforward application of Amazon SNS.

On nyarlathotep, my file server, I use ZFS with mirrored drives. If one drive fails, I have a reasonable chance of being able to power off the machine, get a replacement drive, and swap out the dead one; all before the remaining drive fails. But I had no monitoring or alerting, so I wouldn’t actually know if a drive failed, rendering the exercise somewhat pointless. I decided to set that up using Amazon SNS.

Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS) lets you set up “topics”, subscribe to them through a variety of protocols (including SMS and email), and send a message to a topic by hitting a web endpoint. This seemed the simplest way to get my computer to text me.

Setting up SNS

You’ll need an AWS account, and you’ll also need to be okay with SNS not being free. Fortunately, unless you’re going to be sending hundreds of notifications, it’s pretty cheap. Then you need to create an SNS topic and add subscribers to it, which you can do through the AWS web interface.

I set up the SNS topic and SMS notifications with Terraform, a tool for provisioning infrastructure. Here’s a self-contained Terraform config for an SNS topic with SMS notifications:

locals {
  "phone"      = "your phone number"
  "access_key" = "your aws access key"
  "secret_key" = "your aws secret key"

provider "aws" {
  access_key = "${locals.access_key}"
  secret_key = "${locals.secret_key}"
  region     = "eu-west-1"

resource "aws_sns_topic" "topic_name" {
  name = "topic-name"

resource "aws_sns_topic_subscription" "topic_name_sms" {
  topic_arn = "${aws_sns_topic.topic_name.arn}"
  protocol  = "sms"
  endpoint  = "${}"

In my actual Terraform configuration, the phone number and keys are in a file which isn’t checked into the repository. Unfortunately Terraform can’t set up email subscriptions, as they need to be manually confirmed. So I had to set that up via the AWS web interface.

You can send test messages through the AWS web interface, so try that to make sure everything is working.

Sending messages from the command line

SNS exposes a web endpoint, so the “simplest” way to send a message to your topic would be to curl that. I decided to use the excellent boto3 library for Python instead.

I quickly whipped together this script, which I store in ~/bin/aws-sns:

#! /usr/bin/env nix-shell
#! nix-shell -i python3 -p python3Packages.boto3

A script to push a message from stdin to a SNS topic.

import argparse
import boto3
import sys

arg_parser = argparse.ArgumentParser(description=__doc__)
    '-t', dest='topic', required=True, help='Topic ARN.')
    '-s', dest='subject', required=True, help='Subject for email.')
    '-R', dest='region', required=False, help='Region to use.', default='eu-west-1')
parsed_args = arg_parser.parse_args()

# boto3 checks for AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID and AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY env
# vars automatically.
client = boto3.client('sns', region_name=parsed_args.region)

# message body is stdin
message =

response = client.publish(
print('Message ID: %s' % response['MessageId'])

This is a nix-shell script, which fetches boto3 automatically when invoked. If you’re not a nix user, you’d do the usual virtualenv/source/pip dance.

You’ll need to create a user in the AWS web interface with permissions to poke SNS, and note down their access key and secret key. With those keys, and the ARN of your SNS topic, you should be able to send a message from the command line:

$ export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID="foo"
$ export AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY="bar"
$ echo "Hello, world" | aws-sns -t "baz" -s "Test Message"

Monitoring for hardware failure

Now we have the alerting, so we just need the monitoring. Firstly we need a script to check whatever condition we care about (zpool status in my case), and to call the SNS script if it’s not good.

Here’s a self-contained zpool script:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

export AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID="foo"


if [[ "`zpool status -x`" != "all pools are healthy" ]]; then
  zpool status | aws-sns -t "$ZFS_TOPIC_ARN" -s "zfs zpool status"

The final piece of the puzzle is a systemd timer (or cronjob, whatever your system uses) to periodically run the script. I have mine run every 12 hours. Here’s the service definition from my NixOS config:

systemd.timers.monitoring-scripts = {
  wantedBy = [ "" ];
  timerConfig = {
    OnCalendar = "0/12:00:00";
}; = {
  description = "Run monitoring scripts";
  serviceConfig.WorkingDirectory = "/home/barrucadu/monitoring-scripts";
  serviceConfig.ExecStart = "${pkgs.zsh}/bin/zsh --login -c ./";
  serviceConfig.User = "barrucadu";
  serviceConfig.Group = "users";

Which generates this systemd timer:



And this unit (ignore the scary nix paths):

Description=Run monitoring scripts

ExecStart=/nix/store/77bsskn86yf6h11mx96xkxm9bqv42kqg-zsh-5.5.1/bin/zsh --login -c ./

The only thing left to do was to test the whole set-up by simulating a hardware failure.

I powered off nyarlathotep, unplugged a drive, and booted it back up again. I then ran the monitoring script directly, to ensure that it worked, and then waited until midnight (which was closer than noon, at the time I was doing this) to check that the timer worked.

Both SMSes and emails came through:

Email alerts from AWS SNS
Email alerts from AWS SNS