Getting Started with AWS (Part 2)

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

The first article in this series introduced Amazon Web Services (AWS), a public cloud computing platform available from Amazon and described the free usage tier and how you can sign up for it so you can test drive AWS for 12 months. Once you’ve signed up for the AWS Free Tier, the next logical step is to become familiar with the various management and development tools provided by Amazon for creating and managing cloud resources on AWS. That’s what this present article is all about.

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For a good overview of the various core services provided by AWS you can see Deb Shinder’s short series of articles titled “AWS: An Overview” on CloudComputingAdmin.com.

AWS Management Tools – Overview

There are three basic ways you can work with AWS:

  • Management Console – A browser-based user interface for managing your AWS account, AWS services, and the workloads and applications you provision in AWS.
  • Command-Line Interface (CLI) – An interface and series of tools you can use for managing AWS services and your workloads and applications from the command line and for automating administrative tasks with scripts.
  • APIs and SDKs – A series of application programming interfaces and assortment of software development kits you can use for developing and managing your workloads and applications.

We’ll examine each of these ways of working with AWS in turn in the sections that follow.

AWS Management Tools – Management Console

Once you’ve signed up for the AWS Free Tier as described in the previous article of this series, you can access the AWS Management Console at any time by opening the URL https://console.aws.amazon.com/console/default in your browser. When you open this URL you’ll be redirected to one of the Amazon data centers around the world and then you’ll be presented with a Sign In dialog similar to the one shown in Figure 1 below:

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Figure 1: Signing into AWS to access the Management Console.

You can also access this Sign In dialog by opening the AWS home page at http://aws.amazon.com and then either clicking the Sign In To The Console button (if displayed) or clicking My Account and selecting AWS Management Console from the drop-down menu that appears (see Figure 2):

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Figure 2: Signing into AWS to access the Management Console from the AWS home page.

Once you’ve signed in using the default AWS user account you created when you signed up for the free usage tier, the web-based Management Console is displayed as shown in Figure 3:

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Figure 3: The web-based AWS Management console.

The Management Console is used for managing both your AWS account settings and also the various workloads and applications you provision using the various AWS services like EC2, S3, RDS and so on.

The Management Console provides three ways of accessing AWS services and the workloads and applications you have running on them. First, you can simply click on one of the service icons displayed on the Console Home page shown in Figure 3 above to access the service. For example, clicking on the EC2 icon in the Compute section near the top left will take you to the EC2 home page where you can provision and manage virtual servers instances in the Amazon cloud (see Figure 4):

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Figure 4: The EC2 home page of the Management Console.

A second way you can access AWS services and the workloads and applications you have running on them is by using the Services menu on the toolbar at the top of the Management Console. Clicking Services displays a menu that lets you access a service by first selecting its category (for example Compute in this case) and then the particular service (here EC2) as shown in Figure 5 below:

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Figure 5: Accessing the EC2 home page with the Services menu.

Once you access a service in this way, an icon for the service is added under the History heading on the left side of the Services menu as shown above. This allows you to quickly return to a service you have previously selected using the Services menu.

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Clicking the Console Home icon in the History section of the Services menu brings you back to the Console Home page. You can also return to the Console Home page at any time by clicking the “cube” icon on the very left of the Console toolbar.

The third way of accessing services from the Management Console is by using the Edit menu on the Console toolbar. Clicking Edit displays a menu with icons for each service offering, and you can drag icons from this menu onto the toolbar to create toolbar shortcuts you can use to quickly access the management pages of your favorite services. Figure 6 shows the result of having done this for the EC2 service:

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Figure 6: Adding a shortcut for a service to the Console toolbar.

There is also a Settings option that lets you customize these toolbar shortcuts as icons, text, or icons with text.

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If you mostly use only one AWS service such as EC2, you can set the EC2 home page as your Start Page in the Management Console. To do this, click the listbox control under Set Start Page on the bottom left of the Console and then select the service whose home page you want to use as your Start Page whenever you open the Management Console (see Figure 7):

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Figure 7: Configuring a new Start Page for the Management Console.

There are three other menu items on the Console toolbar you should become familiar with. First, if you click the item where your Amazon user name or business name is displayed (the blurred item in Figure 8 below) you get a menu that displays the following options:

  • My Account – Lets you view and modify your contact information, designate alternate contacts for your account, specify security challenge questions, and configure various other settings relating to your account.
  • Billing & Cost Management – Lets you view your current month-to-date bill for your account and see how much each service you are using is costing (if you’re not using or have gone beyond the limitations of the free usage tier).
  • Security Credentials – Lets you manage the security credentials for your account so you can define the level of access to AWS resources that each AWS user account will have.

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Figure 8: Accessing your AWS account settings.

We’ll be examining AWS security and billing settings in more detail in later articles in this series.

The toolbar item immediately to the right of your Amazon user name is the AWS region you are currently connected to. AWS is hosted in a series of data centers spread all over the world, and by clicking this menu item you can select a particular region where you want to provision or manage a workload or application in the AWS global cloud (see Figure 9):

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Figure 9: Selecting the AWS region to which you want to connect.

Finally, the left hand Support item on the toolbar lets you access the Support Center, post questions on the Forums, view Documentation, and access other resources that may be relevant to your use of AWS.

AWS Management Tools – Command Line Interface and Tools

The Management Console is useful if you are creating and managing only a small number of AWS service instances. If however you will be deploying a large number of workloads or applications to AWS, you will want to make use of the AWS Command-Line Interface (CLI) which lets you configure and manage AWS services from the command line and also write scripts you can use to automate common administration tasks you may need to perform regularly or repeatedly on your workloads and applications running in the Amazon cloud.

Most AWS services can be managed from the AWS CLI, and each service has its own unique set of commands you can use for managing workloads or applications running on that service. For example, to start an EBS-backed instance with ID i-1a2b3c4d running in EC2, you would use the following command:

$ aws ec2 start-instances –instance-ids i-1a2b3c4d

AWS CLI commands generally have the syntax shown above, namely they begin with a base call to aws which is followed by a command (ec2 in this example) and subcommand (here start-instances) followed by a series of options and parameters. Parameters can include numbers, strings, lists, and other input values you specify. You can get help with a specific AWS command by appending the word help to your command, for example:

$ aws ec2 start-instances help

will display help information for the ec2 start-instances command.

The output generated by running an AWS CLI command can be formatted three different ways:

  • JSON
  • Tab-delimited text
  • ASCII-formatted table

The default format for output is JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) which is a language-independent option data format standardized under RFC 7159 and ECMA-404. For more information about JSON, see the Wikipedia article.

You’ll see examples of how to use the AWS CLI in some of the future articles on this site.

AWS Management Tools – API and SDK

Finally, if you’re going to be developing software for web applications you plan on running in the Amazon cloud, you will want to become familiar with the low-level APIs you can use to programmatically access AWS services using HTTP requests. For example, if you want to configure a search solution for your web application using Amazon CloudSearch you can use the CloudSearch APIs described here.

And if you’re going to be developing web applications for AWS that will be running on a particular platform such as Android or iOS, and if you’ll be developing those applications using a particular programming language or framework like .NET, Node.js or Python, then you will want to become familiar with the various software development kits (SDKs) that Amazon provides for AWS. Links to these SDKs can be found here.

Conclusion

Before you begin deploying web applications or virtual machine instances to the Amazon cloud, you need to make sure the security, billing and reporting settings for your account are configured appropriately. We will examine how to perform these tasks in the next articles of this series.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

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