Touring Amazon’s management console

The newly-released beta of Amazon’s management console is reasonably friendly, but it is not going to let your grandma run her own data center.

I took a bit of a tour today. I’m running Firefox 3 on a Windows laptop, but everything else I’m doing out of a Unix shell — I have Linux and MacOS X servers at home. I already had AWS stuff set up prior to trying this out; I’ve previously used RightScale to get a Web interface to AWS.

The EC2 dashboard starts with a big friendly “Launch instances” button. Click it, and it takes you to a three-tab window for picking an AMI (your server image). There’s a tab for Amazon’s images, one for your own, and one for the community’s (which includes a search function). After playing around with the search a bit (and wishing that every community image came with an actual blurb of what it is), and not finding a Django image that I wanted to use, I decided to install Amazon’s Ruby on Rails stack.

On further experience, the “Select” buttons on this set of tabs seem to have weird issues; sometimes you’ll go to them and they’ll be grayed out and unclickable, sometimes you’ll click them and they’ll go gray but you won’t get the little “Loading, please wait” box that appears before going onto the next tab — and it will leave you stuck, leaving you to cancel the window and try again.

Once you select an image, you’re prompted to select how many instances you want to launch, your instance type, key pair (necessary to SSH into your server), and a security group (firewall config). More twiddly bits, like the availability zone, are hidden in advanced options. Pick your options, click “Launch”, and you’re good to go.

From the launch window, your options for the firewall default to having a handful of relevant ports (like SSH, webserver, MySQL) open to the world. You can’t get more granular with the rules than this there; you’ve got to use the Security Group config panel to add a custom rule. I wish that the defaults would be slightly stricter, like limiting the MySQL port to Amazon’s back-end.

Next, I went to create an EBS volume for user data. This, too, is simple, although initially I did something stupid, failing to notice that my instance had launched in us-east-1b. (Your EBS volume must reside in the same availability zone as your instance, in order for the instance to mount it.)

That’s when I found the next interface quirk — the second time I went to create an EBS volume, the interface continued to insist for fifteen minutes that it was still creating the volume. Normally there’s a very nice Ajax bit that automatically updates the interface when it’s done, but this time, even clicking around the whole management console and trying to come back wouldn’t get it to update the status and thus allow me to attach it to my instance. I had to close out the Firefox tab, and relaunch the console.

Then, I remember that the default key pair that I’d created had been done via RightScale, and I couldn’t remember where I’d stashed the PEM credentials. So that led me to a round of creating a new key pair via the management console (very easy), and having to terminate and launch a new instance using the new key pair (subject to the previously-mentioned interface quirks).

The same interface-somehow-gets-into-indeterminate-state also seems to be a problem for other things, like the console “Output” button for interfaces — you get a blank screen rather than the console dump.

That all dealt with, I log into my server via SSH, don’t see the EBS volume mounted, and remember that I need to actually make a filesystem and explicitly mount it. All creating an EBS volume does is allocate you an abstraction on Amazon’s SAN, essentially. This leads me to trying to find documentation for EBS, which leads to the reminder that access to docs on AWS is terrible. The search function on the site doesn’t index articles, and there are far too many articles to just click through the list looking for what you want. A Google search is really the only reasonable way to find things.

All that aside, once I do that, I have an entirely functional server. I terminate the instance, check out my account, see that this little experiment has cost me 33 cents, and feel reasonably satisfied with the world.

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Posted on January 10, 2009, in Infrastructure and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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