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
Once you have selected a key-pair, click Launch Instances from the Getting Started section, and a pop-up appears, from which you can choose among three categories of AMIs: prebuilt AMIs from Amazon, AMIs that you have bundled, or the vast collection of Amazon community-built AMIs. (At the time I tested the AWS console, there were more than 1,300 AMIs in the community grab bag.) Next, you set the number of instances you want launched and pick a security group. A security group defines which ports the Amazon firewall will open to allow access to your instances. The default security group -- always available -- will open ports for HTTP and SSH.
Click again, and your instances are launched, as easy as that. The Instances pane opens, displaying a table showing each instance's status (starting, running, and so on).
The AWS Console also manages Amazon EBS (Elastic Block Storage) volumes. EBS is a relatively recent addition to the AWS family of services. Implemented in S3, an EBS volume is a persistent virtual disk drive that can be attached to a running AMI instance. EBS volume sizes can range from 1GB to 1TB, and the AWS console navigation pane's Volumes selection leads you to a page where volumes can be created, attached to instances, detached from instances, or deleted.
You conjure a volume by selecting the Create Volume button on the toolbar. Choose its size, availability zone, and whether you want a snapshot associated with it. A snapshot is an instant-in-time copy of the volume. It can serve as a backup copy of the volume, or you can use it as a mechanism for duplicating EBS volumes so that multiple, separate AMI instances can access (at least, initially) identical virtual drives.
Once an EBS volume is created, its status switches to Available. From the AWS Console, you select a running instance to attach the volume to, and the Console will indicate which drive letter (Windows) or disk device (Linux) the attached volume will map to. You must log in to the running instance to mount and format the volume, which is probably the most complicated step in the whole process. From that point on, the EBS volume behaves just as any attached disk drive would. There's not much to describe, because it's just that simple.
Amazon plans to extend the console beyond management of AMIs and EBS volumes. Future versions of the console should provide controls for other cloud-based services: the ability to create, delete, read, and write S3 buckets and objects; queries into simpleDB; management of Simple Queue Service (SQS) queues; and other facilities.
I found the AWS Console as facile as Elastic Fox. Both are equally capable, and selecting one over the other is largely a matter of personal taste (and choice of browser). Selecting the Console over the command-line tools is a no-brainer, and this illuminates the significance of the AWS Console: It supersimplifies entry into EC2 computing. Further, it provides 90 percent of what you need for deploying cloud machines. Once you have an AMI instance configured and running, much of your interaction is with facilities on the instance itself. All you need is a console that maintains an inventory of your AMIs, and that makes it easy to deploy them. You can take it from there.