I have already signed up for an AWS account but I have not yet run a virtual machine. My next task is to get to grips with the AWS management console. This is a web interface that allows people to use the common functions of many AWS services.

Click to enlarge the Console view.

Open the AWS console.

  1. Open a web browser.
  2. Go to the URL http://aws.amazon.com/console/. The AWS Management Console home page appears.
  3. Click the Sign in to the AWS Console button. The account sign-in page appears.
  4. Enter your e-mail address and password. The console page appears. I see Amazon’s services listed across the top in tabs, a navbar on the left, and a “get started” message on the right. S3 (Simple Storage Service) is highlighted.

Explore the features.

Today’s AJAX-rocket-powered AWS console demonstrates the advantages of letting designers, rather than engineers, create a customer interface. Service names are arranged in clickable tabs across the top. Each tabbed page contains service management blocks. It’s a packed display, and it is getting busier. The console launched with only two tabs. In the last couple of weeks a new SQS service tab was added, bringing the current total to thirteen.

I don’t want to store data; I want to run a virtual machine. Clicking the EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) tab shows a busy page, with a navbar in the left pane, and a dashboard containing all sorts of applets in the right pane. Luckily, there is a big button marked Launch Instance. That’s where I am heading.

The Region drop-down box shows availability zones — options for USA, Europe and Asia. I have never had access to data centres on three continents, so I have never been able to provision truly global services. I will have to work on redirecting requests to a local server, international disaster recovery, national privacy laws, and global synchronization.

Examine the URL

My web browser is redirected to the S3 URL https://console.aws.amazon.com/s3/home?. The format of this URL is (scheme)://(FQDN)/(short service name)/(page)?(optional extras). The (short service name) is the name displayed on each tab with the space removed and changed to lower case. If I replace s3 in my URL with elasticbeanstalk, ec2, or vpc then I am taken straight to that page.

The region can be set with one of the optional extras, such as https://console.aws.amazon.com/ec2/home?region=eu-west-1. The value eu-west-1 can be replaced with us-east-1a, ap-northeast-1, or any other label for an availability zone.

Close the AWS console

  1. Sign out. Click your name link in the top right, then “Sign Out” from the drop-down menu. The console home page reappears.
  2. Close the web browser.

An aside on the evolution of consoles

Consoles have been used throughout IT history to control all layers of the technology stack. I have used the CLI serial console down in the bowels of Linux, the Microsoft GUI MMC and the web-based administration console bundled with Oracle Weblogic Server. The first console I used with a web interface was in the 1990s, for Netscape Enterprise web server administration, and the most recent one is this AWS management console. With the benefit of hindsight I can tell that the pioneering Netscape console was slow and ugly. When I used the steam-powered Netscape I had to wait while it loaded the images to make the shape of the tabs, let alone make the changes I requested. And yet, at the time, I felt like the Batmobile had been delivered to me.

The AWS management console was not the first kid on the block. The EC2 beta test project launched in 2006. A developer used EC2 by making web service calls to APIs for network access, starting, stopping and examining machines, and so on. A few third-party management consoles such as AWSmanager, ElasticFox, RightScale, and Ylastic were created to protect ordinary people from exposure to these APIs. The AWS console was launched in 2009, free of charge, to compete with them.