Test Center review: Amazon eases cloud control
With its intuitive interface, the highly capable AWS Management Console is an ideal for users new to cloud computing
When Amazon's Elastic Cloud was in its infancy, the only management tools available were a set of Java-based command-line applications. The set was comprehensive: You had complete control over and access to Amazon Machine Images (AMIs). Moreover, you could create and manipulate the ancillary components of the cloud: key-pairs, elastic IP addresses, and so on. As capable as the tools were, however, they were out of pace with the very Web-based world that they served.
Graphical alternatives have since appeared. Elastic Fox (available from Amazon's Web Services developer site), a free plug-in for the Firefox browser, is a popular tool for creating and supervising AMIs. It provides virtually all the capabilities of the command-line tools, but in an easy-to-navigate browser interface.
[ Learn more about Amazon Web Services in the InfoWorld Test Center analysis: "Diving deep into Amazon Web Services."]
Commercial GUI-based cloud-management systems are available as well. Examples are RightScale and Elastra, which add features that enhance the creation and deployment of AMIs beyond what is available with the freeware tools.
Into this arena, Amazon has trotted out the AWS (Amazon Web Services) Management Console. Currently in beta, the AWS Management Console is a browser-based dashboard for Elastic Cloud that -- unlike Elastic Fox -- is not restricted to Firefox. The Console currently supports Firefox 2.0 or later, Internet Explorer 7.0 or later (though I have run it in 6.0), and Safari 3.0 or later. Like Elastic Fox, however, the AWS Console is free; all you need is an AWS account with access to Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) services to get started.
In the clouds
The AWS Console is arranged in IDE fashion, with a navigation pane on the left and workspace panes on the right. The navigation pane holds links pointing to the services provided by the console. The workspace panes comprise the dashboard itself, where you actually interact with the cloud and track the status of in- progress operations.
The AWS Console is primarily a control panel for launching and monitoring AMIs. Before you start an AMI, however, you'll need to create an RSA key-pair. For Linux images, a key-pair is needed so that SSH can provide you with a secure log-in to the running instance. For Windows images, the Elastic Cloud infrastructure uses the key-pair to generate an image's administrator's password. (The key-pair consists of a public and a private key. AWS encrypts the password with the public key. You have to have the private key to decrypt that password; otherwise you'll be unable to log in to your Windows instance.)
Fortunately, the console automates the creation of RSA key-pairs. In addition, if you've already created key-pairs using the command-line tools and set your environment variables according to the AWS documentation, the AWS Console will import those preexisting key-pairs.